Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

November 24, 2013

New turn-lane arrows on Route 52 outshine spectacular sunset

— — Heading north on U.S. Route 52 from Bluefield toward Brushfork in the pre-dusk hours, a brilliant red sunset is visible to the left. Vibrant shades of pink and crimson burst forth at the melting point between sky and mountains. Cotton candy shaped clouds dance in the foreground.

It’s a vista worthy of a postcard or painting.

Despite the stunning scene, my gaze is drawn back to the road. At the intersection of Route 52 and 123 I look up and smile. My eyes catch sight of a manmade object whose presence rivals the Crayola-colored skyline.

It’s a lime-green arrow, pointing the way toward Falls Mills. And, more importantly, directing traffic safely through the heavily traveled intersection.

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The crossing point between these two major roads is known by a variety of names — the “Route 52-Airport Road intersection,” the “Burger King stoplight” and “The Red Light in Brushfork ... where all the accidents happen.”

The last moniker is not an exaggeration. Those who travel the road frequently and occasionally know the intersection has been a magnet for traffic accidents. Some minor, many major. All scary.

Most of the accidents stem from motorists attempting to turn onto Airport Road or Falls Mills Road across the flow of Route 52 traffic. The end result is twisted metal and hospital transports.

Tired of writing about collisions and injuries, the Daily Telegraph began advocating months ago for turn arrows at this intersection. We spoke with law enforcement officials who underscored the danger of the crossing and the high number of accidents reported there. We sent a team out to monitor the intersection and to report on the number of close calls witnessed in a one-hour time frame. We editorialized on our Opinion page about how a simple upgrade to the traffic light could potentially save lives.

Our vocal voice spurred an outcry from the community. Motorists weary of the dangerous intersection wrote letters to the editor and posted comments on our Facebook page. Lawmakers stood up and spoke out. Delegate Clif Moore, D-McDowell, whose district now includes the Bluewell community of Mercer County, asked state Highway Commissioner Paul Mattox to install a green turn arrow at the intersection earlier this year.

The community outcry spurred positive action. Last week, the traffic signal was upgraded to include turn signal arrows.

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“This is a perfect example of how government is supposed to work,” Moore told the Daily Telegraph in response to the upgrade. “Unlike D.C., the government not only heard, but acted ... Paul understood the need, he understood the safety issue, and they responded. I just think again it’s a prime example of how government is supposed to be responsive to its citizens.”

Like many motorists, law enforcement officials were happy to see the traffic light upgrade as well.

“I think it’s a good thing,” Sgt. D.W. Miller of the West Virginia State Police Princeton Detachment said. “We have had several accidents in recent months, some of which have been bad.”

“This is going to help us a lot with accidents,” Mercer County Sheriff Don Meadows added. “It will take some time for people to get used to it being there, but I am glad they finally decided to do it. It is long overdue, it should have been there years ago.”

Other lawmakers instrumental in getting the traffic signal upgrade included Delegate Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer; Delegate Joe Ellington, R-Mercer; Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer; Delegate Linda Goode-Phillips, D-Wyoming; Sen. Bill Cole, R-Mercer; and Sen. Truman Chafin, D-Mingo.

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It’s rare that a “rural legend” can be proven true. But it happened last week. In the days before the 50th anniversary of the death of John F. Kennedy, Senior Editor Bill Archer and I were discussing the former president and his historic tour through the coalfields of southern West Virginia.

I mentioned to Bill that I often heard my grandfather share a tale of JFK getting lost in our small community of Duhring while on his visit to Mercer County. I had always viewed the story with skepticism — after all, Duhring is one of those blink-your-eyes-and-miss-it neighborhoods.

A few hours after the conversation, Bill burst into my office and exclaimed, “It’s true!”

Interviewing longtime Mercer County Democrat Bob Holroyd, who coordinated Kennedy’s tour through the area, Bill learned that Kennedy had a meet-and-greet with residents of Goodwill Hollow and did, indeed, get lost in Duhring.

The news brought a smile. My grandfather loved tall tales, and telling them — but it was good to know this one was fact-based. Of course, this also spurred a question: How did Kennedy get lost? Duhring is not much bigger than a shoebox.

Who knows what happened those many decades ago. But the knowledge that a former president was once quizzically making his way along our picturesque river road makes me smile.

JFK lost in Duhring. How neat is that?

Samantha Perry is editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at sperry@bdtonline.com.

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