Guardrail and sidewalk help make WCU safer

In an effort to make the commute to Western Carolina University’s main campus safer, a new guardrail has been constructed for Speedwell Road while a sidewalk to the new Health and Human Sciences Building is in the works.

On March 25, Western Carolina student Stephanie Deese died in a car accident. Alan L. Huneycutt, who was driving, overcorrected on a sharp turn in the road, and the vehicle went over the steep side. Spectators at a WCU baseball game witnessed the 2007 Hyundai crash into a tree midair before overturning. Huneycutt was taken to Mission Hospital in Asheville. Deese died on impact.

Immediately, Cullowhee community members and students cried for a guardrail to keep future accidents from happening. The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) immediately investigated the situation to see if a guardrail would improve the safety of the road. Last month, they reached a decision and installed the guardrail before students returned to Western Carolina for fall classes.

Nearly 2,000 feet of guardrail was erected between August 8 and 17, according to Jonathan Woodard, district engineer for the NCDOT.

The project cost approximately $43,500 and was covered by The NCDOT’s SPOT Safety Program.

The SPOT Safety Program provides funding for various safety projects to reduce crashes, injuries and fatalities associated with motor vehicles, according to its mission statement.

The SPOT Safety Program begins funding projects after a problem has been identified and investigated. This procedure was implemented in the case of Deese and Speedwell Road.

“After the accident, the benefit to cost ratio provided that the guardrail be put in place,” said Joel Setzer, a division engineer for the NCDOT.

Although the guardrail is said to be able to withstand the impact of vehicles traveling at normal speeds, some still express concern over the safety of Speedwell.

“It’s a lot safer but not for pedestrians. It’ll be very convenient since a lot of people live there. I feel safer driving the road, though,” said student Shana McClain.

The steep embankment on the side of Speedwell has been cited as a safety concern as well.

Despite the apparent flaws continuing to plague Speedwell Road, safety for the new Health and Human Sciences Building (HHS) is a priority.

The NCDOT is currently discussing building a sidewalk to link the two campuses together, according to Setzer.

The proposed sidewalk will start on the left side of Highway 107 and continue along Old Savannah Road. At some point, it will cross to the right side where the building is located and will include a crosswalk. There is also a possibility of putting crosswalks near apartment complexes such as Rabbit Ridge.

The distance between the H.F. Robinson building and the HHS building is approximately one mile, according to Google Maps.

Wiley Harris, director of facilities management, said that the walk should take students about three to four minutes. Although a bridge links the main campus to Little Savannah Road, students are not recommended to walk the complete distance to HHS because of how narrow the strip of grass is immediately beside the road.

An overflow parking lot offers limited spots to those who would rather drive, encouraging the use of car pools. Also, according to the Health and Human Sciences Department’s home page, two Cat Trans service the new building, each holding about 22 students.

Woodard said that the cost of the sidewalk is estimated at about $442,000.

While funding has been approved, the specific source is unclear at this time.

“The purpose of the sidewalk is to make the walk safer,” said Harris.

WCU freshman Bryce Caldwell said that he would use to the new sidewalk once it was put in place.

“If I didn’t want to wait for the Cat Tran, or if it gets full from limited amount of spots, you have another option,” said Caldwell.

For more information about the guardrail at Speedwell Road, contact the NCDOT’s Division of Highways at 828-586-2141. For more information about the sidewalk at the new HHS building, contact WCU’s Facilities Management at 828-227-2442.