A petition calling for the installation of a traffic signal at the entrance to Saddle Ridge School is currently making the rounds on social media.
Since opening in March 2013, residents have asked for a light at 9858 U.S. Highway 27, where the main school entrance drive intersects the five-lane highway.
Concerned Chickamauga resident Charity Lewis started the petition on change.org to get the traffic light placed at the school.
Asked why she started the petition, Lewis said, “I have a son that attends this school. He is in the seventh grade and been enrolled here since they opened. I also have daughters that attend LaFayette High School that just recently got a driver’s license. My son keeps saying that he wants them to drop him off in the mornings so he doesn't have to ride the bus.”
Lewis said she does not feel it is safe for her daughters or anyone else to cross the highway’s “very heavy traffic” in the morning.
“When I started this petition I had no clue that it would have this kind of response,” she said. “This school isn't just an elementary school nor just a middle school. It is two schools combined.
“Just think about the morning traffic at one school and times that by two. Can't you just imagine the traffic jam while trying to get out with no light on a main highway? This is very important to have. Safety should be a priority here.”
Lewis said she wants the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) to read each comment and signature on the petition.
“Then, maybe after that, they will come to the conclusion that the light is a must-have,” she said. “There are ways to many wrecks here that can be prevented or not having near as many with a school zone red light put up. … My petition has so many people commenting (on) their concerns as well. It shouldn't take someone getting killed before a decision is made for this light to go up.”
Lewis said if residents would personally like to voice their concern, to contact congressional board member Mark Burkhalter at 404-527-4156 or district engineer Dewayne Comer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Saddle Ridge opened in 2013,” Lewis said. “It took around $1.3 million to build this big, nice, beautiful school. Why would a very nice school like this be put in this location zone without knowing a light would be put up? That answer still remains a mystery. This school sits in the unincorporated area of the county. There are no mayor and councilmen; therefore GDOT is the decision-maker in this situation. I feel if our (Walker County) School Superintendent Damon Raines could make this happen, it would have already been done,” she said.
School officials agree traffic light is needed
Walker County Schools Superintendent Damon Raines said he supports the petition.
“This is a unique situation due to the actual location of the school,” Raines said. “State DOT referenced the distance off the main highway (U.S. Highway 27) to the school building having an impact on the need for the stoplight during construction. WCS was involved in the installation of the current flashing lights, but DOT sets the speed reduction or posted speed during active school zones. We stressed our concerns about the number of vehicles, including school buses that would be using the main entrance once the school was operational. We also discussed the number of accidents at Twin Cedars not far to the north of our location. As always, the main concern of the school system is the safety of our students while being transported to and from school and while in school.
“As far as the petition,” he said, “I am glad we have parents and community members who are willing to take on issues and attempt to resolve items, especially those dealing with safety. We will continue to work through channels to assure DOT is receiving pertinent information concerning this school zone and will collaborate with them for possible solutions.”
Wendy Ingram, now in her fourth year as Saddle Ridge Elementary and Middle School’s principal, said she supports any grassroots effort to have a traffic signal installed.
“It is scary,” Ingram said. “But what would truly make it safer would be for people to slow down and take extra caution in that area.”
GDOT officials have said the reason for not having a stop light are that Saddle Ridge’s buildings are too far from the highway to warrant anything other than a flashing yellow school zone warning light.
Anyone caught speeding through a school zone faces increased fines and can be ticketed for any speed above the posted limit.
Even more effective in slowing traffic than the school zone lights are the flashing blue lights of patrol cars when sheriff’s deputies are able to monitor traffic in the morning and afternoon.
But until a high school is built, or the petition drive sways authorities, Ingram said the best that can be hoped for is increased vigilance on the part of all who drive through the area.
“I hope this (the petition) takes off and has a positive impact,” the principal said. “We are behind anything that makes our school safer.”
Assistant editor Mike O’Neal contributed to this article.
Josh O'Bryant is a general assignment reporter and covers the Walker-Catoosa County area. He can be reached at the Walker County Messenger office at 706-638-1859 and by email at email@example.com.