Each weekday afternoon, drivers of the 11 school buses leaving Ellicott Mills Middle School struggle to find a gap in traffic on Route 103 so they can pull onto the highway.
Sometimes, assistant principal Sterlind Burke has to walk on to the road and stop traffic so the buses can leave.
So when teacher Judith Cephas this fall asked her gifted and talented students to select projects, five eighth-grade boys from Ellicott City knew what they wanted to do. They decided to put their effort into a project that would help the whole community -- getting a traffic light in front of the school.
Craig Gajewski's mother had triedunsuccessfully to get traffic signals at the school when she was PTApresident in 1989-1990.
Rob Goble, 13, had seen a near-accident on Route 103 that he attributed to excessive speed.
Ashish Desai, 13, and Craig, also 13, live within the one-mile walking distance but must ride the bus because school officials deemed it too dangerous for students to walk along Route 103.
Students say the congestion problem develops when buses all leave at the same time in the afternoon. Most bus routes are east of the school, so drivers must turn left onto Route 103. In the morning, arrival times are staggered.
Flashing lights that could be turned on 3:05 to 3:20 p.m. would help, Burketold the students.
Tony Mansolillo, 12, called County Councilman Darrel E.
Drown's office, where an aide explained that Route 103 is a state road.
"They were nice about it and did take us seriously," Craig said. "We thought we'd have problems
with them taking us seriously, being students."
The State Highway Administration turned down the students' request. Traffic studies at the school entrance in October 1990 showed that buses were getting out of the driveway in5 to 10 seconds, said Gene R. Straub, assistant district engineer.
"We agree that there's some delay getting out, but introducing new signals would create more delay and hamper traffic along 103," Straubsaid.
The students are not giving up. They are skeptical of an SHA report that average speed near the school is 46 mph, so they're looking for a radar gun to check speeds for themselves.
"You see traffic going up and down the road and you can't believe it's only 46 miles an hour," said Paul Mintz, 13.
The group's next steps are to tabulate results of a student survey on whether flashing lights are needed, interview school bus drivers and teachers who are on bus duty.
The students plan to put that information into a letter seeking help from Delegate Virginia Thomas, D-13A. Craig has already thought of a dramatic closing line for the letter: "A flashing light or a life?"