Morgantown pedestrian safety left at a standstill

14 Feb

Members of the Student Government Association (SGA) have announced that the will be working with other government agencies and community leaders to create a safe walk where they will target streets and sidewalks in Morgantown that need fixing in-order-to keep pedestrians safe. This announcement comes almost two weeks after West Virginia University student, Leah Berhanu was hit and killed by a car while crossing Patterson Drive.

Brent Scott, the Eberly College representative for SGA made the announcement at the Pedestrian Board meeting Monday night where the main topic of discussion was the incident involving Berhanu and possible ways to solve it. Scott was a childhood friend of Berhanu and is passionate about making sure this doesn’t happen to another university student.

The accident occurred on the evening of February 1 near the entrance to the Evansdale Crossing and Rec Center. Berhanu was only 21 years old.

Plans for the safe walk are still in their early stages, however, Scott wants to target areas where sidewalks are in poor condition, potholes and lighting issues. The lights above the area where Berhanu was hit were not on and functioning at the time of the accident.

Why weren’t the lights above this intersection working? Patteson Drive is a highly traveled road for cars in Morgantown. Up the street from this accident, where Patteson Drive meets Monongahela Boulevard, is the site of most car accidents in town. Another student was hit in the exact same intersection last October.

During the meeting a few attendees reported that some of the lights above the intersection have been turned on but not all.

The road in question is a road that is not owned by the city but rather by the Department of Highways (DOH). That department is the one that controls the maintenance of that road. Therefore, no changes can be made to the area until the DOH agrees or relinquishes control to the city.

Based on reactions from attendees and city workers that is something that is easier said than done.

Assistant City Engineer, Alex Stockdale, and Public Works Director, Kenny Holloway admit that it is tricky to get the DOH to respond back to their request.

Stockdale and Holloway both suggested installing an overhead walk path, but this would require the DOH to hand over this area to the city, so these changes could be made. This also requires funding, but the DOH, according to Stockdale, is severely understaffed and they are still waiting on Transportation Alternatives Program grant money from previous years.

“We’re not allowed to stick whatever we want in the ground to protect pedestrians,” said Stockdale. “We’re not even allowed to fix their lights.”

After over an hour of conversation, I left the meeting with the understanding that nothing can be done until the DOH decides what it wants to do. The city officials capable of fixing the problem aren’t allowed to touch the areas that need fixing. If SGA is successful in getting city officials on board to find and target roads and sidewalks that need fixing they may not even be able to fix them. If the areas aren’t within the cities control, then what can they do to convince DOH to fix these areas before someone else get hurt?


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