KINGWOOD — Hospital Hill will be closed to traffic on Feb. 1, while the Kingwood Volunteer Fire Department (KVFD) continues lobbying for the State Division of Highways (DOH) to resume maintenance.
“This isn’t something we wanted to do, it’s something we had to do,” KVFD President Tom Robinson said Monday. “For the safety and liability issues, we just had to shut it down.”
For as long as anyone in KVFD or Kingwood city government can remember, the DOH maintained the lower end of South Price Street, from where it intersects Brown Avenue to Showerbath Road. The 0.3 mile from the intersection with the former Preston Memorial driveway to Showerbath is known locally as Hospital Hill.
In fact, the DOH painted lines on the street last year and ordered the city not to paint a crosswalk there.
But when Robinson went to the Preston DOH headquarters in August 2018 to request repairs before the Preston County Buckwheat Festival, he was told it’s not the state’s road. And, since land on either side belongs to the fire department, the road was suddenly its problem to maintain.
“We just assumed all along that it was a state route,” Robinson said. While the DOH has politely answered all questions, “they just haven’t given us the answer we wanted.”
“The DOH told us that the only way it was going to get rectified was from the governor’s office,” Robinson said. “I would hope that the public might write some letters, make some phone calls.”
In a letter to State Transportation Secretary Tom Smith, KVFD wrote, “This revelation came as quite a surprise to our organization and to the City of Kingwood due to the fact South Price Street, in its entirety, has been maintained by the WV Department of Highways for more than 40 years.”
The department isn’t asking for anything more than has been provided in the past, Robinson said. That has included paving and guardrails.
KVFD also referenced law that says, “by continuous and adverse use by the public … accompanied by some official recognition thereof as a public road by the county, as by work done on it,” a road becomes the state’s.
The department has copies of DOH drawings, dated 1972, that show the elevation and path of South Price. The documents are not signed off on as accepted. The road has a state designation, County Route 43/1, Robinson said.
Not a city street
It’s not a city street. Part of Hospital Hill isn’t even in the city, though DOH repeatedly refers the fire department to the City of Kingwood, in the exchange of letters, and Kingwood Council is looking into maintaining the section from Brown Avenue to the Kingwood Pool.
On Sept. 20, Smith said in a letter to the department that the DOH, “performed snow removal and ice control on South Price Street during the winter as a courtesy to the hospital and emergency vehicles,” and the street is not part of the state highway system.
Preston County School Assistant Superintendent Brad Martin also wrote the DOH, asking it to continue maintaining the road. Kingwood Elementary is on South Price.
Also along there are city baseball fields, tennis courts and the pool; football field; a church and funeral home; Firemen’s Field and a private home.
Martin wrote that 15 Preston County school buses, carrying more than 1,000 students to Kingwood Elementary, Central Preston Middle and Preston High, used South Price.
“Currently,” he wrote on Sept. 13, “the roadway is in terrible condition with significant potholes and areas of slippage for nearly the entire span between South Price Street at the top of the hill and … at the bottom.”
Rerouting buses could cause delays, Martin said.
On a personal note, Martin noted that his home while growing up was on South Price and DOH maintained Hospital Hill.
In an email sent Sept. 21 DOH District 4 Transportation Realty Manager Raymond Tackett dismissed the requests. He said that former Department of Transportation Assistant Deputy Secretary Marvin Murphy said the road was to be maintained at a minimal level because Preston Memorial was at the top of Hospital Hill and ambulances used the road.
Tackett pointed out the new hospital was built elsewhere. It opened in May 2015.
Robinson said concrete barriers will be installed at the hill. Ideally, he said, people will contact the governor and he will act. The department is also exploring legal angles but would rather not do that.
“As far as priorities, we understand this is not high on the list as far as West Virginia DOH concerns,” Robinson said. “But it’s kind of a big deal to us.”