Tragic accident brings safety improvements to Cullowhee

After the accident on March 25 that took the life of Western Carolina University student Stephanie Deese, a public outcry began over the safety of Speedwell Road, and a petition was sent around for a guardrail to be put in place to prevent future fatalities.

J. Woodward, district engineer for the Jackson County department of transportation, said that a guardrail has been recommended for the stretch of Speedwell Road where the accident occurred, and that the DOT is currently seeking a contract to erect the guardrail.

“Anytime there is a fatal accident, the Traffic Engineering Branch does a investigation of the accident site. They see what can be done to prevent this from happening again,” said Woodward.

While that particular stretch of Speedwell Road may be safer with a guardrail on the way, the fatal accident brings to light the concerns of many with the overall safety of Cullowhee roads.

On whether or not the DOT considers the roads in Cullowhee “safe,” Woodward said, “It’s a hard question to answer. We try to maintain the roads and limit the mistakes. There’s never going to be any road that is completely accident proof.”

As with the Speedwell Road accident site investigation, safety improvement of the roads in the area is an ongoing focus for the DOT.

“Our employees, both engineers and supervisors, are always looking for roadway deficiencies. As far as guardrails are concerned, there are specific criteria when a guardrail is warranted. For western North Carolina, there are thousands of miles of roadways, particularly secondary roadways, that need guardrails,” said Woodward.

Like many agencies, the DOT feels the brunt of budget cuts.

“There is not funding available to put guardrails up on every road,” said Woodward. “When a road has documented accident history or a fatal accident has occurred, we have special state funding to address those roads.”