Traffic improvements to the entrance roads serving Willow Lane Elementary School will be completed before school starts August 26, promise East Penn School District officials.
They made that promise to Lower Macungie Township commissioners, who formally approved the district’s long-delayed plan Thursday night.
“We are committed to being done,” said Paul Szewczak, the district’s engineer. “We’re going as fast as we can to get this ready for the school year.”
Traffic patterns on the school property are being modified not only because fewer children will be bused to Willow Lane this coming school year, but also because the school already had been getting what Szewczak called “an overwhelming amount of car traffic.”
All private vehicles going to the school to drop off and pick up children will be required to use the entranceway off Mill Creek Road.
Only school buses will be allowed to use the other entrance off Sauerkraut Lane.
Those traffic patterns are the opposite of the way vehicles previously came and went at the four-year-old school. “The goal has always been to separate the cars and buses whenever possible,” said Szewczak of Liberty Engineering.
The change is being made because the entrance road off Sauerkraut in front of the school has a relatively short “stacking distance,” explained the engineer. He said the entrance road off Mill Creek Road is twice as long, so there will be “at least twice the amount of room to stack cars.”
Cars will go along the back of the school than wrap around a parking lot to reach a designated drop-off/pick-up “safety zone” along the east side of Willow Lane.
No longer will parents park cars and go into the school to get their children, said Szewczak. The parents will not leave their cars, he explained, and the children will be brought out to them “in an orderly fashion.” He said doing it that way will move the cars along much faster.
He said the change in traffic patterns is generating only a few minor changes to the school property.
One is that a walking path paralleling the entranceway off Mill Creek Road will be reconstructed so it remains on the south side of the roadway, crossing it only once rather than twice as it does now. “We anticipate more walkers because of the elimination of some bus routes,” said Szewczak. He added a crosswalk with crossing guards will be at the point where the path crosses the roadway behind the school.
Two “islands” will be added to a parking lot on the east side of the school, to ensure that vehicles are channeled into just one lane as they approach the “security zone.” And two gates will be installed to keep car and bus traffic separated.
Other changes will be made to benefit firefighters working from the township fire station next to the school. The fire station shares the same two entrance roads with the school.
The school district will install two signs with solar-powered flashing lights that will be activated by the fire department to warn others when an emergency vehicle is leaving or entering the station. Those signs will be remote controlled from inside the fire station, said Szewczak. That improvement is being made at the request of township fire officials.
And the school’s entranceway off Mill Creek will be striped and posted where it meets the fire station’s rear driveway. Cars coming to the school will be prohibited from stopping within that stripped zone, because exiting fire trucks will need that area kept clear so they have sufficient turning room to leave the station.
The school board approved the new traffic pattern plan in March, but it took several months for the final plan to ready to go before the township commissioners for their approval, which was given unanimously Thursday night.
No Willow Lane parents attended the township meeting to ask questions about the Willow Lane plan. “The community is on board with the plan,” said East Penn solicitor Marc Fisher.
East Penn officials have estimated 140 cars were dropping off and picking up children every day at Willow Lane, with a queue of cars sometimes backing up onto Sauerkraut Lane.
In late March, the school board voted to require children to walk to the school if they live less than three-quarters of a mile away. East Penn has estimated that change will impact 125 to 140 children and may add to the number of cars going to the school.
The township is interviewing applicants to work about two hours a day as crossing guards at intersections around the school. That cost is being shared with the school district.