DOH’s chief engineer says fix to Lewisburg’s traffic problems must be ‘something that works for everyone’

By Matthew Young, RealWV

LEWISBURG, W.Va. – “In some situations, the driver of a truck who is unfamiliar with the area may not understand that the physics of what he’s wanting to do is not possible.” 

That’s what Joe Pack, chief engineer of District Operations for the W.Va. Division of Highways (DOH) said regarding the ongoing traffic concerns at the intersection of Washington and Jefferson streets (US Routes 60 and 219) in downtown Lewisburg. Since March 30, Bella the Corner Gourmet – which occupies one of the intersection’s four corners – has been struck nine times by a turning vehicle.

Pack spoke with RealWV on Thursday about both the cause of the situation, as well as the steps being taken to find an amicable resolution. 

“Lewisburg is a very old town – dating back to the 1780s when it was settled.” Pack said. “These two roads (US Routes 60 and 219) existed, at one time, as horse trails. The community has developed over those 250-plus years. Now, as often happens to a community that was built to serve horses and carts, it’s grown to serve thousands of cars and large trucks every day. There comes a point where there’s a conflict with how that growth occurs.”

“Really, part of the problem is due to some positive things that have happened,” Pack continued. “In the last few decades, you’ve had the revitalization of the businesses there in the City of Lewisburg. There’s a lot of side-street parking because people are wanting to visit those shops and restaurants, and of course these are still two of the main routes in and out of that part of West Virginia.” 

“These are roads that are on the federal system being U.S. routes,” Pack added. “If you’re a driver of a vehicle and you’re traveling into the area, any map you look at is going to give you the impression that you’ll be able to drive into town and navigate the roads without any type of restrictions. However, we know that to not be the case in the specific situation of a vehicle traveling west-bound, then turning right to travel north-bound (west on 60, turning right to travel north on 219).”

According to Pack the DOH has “made changes in the past” regarding the allowed location of side-street parking, and stop bar placement. However, while these measures have helped to mitigate the problem, they have not provided a sustained solution. More often than not, by the time a commercial truck driver realizes that their vehicle simply won’t fit, the damage has already been done. 

As a temporary remedy, the DOH has restricted right-hand turns at the intersection, as well as implemented “traffic control measures” to notify truckers of the change. 

“We’re putting up some advisory signs, letting the drivers of those types of vehicles understand that the right-hand turn movement is not advisable, and it’s not going to be able to be completed,” Pack said. “That way they can try to take alternate routes.” 

Pack noted that the DOH is not utilizing detours as a way to route commercial traffic around the intersection because it creates additional logistical challenges.

“When you set up a detour, you have to assume where the travelers are going,” Pack explained. “In this case, we’re trying to put up enough warning signs so that the drivers of those vehicles can make appropriate changes in their course.” 

While the problem’s cause may be easily identified and explained, its solution remains far more elusive. 

“The solution is complex,” Pack said. “Some of the side streets and area roads are privately owned or owned by the city, and not owned by the DOH. It’s almost impossible at times for us to route traffic down a road that we don’t own.”

“We are working on programs with the city, and that includes the local business owners,” Pack continued. “And we’re also looking at a bigger scheme of what we can do for a  short-term, medium-term, and a long-term solution.”

While work on the elusive solution is currently underway, Pack explained that it may take several years to reach completion.

“We may come up with a great solution, but it might take five-to-ten years to implement if it means constructing new roads or doing something different,” Pack said, adding that “everything is on the table” as far as ideas for an agreed-upon resolution. 

“We’re at the point today where we want to still make sure that our commerce can move through the area,” Pack noted. “A lot of these trucks aren’t hauling logs or coal – they are hauling goods that are going to local shops and restaurants. They still need access to the area.”

“The solution has to be something that works for everyone involved,” Pack said. “Any idea that we can simply ban trucks from using these two federal-aid routes – that’s simply not a solution that is acceptable.”

Pack concluded by saying, “Assuming that we will get full cooperation from everyone involved, a solution is very likely, and it shouldn’t be in the too-distant future. It simply cannot be just what works for the DOH, what works for the city, or what works for an individual property owner – it has to be all of us working together to try and come to a solution.”

For additional information regarding the traffic situation in downtown Lewisburg, click here. RealWV will provide continual updates as further information is made available. 

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