Sidewalk project runs into roadblocks

NEW CUMBERLAND – In the year that she has been mayor, Linda McNeil has learned that fixing a sidewalk is not as simple as it looks – especially when the sidewalk is adjacent to a busy state route.

Like Station Hill itself, the sidewalk that pedestrians use to negotiate the hill has a history. For the last two years, it’s been closed to foot traffic as city officials have wrestled with whether to repair it or reroute it. Years of heavy truck traffic on state Route 2 have taken their toll, especially on five sections that need to be replaced.

On the cusp of a project to repair and reopen the sidewalk, the city has hit yet another roadblock.

Meeting in special session with city council on Friday, McNeil said the West Virginia Division of Highways is insisting that the road stay open while the work is being done.

“It’s such a lack of common sense,” she said. “All this town wants to do is make the sidewalk passable for pedestrians. … You can’t have workers there and still keep traffic moving in both directions.”

Although the city portion of Route 2 is classified as a rural route, it handles an average of 6,630 vehicles a day, according to a recent DOH study. The section on Station Hill is narrow, measuring only 16 feet wide in some places and making it difficult for tractor-trailers to navigate the hill.

City officials feel they finally have the ear of state highway authorities in Charleston about making improvements to Route 2, but, for now, they just want to fix the sidewalk.

City council awarded a contract in January to Magnone Glaspell Masonry & Construction, of Weirton, and work had been scheduled to begin May 26. Then McNeil learned of the state requirements, and that has delayed the project by a month.

McNeil told council last Friday there will be no more delays and that the work is scheduled for this Friday and Saturday.

“We can’t wait for common sense,” she said.

The city’s plan, which McNeil and Police Chief Lester Skinner will finalize today, is to close Station Hill for a limited time – a few hours each day – and to temporarily reroute traffic down South Chester Street and the access road that goes past AL Solutions.

“We’re not doing anything the state doesn’t want us to do,” Skinner said. “Traffic through town will be maintained while the work is going on.”

McNeil said the city also is having a hard time finding truck detour signs and people to help with traffic control. The Hancock County Sheriff’s Reserves, she said, are already booked for next weekend.

“I will donate my time (as a flagger) if that means getting this project done,” Councilman Pat Jones said.

McNeil said the city already has notified Ergon-West Virginia Inc., in Newell, that its trucks should find an alternate route. Residents in the area of South Chester Street also will be alerted to the fact that traffic will increase, she said.

City Councilwoman Miriam Hess said the sidewalk project has been a cautionary tale, especially for new office-holders such as herself.

“People ought to know that city council is doing all it can to get these projects done,” she said. “but you have to jump through all these hoops.”

The city still has a state grant that may be used to relocate the sidewalk according to a preliminary design developed by KCI Technologies, of Morgantown, in 2012, McNeil said.

That proposal calls for rerouting the sidewalk away from its current position adjacent to the road. Instead, the sidewalk would run at an appropriate grade from Taylor Street south to the Pride Park steps, and then back to Route 2 but below the current sidewalk, creating a “switchback” effect.

The plan also includes two well-defined, handicapped-accessible crosswalks – one at the railroad tracks at the bottom of the hill and the other at North Court Street – as a way of funneling pedestrian traffic to the crosswalks.