This map shows the path that the city of Imperial plans to implement for the drop-off and pick-up of students from Frank Wright Middle School, with parents expected to enter the 15th Street parking lot heading west, then directed to continue heading westbound after leaving the parking lot. | PHOTO COURTESY OF IMPERIAL
IMPERIAL — A traffic study by the city has determined that traffic congestion at the intersection of Highway 86 and 15th Street, near Frank Wright Middle School, is the result of traffic at a different intersection, Imperial Avenue and 15th Street.
The results of that traffic study were revealed to the public for first time during the Imperial City Council meeting on Wednesday night, Dec. 15.
“We found, as we suspected, that the hub of the congestion of (Highway) 86 and 15th, that it’s actually not 86 and 15th. It’s Imperial Avenue and 15th, which then causes the backup to 86,” Imperial Assistant City Manager Alexis Brown said.
At the same meeting, the city announced a new interim traffic mitigation plan created in collaboration with Imperial Unified School District to help control traffic in the area.
Brown said the back up on Imperial Avenue and 15th Street occurs due to a lack of coordination for student pick-ups and drop-offs at Frank Wright Middle School, most of which happen along Imperial Avenue. That congestion was then further compounded by the opening of the new Post Office directly across the street.
The new plan involves moving the student pick-up/drop-off area to the middle school’s parking lot on 15th Street, which the school currently uses as a bus drop-off and staff parking lot. The drop-off area will be modeled after the 2020 eighth-grade drive-through ceremony, where two distinct lines of cars moving westbound through the parking lot was created. Parents will be able to drop their children for school, then directed back out on to 15th Street heading west again, before being allowed to turn onto F Street or continue down 15th Street.
“Does that mean 15th Street will become a one-way street during school hours?” Imperial City Council member Katie Burnworth asked as Brown explained the plan.
Brown responded yes, but only for portions of the day — immediately before and after school, when parent pick-ups and drop-offs are at their highest volume.
Brown was unable to provide a date for when this plan is going to be implemented, stating that Imperial City Manager Dennis Morita and herself had hoped for implementation when students return from winter break, but the school will require longer to prepare for the change.
“Dennis and I did have a very aggressive timeline, which is hoping after winter break, but it is going to take time, as (City Council member Robert Amparano) stated, just to make sure that the school district staff is trained up … we want to make sure that everyone is comfortable, and also that parents have had time to review and understand,” Brown said.
She also stressed that this is not a permeant solution to traffic issues, as development in the area will cause changing conditions, requiring adjustments in the plan to accommodate those situations.
Currently, Imperial is expecting to open a McDonalds and a Starbucks across the street from the school, with the McDonalds being opened as early as February, Brown said. The city is also in the process of redesigning the Highway 86 corridor, which they hope will also alleviate some traffic by creating better flow at intersections.
“I do like this plan. … it needs to be one of those, like (Brown) said, evolving moving, always alive, change as we need plans, but I think the biggest part is that the school does have to play a big part,” Amparano said.
Brown assured Amparano that Imperial Unified School District is playing a large role in the development of this plan, and that the city had continuous meetings, one even scheduled during winter break, to actively work alongside the school to address this issue.
Notably missing from the Dec. 15 meeting was the Imperial resident who put a spotlight on this issue, Chuck Jernigan. Jernigan had spoken during public comment on this issue over the last few months, insisting that the city was not handling this issue in an acceptable amount of time, becoming upset at the City Council for not discussing the issue.
The city responded to Jernigan’s accusations in an email on Dec. 2, explaining that the discussion was scheduled for the first council meeting after the completion of the traffic study, so all the information was available to form a plan.
City Attorney Geoffrey Holbrook also addressed Jernigan’s accusations directly during the Dec. 1 council meeting, explaining that the city legally could not discuss a plan until the scheduled date, since the public was not equally notified that the discussion was happening.