City sends letter to DOT requesting formal traffic study at dangerous Route 33 intersections

Also: City attorney Tom O'Neill to absorb late assistant city Matt Hymes' duties as city approves new letter of agreement

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BUCKHANNON – In the wake of the tragic death of Buckhannon’s assistant attorney and former longtime municipal court judge, Matt Hymes, the City of Buckhannon has followed through on its promise to request that a traffic study be conducted on a portion of U.S. Route 33.

At its April 18 meeting, city council voted unanimously to request that the West Virginia Department of Transportation study the area of Route 33 from its intersection with the Brushy Fork Road through its intersection with Kesling Mill Road.

On April 4 – the night of a council meeting – Hymes, 82, and his passenger, Sarah Downes, 65, both of Buckhannon, passed away following a motor vehicle accident involving a T-bone-type collision with a Freightliner tractor trailer at the Childers Run Road intersection.

Rather than making a specific request – that the speed limit be lowered or traffic signals be installed – city officials decided it might be wiser to generally request that a traffic study and assessment of the area be undertaken. Then, the DOT could proceed based on its findings.

Buckhannon mayor David McCauley shared a letter he’d written to DOT Cabinet Secretary Byrd E. White at council’s most recent meeting, Thursday, May 2.

“Mr. Hymes had served our city for 53 years,” McCauley read aloud from the letter. “Matt and his passenger, Sarah Downes, were killed instantly in this latest of many accidents occurring here with fatalities or serious injuries to motorists particularly between the Brushy Fork and Kesling Mill intersections with Corridor H (Route 33) here in Upshur County.

“We all know and have observed that with each segment’s completion of our new, super highway that traffic counts increase along Route 33.”

McCauley wrote that although the city is grateful for the infrastructure project and the visitors it will bring into north-central W.Va., city officials are concerned about the potentially dire impact of not doing anything to modify or control traffic flow.

The mayor’s letter noted the DOT’s mission statement is to “create and maintain … a multi-modal and inter-modal transportation system that supports the safe, effective and efficient movement of people, information and goods …”

“We take, and we know you take, your agency’s word ‘safe’ to be an important part of our DOT’s mission,” the letter continues.

McCauley said city officials were asking the DOT to conduct an examination of the area and what could be done to lessen the chances of loss of life or serious injury along the stretch of four-lane.

“I do not pretend to know the solutions, but as a local governmental representative whose community has been repeatedly affected by the loss or diminution of lives resulting along our highway, I am compelled to reach out to request your assistance in examining our problems here, trusting that ultimately we can improve upon these issues if we all work together.”

The mayor went on to note that local law enforcement and the Buckhannon Fire Department would be more than willing to share empirical data regarding traffic accidents that have occurred between the Brushy Fork and Kesling Mill intersections.

“I request – and our city council supports my request – our DOT to undertake a reasonable and appropriate traffic study to determine what improvements may be realized to help us better protect lives in our Buckhannon-Upshur community,” McCauley wrote.

McCauley said he wanted council to know he’d followed through on its vote to send the letter requesting a traffic study.

In other city news, council voted to approve a revised arrangement/letter of agreement with city attorney Tom O’Neil in the aftermath of assistant city attorney Matt Hymes’ sudden passing. According to the agreement, all legal services performed by Hymes were transferred to O’Neill as of May 1.

The agreement stipulates that O’Neill will complete a minimum of 30 hours of legal services for the city as well as its four municipal utility boards – and says that while O’Neill’s attendance of all council and board meetings aren’t mandated, it’s highly recommended he be present.

It also says that while O’Neill’s annual compensation of $50,000 won’t change, the additional hours and responsibilities will immediately qualify him for city and state fringe benefits, including city health insurance and life insurance coverage as well as entry in the Public Employees Retirement System, or PERS.

The agreement notes that O’Neill is not an elected official but “serves at the will and pleasure of the mayor and city council.”

“I think it’s fair to say, Tom, that we all count on your many years of quality service to our city going forward,” McCauley wrote in the letter, commending O’Neill on the “sound legal counsel” with which he’s provided the city.

Following the council meeting, O’Neill said he was grateful for council’s vote of confidence but said he’s saddened by the circumstances through which it transpired – Hymes’ passing. He commenced his tenure as the city’s attorney in October 2016.

Prior to adjourning, council also:

  • Announced the dates of several rescheduled meetings in May, June and July due to the 78th West Virginia Strawberry Festival, West Virginia Day and the Fourth of July.
  • Due to the W.Va. Strawberry Festival, Buckhannon City Council will meet for its second monthly meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 14 at city hall. The city Sanitary Board meeting has been rescheduled for 4 p.m. Tuesday, May 14 at city hall.
  • Due to the West Virginia Day holiday, the city’s June 20 Buckhannon City Council meeting has been rescheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 18 at city hall. The Sanitary Board will likewise meet at 4 p.m. Tuesday, June 18 at city hall.
  • Due to the Fourth of July holiday, city council’s regular meeting that week has be rescheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 2 at city hall. The Waste Collection Board’s meeting has also been rescheduled for 4 p.m. Tuesday, July 2 at city hall.