There’s a phrase describing Morgantown that goes something along the lines of, “it’s uphill in every direction.” The landscape of this town is unique to its region and the roads follow the hills and the valleys making them unique as well. However, the topography can cause issues amongst those trying to navigate these roads.
Last year, 906 auto accidents were reported to the Morgantown Police Department. University Avenue and Patteson Drive saw the majority of those accidents with 157 and 106 accidents respectively. The states average of fatal accidents in 2014 was 30.2 fatalities per 100,000 population. Morgantown experienced 16.1 while Charleston and Huntington had 7.9 and 10.2 respectively.
“There’s a lot of crashes and what you’ll find is the [number] of crashes goes up as the speed goes up,” said Morgantown Police Chief Ed Preston. “And if you’re inside the city of Morgantown, there are very few areas that have a speed limit higher that 25 miles per hour.”
University Avenue and Patteson Drive are main thoroughfares that have multiple lanes, high traffic, multiple stop lights and intersections. All of these factors together, according to Preston, make the perfect conditions for accidents.
Preston also mentioned that weather plays a big part in the number of accidents that happen in Morgantown.
“We get rashes of accidents during the initial start of a downpour,” Preston said .
In 2015, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released information finding distracted driving to be one of the major causes of most accidents that happened in the United States. Preston confirmed that drivers not paying attention to the task of driving, lead to the most common type of accident in Morgantown, getting rear-ended. Other types of common accidents are t-bones (when the front or rear of one automobile strikes the side of another), head-on collisions, and collisions with stationary objects like guard rails or trees.
Getting into a rear end collision is a fear Abby Friegler, 20, knows all too well. She moved to Morgantown from out of state at the end of September, and the driving patterns make her nervous.
“I noticed the tailgating almost as soon as I drove into the city,” Friegler said. “Coming from Michigan, we don’t have these kind of hills, so I am worried about people traveling that close behind me.”
Tailgating can be a problem when driving in traffic. Insurance group, State Farm, suggests leaving three seconds of room between you and the car in front of you, avoiding weaving in and out of traffic lanes, and avoiding braking abruptly by paying attention to the car in front of you. They recommend letting your car decelerate on its own for a few seconds when you see brake lights in front of you instead of just hitting your brakes.
Dr. Jennifer Knight M.D. is a general surgeon at the Jon Michael Moore Trauma Center in Morgantown, one of two, level one trauma centers in West Virginia. This trauma center sees accidents from all over the state as well as some of the surrounding states.
“We see car accidents, car crashes almost every day,” Knight said. “Most of the time we see orthopedic injuries: broken bones, broken ribs, broken backs.”
Dr. Knight said safety technology in cars has decreased the number of fatalities occurring because of injuries sustained in auto accidents.
“Vehicles are becoming much safer than in years past, so the severity of injuries has seemed to decrease,” said Star City Fire Chief Ethan Bailey. “ The most common injury types we see would typically be head, neck, chest, or back pain.”
While most accidents occur on major roadways with higher speeds and more traffic, some do occur on more rural roads with poor road conditions like potholes, narrow lanes, and sharp turns. These road conditions can sometime impede how fast first responders can get to the crash.
“Some of the roads in our first [area] are in deplorable condition. This can make access difficult due to the size of apparatus responding,” Bailey said.
Fire trucks have a harder time navigating roads when weather is bad. The trucks don’t have four wheel drive and their drivers need to be cautious when they drive on roads that may be icy or have not been plowed after a heavy snow. If the snow is bad enough chains have to be attached to the tires to help the first responders maneuver the tough terrain.
Safety precautions have to be taken to ensure that the responders arrive at the scene safely as well as for other motorists they may encounter along the way.
Several police departments in Monongalia County have been recognized by the Automobile Association of America for efforts in traffic safety. The Community Traffic Safety Platinum Award was given to each of Monongalia County’s law enforcement agencies. The award is given to communities who have put new traffic safety programs in place and can show positive results because of these new programs.
Morgantown Road Conditions
Despite the safety programs in place, the road conditions in Morgantown are significantly worse than the rest of the state, which is costing drivers money on car maintenance.
According to a national transportation research group (TRIP) report that was released in February, Morgantown roads cost drivers $1,439 each year: $815 in vehicle operational costs, $313 on safety and $311 from sitting in traffic. Gas mileage on the highway is better than in urban settings because of the high rate of stop and go in a city. When stuck in traffic, that stop and go is even more frequent. Also, sitting in a car that is idling is wasting gas. According to the U.S. Department of Energy turning a car on uses as much gas as sitting idle for 10 seconds. Hybrid cars, which are known partly for their higher gas mileage, have stop and start features that shut off the cars’ engines when they are idling.
The TRIP report also found that 68 percent of the roads in Morgantown were in bad condition. Over the last two years, Morgantown has completed construction on over 20 miles of city-owned roads, which is about one third of all the roadways in Morgantown. The money used to pave these roads represents 40 percent of a $3 fee deducted from the paychecks of city employees each week.
It has been an effective way of covering the costs of fixing the roads but misses a key factor: not all of the roads that need work are owned by the city.
“A lot of the issues we have in Morgantown are on roadways the city itself doesn’t have control over,” said city engineer Damien Davis. “They’re state maintained roads.”
He said the roads were not built to handle the capacity of people who live in this city now. Roughly 30,000 people live in Morgantown, and there’s another 30,000 students that live here during the school year. This is what causes a lot of the traffic back ups that happen on roads like Patteson Drive and University Avenue.
Game day in Morgantown
Game day in Morgantown attracts thousands of fans. All of the roads surrounding the stadium get backed up both before and after the games. Traffic control requires all of the University Police to be on duty plus members from the Morgantown Police Department and the State Troopers to make sure everyone involved has a good time while being safe.
Text, video and graphics by Jenna Gilbert