FAIRHOPE — The intersection at County Road 32 and County Road 13 has been closed to motorists since February. The closure is expected to last until Oct. 31, when a new roundabout being constructed at the intersection should be complete.
The last two months have been long for those who live or work near the construction zone. Homeowners who live along County Road 32 have experienced vehicles making U-turns via their driveways, and sometimes, their lawns. Business owners have witnessed backed up traffic blocking the entries and exits into their establishments, especially during the morning and afternoon hours when students report arrive and leave J. Larry Newton Elementary School, situated along 32.
"When you've got one way to get in some place, it makes a mess, and that's what's happening at the school right now," said Lt. Shane Nolte with the Fairhope Police Department. "Truly this affects the school more than everybody, I think, because of people getting in and out of there with only one way."
Since the construction project began in February, Nolte said the city of Fairhope, Baldwin County and ALDOT have worked together to try and alleviate some of the stress motorists, businesses and homeowners began experiencing as a result of the road closures. During this process, staff of J. Larry Newton was also involved.
"ALDOT installed a new turn signal arrow (at AL-181 and County Road 32) and has twice adjusted the timing on the light, per my request," said Principal Patrice Wolfe. "I had the county road engineer come stand with me at the corner of 181 and 32 as we radioed back and forth with my carline folks so the engineer could see it firsthand and make changes."
Wolfe said after the turn signal was installed and adjusted, the school staff saw fewer delays and issues during carline. A traffic director/crossing guard is also stationed at the entrance of the carline each morning and afternoon to assist with directing traffic and getting vehicles in and out faster.
Within the school, Wolfe said she and her team revamped carline to unload more students at one time, had more staff on duty during carline, and created a parent "carline" advisory committee.
Since the adjustments, Wolfe said things are running as scheduled at the school.
"Students were not counted tardy when the road closure began and impacted our morning start time," said Wolfe. "As a result of the improvements and adjustments, we are no longer delayed in regard to start time. Tardies prior to this time were not counted and breakfast was delayed until all children were fed. Students who arrive at school by bus are never counted as an arrival tardy."
To help ease the stress of longer carline times, Wolfe said the carline staff at J. Larry Newton often dresses up in costumes or crazy attire for special days, or just to brighten the days of students and parents. These types of welcomes were very regular during the start of construction, she said.
"Parents and students have stated that arriving is like a parade at Disneyworld," she said.
Parents and students have also talked about things they've done in the car while waiting in line. "They've mentioned participating in multiplication games/drills, morning prayer for their families and school, talking through social stories and how to respond to conflict or how to be a friend, or playing games like 'I spy,'" Wolfe added.
While the adjustments have made things smoother, wait times in carline can still become longer than is typical, and traffic can back up during the busiest times of the day. Nolte said if you don't have to be in the area during the times when school gets in and is let out, it would be better to avoid it.
"One of the biggest things that would help is if people who don't need to be in that area, if they'd take another way," he said. "If you don't have to be there and would use Highway 98, if we could just get more people to go that way it would free up some of the traffic at the closure."
Nolte said detour signs were moved more than once during the construction's start as crews quickly learned what worked and what didn't.
"Unfortunately, that happens in these situations. You don't realize that something will cause a problem until you see it in action," he said. "But then we just learn from that, and if something doesn't work then try again. We're still working on options with the state and county too, and hopefully it will get better."