BERLIN – Citing concerns about the safety of Seahawk Road in the area of two public schools, Worcester County Board of Education members this week agreed to explore options and alternatives for the often-snarled thoroughfare.
For years, Seahawk Road, which runs past both Stephen Decatur High and Stephen Decatur Middle schools, has been a trouble spot, particularly during morning and afternoon commute times or when there are major events at either of the two schools. With development anticipated on a vast open tract of land on the east side of the road in the future, and the county’s long-proposed service road along the south side of Route 50 expected to terminate in the area, county school officials are taking a proactive approach to safety along the corridor.
At the request of Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jon Andes, county school board officials this week agreed to form a committee, or task force, to examine both short- and long-term solutions for the congested area.
Andes said the sheer volume of traffic around the two schools necessitates forming a committee to study traffic patterns along Seahawk Road.
“We continue to have real concerns about Seahawk Road,” he said at the close of Tuesday’s March school board meeting. “As you all know, there is a ton of traffic in that area – student traffic, parent traffic and school bus traffic – and I think we need to convene a committee to identify some of the challenges and ensure all who use it are safe.”
Andes suggested the committee include parents, teachers, students, business owners in the area, local law enforcement officials and State Highway Administration (SHA) officials. Seahawk Road is owned by Berlin and is maintained by the town. Andes said short-term remedies have been implemented in the past including traffic light changes and turn-lane alterations, but the time has come to look at broader solutions.
The vast tract on the east side of the road is expected to be developed at some point in the future with a mixed-use commercial project. In addition, the long awaited Route 50 service road is expected to end at Seahawk Road, contributing to the existing problems at the intersection.
However, Andes said neither of those future developments were the reason for the request for a task force at this time. Instead, the superintendent is seeking some short-term relief for the problems related to the schools.
“There are no specific issues that need to be addressed immediately,” he said. “At some point in time, the Route 50 service road will be developed and at some point in time, that big field on the east side of the road will be developed. In the meantime, we want to be certain we are doing everything we can to make it safer.
There are currently about 1,400 students at Decatur High School and another 650 at Decatur Middle, creating a situation where over 2,000 students are coming and going two times a day. With the teachers, administrators, support staff and school buses added to the mix, along with the regular everyday traffic in the area, the corridor is often a nightmare.
“Over the years as a parent dropping off kids at those schools, I know first hand some of the challenges we face out there,” said Andes. “We need to bring folks together to see what we can come up with now. Because of the structure of the two-lane road, we can’t solve every congestion issue, but there are things we might be able to do in the short-term.”
School board members voted to convene a task force to examine the congestion problems on the road with the caveat all potential stakeholders be included in the process.
“I think we need to make sure we include the adjacent property owners in this,” said Board member Bob Rothermel. “If we’re going to get any effective change, we need to have everybody at the table.”