The new westside Savannah high school: how will it impact traffic?

I felt almost like the sole public objector to the decision to site the Savannah/Chatham County school system’s new westside high school in the long-planned but pretty much still deserted New Hampstead development.

It’s still a mystery to me why folks in Pooler and other more populated areas of West Chatham didn’t chime in more forcefully on the location. They seemed too easily satisfied that the system was following through on a pledge to build a high school west of I-95, and I’m pretty sure relatively few affected families actually took the time to see how isolated the school is. There have been some dubious public policy decisions in the Savannah area over the last decade or so, including the city’s investment of millions of dollars for infrastructure for New Hampstead, but the decision to spend $30 million on a school there is right up there with the worst.

Anyway, I lost that battle.

New Hampstead High School will no doubt be full when it opens tomorrow, and it will be a major draw for West Chatham families, no matter how far away it might be. From today’s Savannah Morning News:

West Chatham area residents will have a new high school. New Hampstead High School is a sleek, high-tech, eco-friendly school built to serve 800 students. Although it has a temporary classroom wing for now, revenue from the next five years of education sales tax collections will be used to build a third classroom wing that will expand capacity to 1,200 students. A 450-seat auditorium will also be added.

But now I’ll be curious to see what the new high school’s traffic impacts are. School opens tomorrow — Monday, August 27 — and I’d encourage West Chatham drivers to be extra alert about the changing patterns. There could be a few unexpectedly gnarly spots, including on some roads where drivers are used to little traffic and high speeds.

Click here for the absurdly early bus schedule. Busses are scheduled to arrive at the school at 7 a.m., which means that some students will be picked up as early as 5:50 a.m. No high school students should be going to school that early. It’s nuts.

Of course, lots of students will be driving or carpooling with other students — or will get dropped off by parents.

The surge in early morning and mid-afternoon traffic is bound to have some sort of impact.

Click here for a big version of the countywide high school attendance zones. Here’s a large detail of the zone for New Hampstead, with the school marked by the little schoolhouse:

So how will drivers end up accessing the school?

  • At the bottom center, you can see the intersection of 95 and 204/Fort Argyle. Some students and staff might come up 204 and cut across Bush Road and then take a left on Little Neck Road. Some will go further out on Fort Argyle — 4.4 miles — and come at the school from the undeveloped neighborhood. But as I understand it, there is no direct access from any road besides Little Neck, so we’re going to have drivers turning onto Little Neck at a normally deserted intersection and then turning into the school.
  • Quacco Road has a lot of residents along it, but there’s no direct access from Quacco to Little Neck. Neither road has direct access to 95. So some of those drivers might go all the way down to 17/Ogeechee Road and then turn on to Little Neck. Students in the eastern or southern portion of the attendance zone might go that way for the most part.
  • The straightest shot to the school will be for students in Bloomingdale, but they’ll be putting additional cars on the overpass at exit 155 on 16.
  • And exit 155 on 16 is going to see a fair bit of additional stress, since it seems likely that lots of Pooler residents bound for New Hampstead will get on the interstate rather than go through Bloomingdale. There are some tricky sight lines at the end of that exit ramp, and there will be a surge of cars between 7 and 7:30 each weekday that need to turn left after making the exit.

It’s worth keeping in mind that all these distances are larger than they might appear here. The school is about 9 miles from downtown Pooler, about 4 miles from Bloomingdale, and about 7 miles from the intersection of Little Neck and Ogeechee.

By the way, I’ll note that it’s possible that not a single student will be able to bike or walk to this school.

I’d appreciate feedback from West Chatham residents about how things go in terms of traffic and access.