Heavy truck traffic on State Route 7 through Downtown Morgantown has been an issue that has divided the city for years. While it is suspected by policy makers such as Bill Byrne and Don Spencer that truck traffic has a negative effect on both infrastructure and quality of life, there has been no proof.
Now, because of a study being done in WVU professor Adam Henry’s public administration capstone class, there may be statistics to show what effect the trucks actually have around January 2012.
The issue first arose in 2006 as a result of a public complaint. A re-route of truck traffic was drafted, but never passed due to opposition from the West Virginia Department of Highways and the trucking industry. Since Route 7 is a state maintained road, it falls under an awkward joint jurisdiction between the municipality of Morgantown and the DOH.
If Morgantown would have passed the ordinance re-routing truck traffic from Route 7, DOH would not have printed the signs enforcing the ordinance and may have brought legal action against the city of Morgantown. This was a large reason why the ordinance did not move forward.
The re-route would have forced heavy truck traffic to travel an additional 1.1 miles, using Route 857, Green Bag Rd., instead of Route 7. According to Bill Byrne, the city was willing to reimburse the truckers and their companies for the extra time and mileage, but that offer was refused.
While doing interviews for this story, I found strong feelings on both sides. Bob Gwynn, a lawyer for Greer Industries, one of the most frequent users of State Route 7, believes Greer Industries and other heavy truck traffic has as much right to use those roads as any other member of the public.
Furthermore, he points out that there has been no evidence showing heavy truck traffic is causing damage to city infrastructure.
If Henry’s class finds evidence linking heavy truck traffic to damage to city infrastructure, the city would likely have the grounds to regulate Rt. 7. However, Henry’s class was supposed to conduct the study over the passed Spring semester, but in his own words, it “fell through.” Whether the study will happen and what kind of results it will yield remains to be seen.
But despite the study’s results, there will still be a strong faction of citizens who oppose truck traffic through the downtown area, including a number of lawyers who have office space along Route 7.
During my interview with Michael Simms, one of the lawyers with offices along Route 7, the issue seemed very personal. He made several mentions of how annoying the “jake brakes” the trucks use while he is trying to work.
It looks unlikely this issue will die anytime soon. There are enough people angry about the use of Route 7 for heavy truck traffic to make a change in policy. It is only a matter of finding evidence showing that heavy trucks actually have a negative effect.
In the meantime, the DOH is planning to widen “Hogback Turn,” which is a sharp yield between Powell Avenue, Rogers Avenue and East Brockway Avenue, making it more hospitable for truck traffic. That effort is currently being stalled by the city.