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Student safety crossings at heart of arguments

By Nick Phillips, Dustin Porter
Editor, Managing Editor

January 26, 2012

Sophomore Tiffany Kennedy rides down Old Main Drive with the train tracks in the background.
Photo by Nick Phillips
Sophomore Tiffany Kennedy rides down Old Main Drive with the train tracks in the background. The lack of pedestrian crossing has left Kennedy and others with disabilities having to travel to Prospect and Odom Roads to find a crossing area, which still leaves them without sidewalks and a safe crossing area.

UNCP sophomore Tiffany Kennedy is like any other student. Sometimes she just wants McDonald's. However, Kennedy's journey is much harder than the average student's. For Kennedy, who travels around campus in a motorized wheelchair, having to cross over the railroad tracks and ride on the sides of the roads is especially unsafe.

When students arrived back to campus last fall, they were greeted with a reconfigured street pattern on West Third Street that included a stop light, crosswalk with crossing light and a new parking system in parking lots 1 and 2.

The only with this system is that during the reconfiguration process, the pedestrian crosswalk that allowed students, faculty and staff to easily cross over the railroad was re moved and has not been replaced.

To Kennedy, this means that her simple journey to McDonald's has now become tougher and more dangerous.

Kennedy said the lack of a pedestrian crossing taking her over the tracks and allowing her to cross West Third Street safely at the new intersection forces her to ride on the road in her wheelchair.

Kennedy said she is scared every time she has to cross the road and always makes sure somebody is with her to ensure her safety.

"I felt much safer last year when they had the crossing that allowed me to drive over the tracks," Kennedy said.

"If they could add that back, it would be the perfect crossing for me now because of the new stoplight allowing me to cross when the traffic is stopped," she added.

Pedestrian problems

Students from three of the big four apartment complexes off campus routinely walk to campus, crossing Prospect Road and Odom Road. Students living on campus travel to McDonald's, walking across West Third Street.

All three of those roads are considered major roads for Pembroke.
Students cross over the railroad tracks to get to campus
Photo by Dustin Porter
Students cross over the railroad tracks to get to campus and parking lots 1 and 2. After the reconfiguration of the parking lots last summer, there are no crossings to help safely cross the tracks.

Prospect Road, which connects the campus community to Burger King, KFC, Pembroke Place and The Commons at Pembroke, has two safe zones to help pedestrians cross the road. Neither one serves Carter or Lindsay halls very well.

Pedestrians crossing West Third Street to visit McDonald's or Mighty J's now have the crosswalk with the crossing light after the reconfiguration of student parking lots 1 and 2 last summer.

However, pedestrians crossing Odom Road to- wards University Courtyard apartments do not have a crosswalk. The same can be said for those traveling down West Third Street in the direction of Food Lion and Pembroke Pointe apartments, where there are no sidewalks or crosswalks.

University role

Assistant Vice Chancellor for Facility and Management Steve Martin said the University can only request crosswalks or sidewalks located on campus property to the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT). They cannot actually perform the construction.

The town of Pembroke has to request the construction and installment of crosswalks or sidewalks located off the UNCP campus.

This means that UNCP cannot make a request for a crosswalk from the University Center to Carter Hall, Lindsay Hall or any other location off campus.

According to Martin, the University cannot add sidewalks at Carter Hall or Lindsay Hall because, although the University is using those buildings, they do not own them.

Martin said NCDOT will listen to any requests from UNCP, and has in the past, but the only way NCDOT will approve re- quests is if the state has the funding to proceed with the project.

Martin added there are no current plans to add crosswalks or sidewalks to any campus property.

The most recent crosswalk was added in fall 2011 and allows pedestrians to cross Prospect Road via a safe zone that is located near Oxendine Science Building and Berea Baptist Church, which serves as a commuter parking lot.

NCDOT role

Lee Jernigan, the division traffic engineer for Highway Division Six of NCDOT, which includes Pembroke and Robeson County, said the main issue when determining if a crosswalk is needed is to identify an area that sees a high amount of pedestrian activities.

Jernigan added that NCDOT also has to look into vehicular traffic and how a safe zone would alter the traffic pattern.

CSX role

The campus is separated from parking lots 1 and 2, McDonald's and Mighty J's by a CSX rail line, and CSX actually owns land on both sides on the tracks.

According to Martin, CSX owns the property approximately 50 yards from their rail line on both sides at any location.

In this case, Martin said that this means CSX owns the majority of parking lots 1 and 2.

Old Main Drive and possibly some of the property leading up to the doors of the Chancellor's Residence, Mary Livermore Library, Old Main and Oxendine Science Building could also fall in the CSX area.

NCDOT and UNCP need CSX permission before they can perform any construction job on this land, according to Martin.

"CSX's take is that they were here first and, there- fore, they have the supreme authority," Martin said, adding that CSX even overrules NCDOT.

He added that when parking lots 1 and 2 were reconfigured last summer, the design called for a crosswalk to travel from the pedestrian safety area in the combined lots and cross over the railroad tracks and onto the sidewalk in front of Mary Livermore Library.

According to Corla Groleau, a CSX spokesperson, "CSX installed the state-funded, pedestrian crossing for the college a few years ago. However, since the installation, the work scope changed. A new agreement has recently been signed to complete this project."

Martin said the completion of the new crosswalk has been delayed because of complications between CSX and NCDOT.

"That project has been delayed, and I'm not sure exactly why," Martin said.

"The response we've received is that the designers for the DOT are working with CSX on getting that resolved," Martin added.

Groleau said, "Safety is our foremost priority and we would be very willing to talk with the town, state or university to ensure safety."

Currently, the only official railroad crossings are on the intersections of West Third Street and Prospect Road and Odom Road, which both have large vehicular traffic and neither has sidewalks, forcing pedestrians to walk on the roadway, or in Kennedy's case ride her wheelchair in the road.

Martin added that to go along with the reconfiguring of the parking lots, CSX wanted a fence put up on both sides of the track, which would cut off all pedestrian traffic going across the rails aside from one opening allowing for a universal crossing for the students.

"They wanted us (UNCP) to pay for the fence, but we wouldn't have it and the plans fell through," Martin said.

Long history

The reconfiguration of parking lots 1 and 2 last summer, and now the wait for the crosswalk, is part of a lingering project that has been going on at UNCP for almost six years.

According to an article in The Pine Needle from Nov. 2, 2006, the closure of the entrance to campus from West Third Street across from McDonald's, as well as the installation of a stop light at the intersection of University Road and West Third Street across from Pizza Hut, was scheduled for March or April 2007.

Also, in the same 2006 article, was the information regarding the reconfigura- tion of the closed entrance and the timetable for its reconfiguration. In the article, Neil Hawk, vice chancellor for Business Affairs, said that he estimated the construction on the refiguring would begin within two years.

Those refiguring ideas in 2006 were almost identi- cal to the changes that were made last summer, including the combining of parking lots 1 and 2 with one entrance and one exit and adding the stoplight with a crossing light.

"The university, town and DOT have discussed a lot of options, and we've all agreed to this concept," Hawk said at the time. "But the DOT has to find the money to do this and they haven't found the money yet. So this project is in concept only."

While the designs and plans seem to have finally been carried out five years later, the one glaring difference is the lack of a crossing to allow pedestrians to get across the railroad tracks.

What now?

The short-term answer to this problem is that it appears that nothing will be happening anytime soon.

Travis Bryant, associate vice chancellor for Campus Safety and Emergency, echoed the statements that CSX "owns the rails" and that it's their move.

"We have been trying to get them to put the crossings in," Bryant said.

Dr. Diane Jones, vice chancellor for Student Af- fairs, said she understands students' feelings on having to climb up and over the embankment of rocks to get across the tracks.

"If I want to go to McDonald's, I'm complaining," Dr. Jones laughed as she looked down at her outfit of a dress and heels.

Dr. Jones added that it is a long, time consuming process to go back and forth with NCDOT and CSX.

With several entities working together at their own speed, mixed with the current economic state, it appears that students will have to continue their mini hike up and over the rail line to cross campus or be in the road from the official inter- section crossings.

Crosswalks on Prospect and Odom roads and sidewalks will have to be negotiated between the town of Pembroke and NCDOT.

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