As Ridgefield grows, its charming, walkable downtown is earning another reputation: traffic-filled.
The state’s fastest-growing city has seen an increase in downtown traffic in recent years, and some ongoing construction mixed with booming enrollment at downtown’s Union Ridge Elementary School and View Ridge Middle School have left the city with even longer backups.
The city started doing some sewer work the week of Oct. 17 at the intersection of Pioneer Street and 45th Avenue, which sent detouring drivers through downtown.
“That detour has made what was a difficult traffic situation even worse before and after school,” said Bryan Kast, the city’s public works director.
City and school district officials both heard complaints from residents. Discussions between the two sides about alleviating traffic issues downtown started in September, according to Ridgefield Superintendent Nathan McCann. A few days after construction started, the two sides agreed to put a flagger near the schools to ensure that the area is safe for students.
The flagger, who is paid for by the contractors doing the sewer work, will remain there for the duration of the project, which is expected to end on Nov. 11, Kast said. He added that the city and school district are discussing how to keep a flagger on duty after the work is finished. Both Kast and McCann said they’re confident they’ll figure out how to keep someone out there for the duration of the school year.
McCann said he knows the area is a “traffic choke point,” but his biggest concern is the safety of his students. He said the kids need to be aware of all of the cars, but the drivers need to do their part to keep the area safe.
“The oldest kids walking downtown are eighth-graders,” he said. “I’d say the same thing with high-schoolers, but especially with younger kids, there’s a chance they’re not going to double check both ways. We need to continue to be cautious while we’re out there driving and recognize it takes a little while to get down there for drop-off or pickup.”
The flagger is downtown during drop-off in the morning and pickup after school. The city and district also have spoken with the Ridgefield Police Department about sending an officer over in the mornings, if possible, to make sure things move smoothly.
For about a week or so, the department has had someone in the area in the morning when possible, according to Ridgefield police Lt. Roy Rhine.
“As staffing allows, we intend to have an officer up in that area to assist with traffic,” Rhine said. “It’ll depend on staffing and timing and if anything else is going on, but we will have a presence there to keep things calm and get through this little backup.”
The area also could see less of a backup if the Ridgefield School District’s bond, which is expected to come in at around $97 million, is approved by voters in February. Some of the bond money would go toward a new campus with two schools, one for fifth- and sixth-graders and another for seventh- and eighth-graders. The new campus would be across South Hillhurst Road from Ridgefield High School.
McCann said the new campus would move 54 percent of Union Ridge and View Ridge students out of the downtown schools to the new campus.
“Over time, alleviating 54 percent of students will make for a safer environment downtown and ease congestion considerably,” McCann said. “That’s a trade you make for the charm of some of these old parts of town: they’re dense and have small streets. They don’t necessarily have the capacity to deal with all our drivers right now.”