Police aim to reduce dangers at Monument High intersection in Great Barrington

Under a new drop-off plan launched this week, parents are dropping Monument Mountain Regional High School students at a location near the neighboring elementary school. The plan is designed to ease traffic flow outside the high school, above, which can be challenging.

GREAT BARRINGTON — Police and school officials this week changed the morning drop-off location for Monument Mountain Regional High School students, in a pilot attempt to minimize the dangers faced by drivers and police officers at an accident-prone intersection.

Students now are dropped off at Muddy Brook Elementary School off Monument Valley Road and walk the path up the Monument hill to reach the school.

Monument High Principal Kristi Farina sent an email to families Monday afternoon, saying the new pilot was a success. She said that more than 80 families cooperated, as did the weather, and that this improved traffic flow in what also is a legendary morning jam-up as school buses struggle to exit the school driveway. Police and school administrators will continue to be present to support the transition, she added.

But, she later said that there was some grumbling.

"It's a change, and nobody likes change," Farina said of the students. "I can't say they are thrilled about it. But, I don't think its putting them out that much."

Great Barrington Police Sgt. Paul Storti told the Select Board on Monday that police will continue to monitor the new system this week, then convene with school officials to gauge its success.

"It's something that didn't cost a lot of money that we could do instantly," said Storti, who had worked on the idea and coordinated the plan.

The new system stems from various accidents and near misses over the years where State Route 7 meets with complex traffic flow during the morning and afternoon rush. An October crash was the sixth there since 2014. While there were no injuries, it prompted police to take action.

After a crash in 2016, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation reduced the speed limit and installed dynamic speed signs and flashing lights. The 50 mph speed limit on the highway slows to 35 mph at the school zone, but northbound and southbound traffic must contend with drivers turning into the school from both directions, and school buses. At the middle of all this stands a police officer on Route 7, something that police say has been a growing worry.

"It's been an issue for us, for our safety, as well as people coming out of the school," Storti said.

"We're like a human traffic light," Police Chief William Walsh told The Eagle after the October crash.

Add inexperienced teen drivers to that mix and it is a dangerous cocktail that has led town and state officials to ask the state Department of Transportation to install a full light signal to replace the existing flashing yellow.

But, the intersection didn't meet DOT's calculus for a full signal in 2016. The agency instead recommended that the school district create an internal driveway to shunt cars to Monument Valley Road, at school district expense. But, school officials estimated the cost range from $500,000 to $1 million.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.