First day of school brings traffic delays, backups

New traffic lights in Smithsburg, tractor-trailer fire cause headaches

August 18, 2010|By DAVE McMILLION
  • Students walk off the bus and into their first day of school Wednesday at Pangborn Elementary in Hagerstown.
Colleen McGrath, Staff Photographer

New traffic lights at the entrances to Smithsburg Elementary and Smithsburg High schools caused significant delays Wednesday on the first day of classes for Washington County Public Schools, and some students might have waited as long as 25 minutes for buses at the end of the day, school officials said.

Smithsburg Police Chief George Knight said traffic was backed up about a half-mile on Leitersburg Smithsburg Road, and roughly three blocks on Geiser Way.

"I just urge everyone to be patient," Knight said. "With every project, there are bugs that need to be worked out."

In April, the Washington County Board of Education approved spending as much as $300,000 to improve the entrances to the schools, which included installing traffic lights. The work was completed earlier this summer.

Knight said Washington County engineers were working Wednesday to readjust the timing of the lights to make traffic flow more smoothly.


"This was the first day they had this volume of traffic to work with. They're fixing it now," Knight said.

At the beginning of the school year, many elementary school students are walked out to their buses to make sure they understand the transportation process, Deputy Superintendent Boyd Michael said. The process can delay afternoon bus runs in the entire system, he said.

At North Hagerstown High School, as many as 100 students might have had to wait about 25 minutes for buses due to the extra time that was taken to acclimate students to buses at elementary schools, Principal Valerie Novak said.

"It happens every year. It will probably happen tomorrow," Novak said.

Other issues Wednesday included a morning tractor-trailer fire on Halfway Boulevard near Interstate 81 that caused delays on a few bus routes, schools spokesman Richard Wright said. The delays were not a major problem, he said.

The school district expects to have about 22,100 students this year, according to school officials.

About half of the redistricting changes approved by the Board of Education in February began this year, affecting about 400 children, Michael said.

The rest of the redistricting changes will start in August 2011, when Ruth Ann Monroe Primary School opens. The new Antietam Academy is expected to open in January.

As of Tuesday, the school system's transportation department had 847 applications from parents who wanted to change where their children are picked up or dropped off by buses, Michael told Washington County Board of Education members Tuesday night.

Bus officials were working extra hours to process those forms as quickly as possible, Michael said. He reminded parents that it takes at least 10 working days to get the forms processed.

More forms were expected to be submitted, he said.

School board officials also reminded drivers to be cautious as the school year begins as children are walking to and from their bus stops and schools.

How to contact School Board members

President Wayne Ridenour: Call 301-223-7334 or e-mail">

Vice President Justin Hartings: Call 301-801-7014 or e-mail">

Member Ruth Anne Callaham: Call 301-393-4466 or e-mail">

Member Paul Bailey: Call 301-739-2347 or e-mail">

Member Donna Brightman: Call 301-834-3545 or e-mail">

Member W. Edward Forrest: Call 301-714-0956 or e-mail">

Member William Staley: Call 301-797-6188.

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