Fourth Street traffic change gets mixed reviews

By Frank Lewis

August 28, 2013

Frank Lewis

PDT Staff Writer

One of the points of contention during last year’s discussion over the closing of Third Street to aid Shawnee State University’s growth was a fear by some residents of children going to and from Portsmouth City Schools — specifically Portsmouth Elementary — would be endangered with the transfer of traffic to Fourth Street.

Superintendent of Portsmouth City Schools, Scott Dutey, says the change in traffic pattern has not been a problem for children returning for the 2013-14 school year.

“Not at all,” Dutey said. “Actually it has made things smoother, to be honest, at least the first week. Things have gone really really well.”

How about children walking to school in that area?

“We only have five or six kids that it’s affecting at this point,” Dutey said. “We’ll continue to monitor and look at it, but I know for the first few days, we were evaluating that just to see what kind of numbers were being impacted.”

By a unanimous 5-0 vote (Council President Steve Sturgill was absent), on April 22, Portsmouth City Council decided to accommodate the future growth of Shawnee State University by permanently closing the street. On Aug. 15, the university physically closed the street, transferring the traffic over to Fourth Street.

One place that is experiencing issues from the changeover is the Portsmouth office of the Social Security Administration on Fourth Street.

Tonie Garcia, Social Security District Manager in Portsmouth, said the traffic backup has, at times, made it impossible to get off the parking lot into the proper traffic flow, causing people to turn left instead of right, which is the proper direction, because of the extreme difficulty caused by the backup. Garcia said Mondays and Tuesdays are especially problematic. She said traffic is often backed up to the alley.

“The closing of Third Street has not created any problems that we did not anticipate. It will take awhile for people to get used to the street closing. Right now, the closing has created a congestion problem in the Fourth and Gay Street areas. It has also created some access problems during peak traffic hours, to properties along Fourth Street between Waller and Gay Streets,” Captain Lynn Brewer of the Portsmouth Police Department said. “As people get used to the change in traffic flow and adjust to the closing, traffic should somewhat regulate itself through people choosing less congested routes. If the majority of the problem does not correct itself through people adjusting, other options will have to be looked at.”

Brewer also mentioned the installation of a traffic light was discussed for Fourth and Gay Street at one time but the university decided to hold off on that until they determined if it was really going to be needed.

“Through careful planning and consultation, Shawnee State University staff in conjunction with state and local departments developed a plan to address as many foreseeable issues as possible before the closure of Third Street took place. Anytime traffic patterns are changed, it takes awhile for the dust to settle as drivers adapt to the changes,” Portsmouth Police Chief Robert Ware said. “It is too soon to realize a true measure of any impact the changes will have on traffic flow. The university students have been on campus less than two weeks and the local elementary and high school students just returned. It takes weeks for new patterns to develop as drivers determine which roads they will traverse as part of their daily commuting routine. During that time, we will be monitoring the area to discover any improvements that can be made.”

Ware said as those traffic patterns develop and become more consistent, the city will be able to determine areas in which additional changes can be made to increase the efficient flow of traffic through the downtown area. He said in the mean time, strict traffic enforcement and speed warning devices will continue to be utilized in the areas surrounding the university campus and the school complexes to promote the safe and efficient flow of motor vehicle traffic as they monitor the area for any necessary improvements.

“As progressive change takes place within the city, it is crucial that all of us be patient and accepting,” Ware said. “Change can be difficult, but it is necessary for us to move forward and become a vibrant community. The Portsmouth Police Department remains committed to working with the appropriate entities to ensure the continued progress of the city while maximizing the three E’s of traffic; engineering, education, and enforcement.”

Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at flewis@civitasmedia.com. For breaking news, follow Frank on Twitter @FrankLewisPDT.