Traffic Commission: We can't veto school site, only make area travel safer

The Gloucester Traffic Commission has concerns about traffic in the Webster Street area after looking at traffic studies done for the new school planned to be built on the site of the current Veterans Memorial Elementary School and Mattos Field.

While the members of the Gloucester Traffic Commission are not thrilled about the location of the new combined elementary school, they have shifted gears from fighting the build to finding solutions to make the project —as it currently stands — as safe as possible. 

“We are not a body that can vote up or down a school,” Commissioner Mike Mitchell said Thursday. “When a school property has been chosen, it is our job when the project is being built to make sure it is being built as safely as possible.”  

Plans call for a new building to house the combined student bodies of East Gloucester and Veterans Memorial elementary schools to be constructed on the site of the current Veterans Memorial and Mattos Field.

Commissioners met with architectural designer Dore & Whittier’s Michele Rogers and Gloucester school administrators Thursday evening to present their concerns and recommendations for a traffic analysis report that was done in 2020.

The traffic analysis report — which Dore & Whittier had Nitsch Engineering complete last winter — is a part of a $66.7 million construction project, approved by 52.32% of local voters during the November elections. The city is set to break ground this October with an estimated completion date of September 2023.

The commissioners' biggest concerns dealt with congestion, safety, and the overall practicality of the school's proposed location as it relates to traffic.

"It is just too congested an area," Commissioner Mike Mulcahey said.

To try to alleviate any concerns, Michele Rogers of Dore & Whittier walked the commissioners through a presentation of the traffic study that included the existing conditions of the roadways and what it will look like with the new, combined elementary school in 2023.  

She proposed three steps to mitigate traffic problems in the area of Webster Street, which include: 

Enhancing pedestrian experience along Webster Street and Eastern Avenue by improving sidewalks and accessible ramps where needed to accommodate children walking to school and Safe Route to School travelways. 

Relocating crosswalks to coordinate with the new plan. 

Extending the "No Parking" zone to the existing walkway.

“It is going to be really important that parents are told that there is no parking on the side of the street, no dropping off their students there,” Rogers said. “Bring your students to the safe spot for dropping off.”

The meeting was not short of public opinions as more than 10 people logged on to advise the commission and administrators on what they thought were the best steps forward. 

The majority asked if the city had considered how human nature may play into the traffic patterns at the new school.

"Parents sometimes refuse to allow to be ‘trained’," Gloucester resident Mary Ann Boucher said. "They park anywhere they possibly can to avoid being in a queue and in a line."

She was responding to a statement made earlier in the evening by Superintendent Ben Lummis about training parents as to the safest approach for picking up and dropping off their children at the school.

Others expressed concern about how congested the adjacent roadways could be and that they fear for the safety of the children. 

Patti Amaral, a former member of the Open Space & Recreation Commission, noted that the commission's recommendations as an advisory board "don't have teeth" and that is "why no one is listening to you."

At the end of the meeting, the conclusion made by Councilor Barry Pett was: "It is what it is."

“We appreciate all of the input from not only the lifelong history of the members of the Traffic Commission, but all the citizens as well," he said.

“The idea is to make this work as best as possible,” Pett said. “This (11 Webster St.) is where it (the new school) is going and I hope we can take all the information that has come in and continue to look at it. … Everyone is involved and everyone is obviously looking to do the best for the citizens and for the city.”

The Traffic Commission plans to have another meeting in the near future to compile its and the community's concerns and recommendation to submit to Dore & Whittier.  

“Maybe we can compile this in writing and submit it to them as our objections and our concerns and let it go from there,” Commissioner Anthony Bertolino said. 

Staff writer Taylor Ann Bradford can be reached at 978-675-2705 or tbradford@gloucestertimes.com.

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