As high school students get their licenses and head out to the roads, they might find themselves at a standstill in the school parking lot.
Across Williamsburg-James City County schools, there have been 582 student parking passes sold for the 2018-2019 schools year, said Eileen Cox, spokeswoman for WJCC schools.
That number doesn’t include the teachers, parents and visitors to the schools.
“You have all these students, buses and parents driving out at one time and any time you have an additional volume of traffic like that there’s going to be congestion,” said Stephanie Williams, spokeswoman for James City County Police.
At Lafayette High School, school resource officer Andre McLaughlin said there’s only one way in and out of the school’s parking lot where there might be around 100 cars on any given day. This volume and structure can create problems, especially because the school’s road filters into a high-traffic section of Longhill Road.
Another issue, he said, is that many drivers on Longhill Road were treating the area near the school as if there a stop sign at the school’s single point of entrance and exit. While it seems courteous to do so, it actually creates confusion which causes a hazardous driving situation.
Those situations leave parents, staff and students at Lafayette wondering if additional traffic lights might be the best solution.
“The procedure to determine whether a signal is the appropriate form of traffic control for an intersection is an involved and detailed engineering process,” said Brittany McBride Nichols, communications specialist at the Virginia Department of Transportation.
To start this process, VDOT takes a crash analysis and traffic count of certain intersections of the area.
At Lafayette High School in 2017, there were two crashes both involving teen drivers and both resulting in injuries, according to data from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. These accidents happened at 1:50 p.m., which is a half hour before school gets out, and around 4:54 p.m. which is a half hour after school activities end. In 2018, there have been no traffic crashes reported at LHS.
After looking at these crash statistics at a particular area, VDOT then performs a more comprehensive study.
“In this we look at expected operational and safety outcomes, often including traffic modeling of proposed improvements,” McBride Nichols said.
The crash history is analyzed to determine whether a traffic light will help or harm safety at a particular intersection, because while signals tend to reduce angle crashes they might increase rear end and sideswipe crashes, McBride Nichols said.
Lastly, VDOT tries to consider other innovative solutions such as a roundabout.
Paul Holt, director of community development and planning for James City County, said the county is aware of a need for a traffic light near Lafayette High School, specifically. But the county doesn’t plan room in its budget for traffic lights, which can cost around $300,000.
“You can only really only put them in when it’s warranted and the funding is available,” Holt said. “Since we don’t have room in our budget, if we see the need arises we will sit down with VDOT, but the entire process is pretty complex.”
Currently, the county does not have any plans to install traffic lights at Lafayette High School.