by Jim Fisher
CLARKSBURG -- The issue of increased traffic control on Emily Drive has been on the minds of Clarksburg City Council members for some time. Now, the city has another advocate: The developer of New Pointe.
In July, developer Jim Lewis sent a good news/bad news letter to City Manager Tom Vidovich. The good news: Stores in the area are performing practically beyond all expectations. The bad news: It's next to impossible to access those stores easily.
"Unfortunately, they are doing so much business that the traffic on Emily Drive has created a situation way beyond the threshold of safe ingress and egress," said a letter from Lewis.
Businesses along the highly traveled retail corridor are receiving numerous complaints from customers who believe "they are putting their life at risk as they are trying to enter and exit," according to the letter. "In addition, we are now receiving hesitancy from new tenants who are looking at being part of the Phase Three development" between Lowe's and the post office.
"I believe it is essential that we get at least two signals at the main entrances of the Wal-Mart and Lowe's developments," Lewis' letter said. "I want to make sure that the safety of the thousands of customers who patronize this particular development is addressed."
But adding more traffic signals along Emily Drive isn't even on the state Division of Highways' radar, said Anthony Bellotte, Public Works Superintendent for Clarksburg.
At Vidovich's request, Bellotte prepared a packet for City Council outlining the road's problems, efforts to get lights and possible future steps. Vidovich was in Charleston on Monday and unavailable for comment.
Division of Highways officials conducted traffic counts at four major points along the road on two days in March, according to Bellotte. The counts were taken at entrances to Kroger, Lowe's, Denny's and Wal-Mart. The study showed that traffic volume along Emily Drive is not sufficient for additional lights, according to Bellotte's letter.
DOH traffic engineer Roger Russell was unavailable for comment Monday.
Bellotte said the DOH has two major concerns: Volume counts are not high enough and additional lights probably will cause traffic to back up. Another concern is that none of the proposed lights are at an intersection of public roads, he said.
"Based on my conversations with the state, I don't think they are ready to release any contracts up there," Bellotte said. "Right now, it's pretty much in limbo. The state is saying, with the studies they've done, they're satisfied. There's no projects planned up there, let's say."
Another part of Bellotte's packet is a 2002 study from Clarksburg Police Chief John Walker, outlining vehicle accidents on Emily Drive between Jan. 1-Nov. 14, 2002. There were 57 accidents during that period. Many new stores have opened since November 2002, most likely increasing those numbers.
However, the DOH may be willing to listen further if someone else is willing to pay for the lights and if the city will assume maintenance responsibility, Bellotte said.
Bellotte recommended taking several steps: Update the police accident report, obtain letters of support from Emily Drive businesses and the County Commission, look into financial assistance from those businesses, as well as developer THF Realty, city coffers and possibly the county, and seek guidance from local legislators.
At least some of that appears to already be in the works. Councilwoman Margaret Bailey, who has been very outspoken in favor of the signals, said Monday a meeting of the principals is imminent. Bailey has spoken to Del. Bobbie Warner, D-Harrison, about the lights.
"This is a problem that can be taken care of now, but action needs to be taken now," Bailey said. "The thing we have to keep in mind is, even if we approve this today, it still takes time to obtain the proper equipment, so the urgency on this is even more heightened."
Staff writer Jim Fisher can be reached at 626-1446 or by e-mail at email@example.com