VDOT work cuts down on traffic times at Prince Edward Elementary

Published 2:13 am Friday, November 3, 2023

At this time last year, it took about 12 minutes to exit Route 15 Southbound, drop a student off at Prince Edward Elementary and turn around to get back on Route 15. Now that time has been cut to 4 minutes, thanks to work from the Virginia Department of Transportation and one local task force. 

In December 2022, Prince Edward County Administrator Doug Stanley went looking for someone who could help with the traffic problems at Prince Edward Elementary. And it is a problem. Traffic at the schools has been a concern of parents for quite a while.

Every week, The Herald receives at least one email or message on Facebook about traffic problems at Prince Edward County schools, with the majority focused on the elementary. Parents are upset about being blocked in by others, about long lines with what they see as no organization and yes, with residents parking in the wrong spot. Other parents speak at Prince Edward School Board and Board of Supervisors meetings, asking for help with the problem. 

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And so Stanley reached out and asked Scott Frederick for help. Frederick works as VDOT’s regional engineer in Prince Edward. Flash forward to November 2023 and Frederick says progress is being made in some ways.

“Traffic was really bad at the school each morning,” Frederick said. “It was affecting pass-through traffic on Route 15 and we realized that most parties involved thought that the problem was solely caused by another party.” 

Solutions for Prince Edward Elementary

Beyond blaming each other, it was the way people were exiting and entering the property that caused problems, Frederick said. So he put together a work group to find some solutions. That group included VDOT officials, members of the Prince Edward school district administration, Prince Edward County Supervisor Harrison Jones, the sheriff’s office and members from the local Parent Teacher Association (PTA) groups. 

“We formed a work group with everyone involved and started looking at it from all perspectives,” Frederick said. “Once we had drone footage, we were able to identify bottlenecks. Once we implemented some small tweaks the whole system started working better. The two areas that added the most benefit were in the elementary school parent drop-off and phasing the bus parking so middle school parents can exit campus via Granite Falls Boulevard.” 

The drone footage showed there was a bottleneck created by three parallel parking spaces at the elementary school’s parent drop-off. It also showed frustrated drivers making a left turn onto Route 15, thereby blocking Route 15 Northbound. And it showed school buses parking at the bus garage in the morning, blocking the rear exit from the elementary school campus as a result. 

It was basically a domino effect, with every action causing another problem down the line. To fix things, VDOT removed those parallel parking spaces, worked with Prince Edward Sheriff Tony Epps to have deputies monitor the traffic signal at Route 15 and Zion Hill Road. Then they also started phasing the bus parking, to guarantee there’s space for cars to pass by. All of that cost almost nothing, Frederick said. And now the average time to drop off a student is 4 minutes, a 67% reduction.  

Taking steps forward

Justin Pope, who has two students in the Prince Edward system, says things do seem to be working easier. 

“It does seem like it’s been running a little smoother, so certainly lots of people are grateful for that, as the delay has such a broad impact,” Pope said. “I know everyone at the schools is working hard and doing the best they can.” 

Prince Edward Schools Superintendent Dr. Barbara Johnson, who was also on the work group, said she appreciated VDOT’s help in getting this fixed. 

“We appreciated the productive collaboration with VDOT, Prince Edward County and other concerned citizens to find a resolution to make the drop-off process timelier and more effective,” Johnson said. “We are excited that these efforts not only reduce time traveling, but allow us to maintain the safety of all our students.”