It’s safety versus convenience. Those were the words used by City of Martin Planning Committee Chairman Ricky Witherspoon to describe the issue of the potential partial road closure of Mt. Pelia Road as requested by the University of Tennessee at Martin
A REQUEST BY UT MARTIN – UT Martin Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration Al Hooten presented a university request to close a portion of Mt. Pelia Road to Hannings Lane for student safety during a City of Martin Planning Committee meeting held Monday.
It’s safety versus convenience.
Those were the words used by City of Martin Planning Committee Chairman Ricky Witherspoon to describe the issue of the potential partial road closure of Mt. Pelia Road as requested by the University of Tennessee at Martin during a meeting held Monday evening at Martin’s city hall.
The request made by UT Martin’s Vice Chancellor of Finance and Administration Al Hooten was not an easy one to honor for the committee as a motion to deny the road closure request was met with an across-the-board vote of approval.
The proposal made by the county’s largest employer derived from an issue of pedestrian student safety on campus. With a new recreation center in place, the number of students utilizing the new facility has grown to nearly 1,000 each day, according to Hooten.
The potential hazard, Hooten announced, came from the number of students crossing Mt. Pelia Road to get to the recreation center.
Recent studies have shown that 45 percent of the traffic on Mt. Pelia Road from University Street is non-university related, according to Hooten. The other 55 percent of traffic is university-related. Hooten said the proposal would still allow a regress for high-traffic events on campus as pavers would be put in the place of the portion of the closed city street.
Two planning committee members who also sit as elected officials on the board of mayor of aldermen for the City of Martin noted that their constituents were against the idea of closing that portion of Mt. Pelia Road for the university’s use. Johnny Tuck and Randy Edwards admitted that people in their wards were not in favor of the proposal.
Witherspoon reminded planning committee members that it was their responsibility to make a recommendation to the board of mayor and aldermen and the issue would still be sent to the board, with or without the planning committee’s blessing.
“We need to look at the physical aspects of this issue, not the emotional ones. Hannings Lane needs to match up and we need to make a recommendation for the physical aspects,” Witherspoon noted.
While the issue has the blessings of the Student Government Association, business owners on Kennedy Drive expressed their disapproval of closing the road in the form of a petition offered by Dr. Greg Moore at the meeting.
“Public safety is a concern, not just on campus, but throughout the city of Martin,” Moore commented. The petition contained 110 signatures of patients, health care workers and small business owners in the hospital region.
According to Moore, those signatures represented 11 health care-related businesses in that region who apparently feared an economic recourse for their business if the city were to close the portion of Mt. Pelia Road that divides a part of the UTM campus.
“There is a history of the UT Martin working with the city in the past for road closures. Our concern is working with the city to mitigate the risk to our students,” Hooten said noting the city had closed a portion of Hurt Street and granted the university Pat Head Summitt Drive in the past.
Hooten also reported a $3.3 million lighting project under way to light the walking trail near the recreation center as well as a proposed softball/baseball complex that sits on the same side of the road as the recreation center.
Planning committee member Ken Kirkland recommended traffic stop lights for pedestrian students. Hooten responded that crosswalk traffic averages 280 students each hour. A question of how emergency response vehicles would cope with a potential closure was brought before the committee. According to a letter from the Weakley County Ambulance Service, it had no objections to the closure. Pertaining to the Martin Fire Department, it was noted that a closure could reduce response time by approximately one minute.
“The biggest thing that I see is contending with business people on Hannings Lane and Kennedy Drive and getting pubic opinion on this issue,” planning committee member Chet Alexander remarked.
Witherspoon agreed that the issue needed to be addressed by a larger forum of people to garner public opinion instead of a decision being made by a handful of people.
Even without the blessing of the planning committee, the decision to close a portion of Mt. Pelia Road to Hannings Lane will be presented to the City of Martin’s board of mayor and aldermen.
The board must consider the issue in the form of an ordinance, which requires board approval once before a public hearing is held on the issue. If the ordinance passes on its first reading, a public hearing will be scheduled and the ordinance must be approved on a second reading before it can be granted. A date has not been set for the first reading of the issue.