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On Lutz-Lake Fern Road, parents learn the ins and outs of school traffic

Traffic lines up on Lutz-Lake Fern Road outside of McKitrick Elementary after the first day of school lets out on Tuesday.

KERI WIGINTON | Times

Traffic lines up on Lutz-Lake Fern Road outside of McKitrick Elementary after the first day of school lets out on Tuesday.

LUTZ — Please, take this advice: If you don't have to drive on Lutz-Lake Fern Road near the Suncoast Parkway when school starts or ends — don't.

That part of the road already has more than enough cars and trucks.

And it will take a while for everyone to figure out the best ways in and out of school.

That said, traffic on the first day of school Tuesday was, by turns, sorely frustrating and oddly smooth.

Take Shana Logan's experience. She's the assistant principal for curriculum at Martinez Middle School, and her daughter Kennedy is a second-grader at McKitrick Elementary. The schools are neighbors on Lutz-Lake Fern.

Logan left home in Apollo Beach at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday hoping to be one of the first parents to drop off their child at McKitrick.

By 7:15 a.m., she was in front of Heritage Harbor development, about a half mile from the school.

"I pulled in to McKitrick at 7:53," she said. Even with the early departure from home, "it didn't work."

Oddly, however, she said the morning drop-off for Martinez Middle School went surprisingly well, with the car line clearing out early.

"We were amazed," Logan said. "We had probably the smoothest opening ever."

That's the way it was. There was congestion, yes, but also signs of hope, officials said.

"I think things went quite well this morning," said Gary Tait, who manages the school safety program for the Hillsborough County public works department. "Yeah, there was some congestion, but it was moving better than I think most people expected."

Many of the problems, Tait said, were not on Lutz-Lake Fern, which is undergoing a multipart project to widen the road to four lanes.

There, at least, the county had posted off-duty sheriff's deputies to direct traffic. The deputies will remain, officials have said, until a traffic signal is installed on Lutz-Lake Fern at the entrance to McKitrick Elementary, Martinez Middle and the brand-new Steinbrenner High.

Together, those three schools have more than 3,500 students — about 1,600 at Steinbrenner, 1,068 at Martinez and 907 at McKitrick.

But the planned traffic signal at the access road won't go up in the immediate future. It is part of a phase of the road-widening that isn't scheduled to start until after Thanksgiving.

Rather than on Lutz-Lake Fern itself, Tait said, there were problems inside the school property, where one access drive serves all three schools.

At McKitrick, officials said, some parents tried to make a left turn out of a school parking lot at a spot that snarled traffic trying to turn onto the access road from Lutz-Lake Fern.

And the four-lane access road narrows to two lanes as it winds around Steinbrenner and heads back to Martinez. That creates bottlenecks that have nothing to do with what's happening on Lutz-Lake Fern, Tait said.

McKitrick principal Allison Cline said school administrators consulted with deputies and made some adjustments from the morning to the afternoon.

And she said officials would assess things at the end of the week, once things settle down, to see whether more changes are in order.

"It was totally backed up, but it was kind of like organized chaos at this point," Cline said of the morning drop-off. "Our parents were great. They came in smiling even though it took them an hour to do a 10-minute drive."

On Lutz-Lake Fern Road, parents learn the ins and outs of school traffic 08/27/09 [Last modified: Thursday, August 27, 2009 4:30am]
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