Before 7 a.m., Columbia County school Superintendent Tommy Price arrived at the Lakeside schools to monitor any traffic congestion that might occur because of new start times.
And for a while, he and other school officials had plenty to observe.
While earlier traffic moved smoothly around the schools, by 7:30 a.m. traffic had begun to back up in both directions on Blue Ridge Drive as parents, student drivers and buses converged on the schools at the same time. Some drivers spent 25 to 45 minutes waiting to get into the schools. One woman exiting Lakeside High yelled out her window that it had taken her 45 minutes to get to the campus from Fury's Ferry Road - about three miles away.
By 8:15 a.m., traffic had cleared.
"We just want to see what kind of issues we're going to have to deal with," Mr. Price said.
This year, middle and high schools were put on the same schedule - 7:50 a.m. to 2:50 p.m. Elementary schools begin the day at 8:30 a.m. and end at 3:30 p.m. Lakeside Middle and Lakeside High sit face to face off Blue Ridge Drive, with one road leading in and out of the complex.
There was also some traffic backup near Greenbrier schools at Washington Road and William Few Parkway, Associate Superintendent Charles Nagle said.
Traffic concerns had been expressed as plans for the new start times were discussed earlier this year. School officials developed a traffic flow plan to help the situation. For the most part, once traffic entered the complex off Blue Ridge Drive, it flowed smoothly, with school personnel directing traffic. But what school system officials couldn't control was the number of cars that tried to crowd into Blue Ridge Drive before the first bell rang Friday.
Mr. Price said he would like to see more parents put their children on buses to relieve the congestion.
"There are too many cars coming in here," Mr. Price said. "I'm hoping parents will realize they don't have to get hung up in that."
The last bus unloaded at 8:15 a.m., and it was about 8:20 - a half-hour late - before all pupils were in the middle and high schools.
"It'll get better for us," Lakeside Middle Principal Bill Morris said. "But it won't get better up (on Blue Ridge Drive) unless more people ride the bus."
Mr. Nagle said the school system will monitor the traffic situation for the next week to see whether it improves. In the meantime, additional signs will be placed to better guide drivers through the campus, and some bus times also might be adjusted so that buses can arrive to the schools earlier.
"We were pleased with the flow on campus," Mr. Nagle said. "About Monday week, we'll start looking at it real seriously as far as any changes we need to make."
Reach Peggy Ussery at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 112, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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