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WSAZ Investigates | Traffic safety study underway after fatal accident

WSAZ Investigates | Traffic safety study underway after fatal accident
Published: Apr. 21, 2022 at 7:16 PM EDT
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HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - Thousands of students cross high-traffic areas around Marshall University’s campus daily, including areas where multiple accidents involving pedestrians have been reported through the years.

One of those accidents took the life of a student after she got off a public transit bus.

Police say the light turned green right before Maribeth Cox walked into the path of oncoming traffic in the crosswalk.

She was hit by an SUV and died at the scene.

“In that one life, nothing can pay that back,” a Marshall University student said.

WSAZ reached out to the West Virginia Department of Transportation (WVDOT) and Marshall University following the fatal accident last November to find out if they have any plans on improving safety in those high-traffic areas around campus where students frequently cross the road.

As of this week, a traffic safety study is underway.

We asked Robert Plymale, co-chair of the university’s pedestrian safety task force, why it had to take a student losing her life for a study like this to happen.

“I know this has been discussed a number of times by the engineering school and they have been very helpful in that. As a matter of fact, we have a number of students that participated in the road safety audit,” Plymale said. “When you have a death, you never do things fast enough, so I think that we’re reacting to this and we will do this quickly.”

Plymale says the university had to request the study from the WVDOT.

“It’s a process, and we’ve done the initial phase of it where you collect the data, collect the information, look at all the traffic signals, look at truck traffic, you look at vehicle traffic, you look at speeds, you look at signage,” Plymale said.

He said the study focuses on the high-traffic areas around campus-- starting at the corner of 20th Street and 3rd Avenue, down to Hal Greer Boulevard, up to 5th Avenue, then back down 5th Avenue to 20th Street.

We also talked to Plymale about how parents and students say they worry about crossing 3rd and 5th avenues everyday -- not just for class, but children sometimes having to cross these extreme high-traffic areas to go to football games or basketball games.

We asked him if he thinks these studies are a long time coming.

“Well, I think obviously they are done, because there’s been accidents. So, in order to do it and meet the long-range needs -- you’re gonna have to look at a multi-modal view whether you do bike pathways or whether you do other things that allow you to be able to do this,” Plymale said. “Right now, if you look at this road here, we’ve got four lanes of traffic. Do we need four lanes of traffic? Part of the problem you have with pedestrians crossing is it’s a lot wider too, so maybe you reduce that down to three lanes and do other things that make it a little easier to cross.”

Plymale says the process could take up to a couple of years, however they hope to finish it sooner.

As this safety study progresses, Plymale says it’s important for people to stay alert and stay off their phones while using the crosswalk.

We did reach out to the West Virginia Division of Highways asking for an interview multiple times, but they did not ever respond to that request.

They sent the following statement confirming the traffic study is underway and some basic details:

“The Pedestrian Road Safety Assessment we are participating in is a collaborative review with a multidisciplinary team of planners, emergency services, law enforcement, students, faculty and engineers. This is a problem solving process that will examine pedestrian generators, and pathways, while looking for potential countermeasures both in the short and long term.

“This process is in the beginning stages and to ensure the integrity of the data and information gathered while guarding against any bias in the findings, the assessment portion of the study should and shall be considered a work in progress. We believe some preliminary recommendations could be forthcoming as early as summer and should any promising ideas move forward to implementation, the team will most definitely reach out and share that information with the public.

“This accounts for where we are as the study begins and I have confidence this structured approach will lead the partners to a successful solution.”

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