The Coming 705/Mileground Intersection Disaster

ALL OFFICIALS INVOLVED NEED TO CORRECT COURSE

At the ENTRAN/WV Division of Highways presentation about the route 705 and route 119 Mileground expansion at the MPO meeting in Morgantown Thursday, DoH official Perry Keller remarked that while green school traffic peak hours would coincide with commuter rush hour in the morning on the Mileground, which would be a problem, he said, he also claimed that school traffic peak hours in the afternoon would not coincide with rush hour. That is false. Completely wrong. “Rush hour” – that is, congestion nightmare – at the 705/119 intersection occurs from 2:30pm to 6:30pm, often earlier and sometimes later. Why? Because a 705 area hospital or two and Health Sciences have a huge shift change at 3:00pm (or 2:50). And Mylan Pharmaceutical plant has a huge shift change at 3:15. In other words, “rush hour” at the 705/119 Mileground intersection, the intended site of the green elementary school, begins much closer to 2:00pm than it does to the 5:00pm claimed by the DoH. And it can extend four times as long as the DoH claims. Not exactly a small mistake. The intended green school is doomed by countless factors. And it is doomed by rush hours alone. (UPDATE: Months later, DOH, MPO, and ENTRAN corrected themselves, no doubt due in large part to public outcry: the final ENTRAN study, Mileground Road Traffic: Final Report, published February 2011, found a) “rush hours” congestion about 6 hours per day (7-9 am, noon, and 2:30-6 pm) on the arterials engulfing the school site, b) nationally rated worst possible “levels of service” (congestion): “D” and “F” (“approaching gridlock”), and c) afternoon Mileground arterial traffic speeds dropping from 14.1 mph to 8.4 mph (average) and from 7.7 mph to 6.2 mph (rush hours) if the school is added to the Mileground, and average vehicular delay at the school-front arterial intersection doubling with the addition of the school, causing pollution, vehicle crash danger, and “entrapment” to be not only “possible,” or likely, but inevitable. This final ENTRAN study however mistakenly identifies WV 705 and US 119 (Mileground Road) as being “minor arterial highways” when in fact DOH confirms that in accordance with national standards those stretches of road are “principal arterial highways”. ENTRAN has said all along however that congestion there cannot be eliminated, only reduced, theoretically, and this would be a reduction of congestion that will not necessarily last as the widened roads and intersection draw ever more traffic in this ever growing traffic vortex and region.)

RUSH HOURS

It takes a worker at Mylan 45 to 50 minutes to travel 3 miles on 705 and 119 to her house in Woodburn on Charles Avenue. By far the biggest problem, she notes, comes at the 705/119 intersection as she tries to turn right/south onto 119. Traffic is backed up onto 705 all the way from Hampton Avenue as it enters 119 across traffic (just before Charles Avenue). It is a half mile of gridlock. And apparently ENTRAN and the DoH have no plans to do anything to solve or even alleviate the Hampton Avenue backup on 119 into 705, which can exist from 2:00 to 6:00. Sometimes she says she can go through relatively quickly for whatever reason. Other times she sits forever. Imagine school buses trying to go back to Woodburn and Jerome Park (or anywhere) moving into that 705/119 Mileground intersection (if they can). How? Perry Keller is making an honest mistake, but it is a big one. Huge. Rush hours at 705 and 119 begins about 3 hours before the DoH is aware. Little children would be sitting in exhaust fumes. It’s criminal.

The DoH and ENTRAN need to get their analysis corrected, pronto.

In fact, given the stunning magnitude of that basic error, they should go camp out on the Mileground, and route 705, and on all access and egress points for about two weeks to make sure they actually get a real sense of what is going on along the Mileground and all around it.

As things stand on the south end of the Mileground, traffic is often backed up halfway from the intended future site of the green school to the new Mountaineer Middle School (8/10s of a mile south on 119), a total standstill. You have to be waved on to 119, let in from Charles Ave, or Hampton Avenue as they both enter 119 side by side, even last spring before Mountain Middle school was open (after University High School had moved out of that facility, which it did in December 2009) and the facility was vacant for remodeling. Now Mountaineer Middle School is in session causing backups on the Mileground, as it sits a mere 8/10s of a mile south of 705. Moreover, there is talk of “expansion” at Mountaineer Middle, that is of adding essentially another school of students. (Not that the public might hear such talk from the Superintendent, but then there are a lot of things one does not hear from the Superintendent that one ought to, as we continue to document in extensive FOIA detail.)

SCHOOL SIZE

In a related vein, ENTRAN official Tom Creasey (ENTRAN is doing the road expansion analysis for the DoH) ran the traffic study assuming a new elementary school of 450 students. This is based on misinformation being disseminated by Monongalia County Schools Superintendent. The school may technically open the first day at 450 students (or it may be more); however, by the Freedom of Information Act we have learned that the Superintendent with his architect is planning in secret for a school that is “really about” meeting space needs for 650 students minimum and may approach space needs for a further expansion to 700 students minimum. Remember, this is a school for small children, pre-K through 5th grade. So then how nice it was to hear a City Council member joke at Thursday’s MPO meeting that “The only pedestrians on the Mileground are dead ones.” And how interesting to hear that no crosswalks are planned at the 705 Mileground intersection (because, well, no one in their right mind walks there). ENTRAN is “assuming no pedestrian activity.” By a school. We should deeply appreciate the dead pedestrians remark. It could not be more appropriate.

That the intended school site is preposterous goes without saying. But if one must say something, “dead pedestrians” and “no pedestrian activity” say it all. The courts might take keen note, let alone any “green” school certifying board.

For now at least, ENTRAN and the DoH need to operate on the assumption of hundreds more students at that intersection “green” elementary school. And they need to take into account in addition not only the new existence of nearby Mountaineer Middle but its possible future “expansion.” Moreover, if the intended green school is added in two years on the Mileground, Mon Schools will be pushing kids out of the city through that 705/119 intersection to the green school and pulling them into the city through that same intersection to the new Middle School. (It would seem the bulk or even all of the Middle School student body needs to pass through that one intersection, because the school has relocated from the north by Cheat Lake). This at congestion and accident central. It’s madness. Nevertheless, the madness needs to be accounted for in the event that it comes to its pernicious fruition. DoH and ENTRAN should be heads up.

15 MPH SCHOOL ZONES

Tom Creasy ran projected traffic speeds of the coming road expansion with some models showing average speeds on the Mileground in excess of 30 miles per hour (the roundabout model looked like it came in at 32 or 33 mph). Yet no apparent effort was made to account for likely 15 mph school zones on both 705 and 119. This would be a very reasonable assumption to make, not least given state law, and plenty of people outraged at a school in that commuter and commercial corridor who would likely see to it that state law is enforced in full. Thus, that average speed (what’s the max speed, by the way?) is a fantasy, or had better be, if the green school is sited as intended. If Mon Schools puts a school at that intersection as it intends, traffic will crawl during the morning rush hours and during the even more extended afternoon rush hours. And parents should make certain of the school zone enforcement of that crawl.

How is that intersection not going to be a half mile or three quarters of a mile (two or three quarter miles wrapped around the corner or extending off the roundabout spokes) 15 mph school zone? It’s essentially a commuter and commercial intersection. It should not be a school area. These are especially grievous traffic issues that neither the MPO, nor the DoH, nor any other entity seems to have adequately come to grips with. In the meantime, if the green school proceeds as intended, the pre-K, K, and grade school children will just have to choke and fend for themselves against whatever pollution and series of traffic accidents the traffic issues throw their way.

MULTIPLE PROBLEMS NEED TO BE ADDRESSED HAND-IN-GLOVE WITH THE MILEGROUND WIDENING

Apart from the spectacular errors and lack of awareness noted above, the DoH/ENTRAN presentation seemed to be of good quality. Perry Keller and Tom Creasey are to be commended. However, the huge problems and gigantic mistakes need to be taken into consideration and corrected, especially if the intersection elementary school is irresponsibly allowed by the whole host of officials involved. It must not be.

And whatever is done with the Mileground corridor, the 705 Connector will continue to be choked by the Stewartstown Road/705 intersection 8/10s of a mile to the west, as Creasey seemed to suggest. Less recognized apparently – despite MPO and school board officer Joe Statler’s mentioning it and the discussion that ensued – is that a bottleneck will continue to exist at the Hampton Avenue/119 T intersection 4/10s of a mile south of 705 on 119. In fact, that bottleneck will grow worse both due to new school development and as 705 and Mileground expansion facilitate more traffic to that de facto Hampton Avenue thruway. That bottleneck to and from the Mileground and the existing menace of a de facto thruway in Jerome Park neighborhood will continue to exist until a road is finally cut from the Mileground (probably very near or at the 705 end) to route 857 (Hartman Run Road). People have been wondering for decades why 705 was never extended in that way. Is there an alternative at this point? Sure: Cut the size of Mylan, WVU, and the hospitals in half.

In other words, no.

And a school at the 705/119 intersection on the Mileground would only make things worse, far far worse for the children involved.

It’s long since time for a few adults in a few rooms to step forward and do what needs done. WVU should not sell its land for the school. Mon Schools should shift the green school to the fallback site in the green school grant: the existing Woodburn schoolgrounds, slightly expanded. Failing the above, the West Virginia Department of Education, the state School Board, and the state Superintendent, or the courts, must decisively intervene.

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