A petition drive launched after two North Wilkesboro residents died in a hit and run on the Curtis Bridge Road bridge over the Yadkin River in Wilkesboro seeks a safer way for pedestrians there to cross the river.
The Rev. Phillip Boyce initiated the online petition drive and posted it June 9, with a goal of 300 signatures. It had 359 by Monday.
On June 8, soon after learning about the hit-and-run with two deaths on the bridge, Boyce saw a man with a day pack and walking stick crossing it on foot.
“It just broke my heart and I realized something needed to be done,” said Boyce, pastor of Stony Hill Baptist Church in Purlear and a peer navigator for people with substance abuse disorders at the R3 Recovery Center in North Wilkesboro.
Many people walk across the bridge each day on foot and “there’s no sidewalk and just no room” for them, he said.
Also on June 8, Boyce was visiting the site below the bridge where hit-and-run victims Chase Eugene Crawford, 35, and Stephanie Lynn Chahoy, 40, were found deceased on June 6 and met Misti Jo Volpe.
Volpe was Crawford’s brother and, like Boyce, was there seeking a better understanding of what had happened.
She reiterated Boyce’s concern about the lack of a sidewalk on the bridge or some other safe way to cross the river in that area. “Something needs to be done because it’s so traveled on foot here, said Volpe, of Wilkesboro.
She said pedestrians using the bridge include people going to His Light Church and Ministries soup kitchen near the north end of the bridge.
“I don’t want anyone to have to go through this loss I experienced when something could be done about it,” Volpe added.
The petition, addressed to the Wilkesboro Town Council and N.C. Department of Transportation, asks that the bridge be altered or that “safe passage” be constructed and lighting added so people can walk there without putting their lives at risk. The petition references the two recent deaths and says many people walk across the bridge daily.
Boyce noted that the bridge is the responsibility of the DOT and said the petition will be presented to DOT officials and the Wilkesboro Town Council.
Wilkesboro Police Chief Craig Garris said that except for the case with the deaths of Crawford and Chahoy, no instances of pedestrians being struck by vehicles on the Curtis Bridge Road bridge could be found in police department records.
Wilkesboro police arrested Kelly Diane Snapp, 43, on two counts each of felony death by vehicle and felonious hit and run resulting in death in the Crawford and Chehoy deaths.
Mike Pettyjohn, N.C. Department of Transportation division engineer, said in an interview that adding a sidewalk to the Curtis Bridge Road bridge over the Yadkin isn’t feasible because of its design.
He said the minimum width for a single highway travel lane is 10-12 feet and each of Curtis Bridge Road’s two lanes is about 11 feet wide.
Pettyjohn said a sidewalk should be about five feet wide and there are only about two feet between each lane’s outside white line and each guardrail. Space would be needed for a concrete barrier between the sidewalk and travel lane, he added.
Some bridges are designed to be capable of being widened, but Pettyjohn said this the Curtis Bridge Road bridge isn’t. It’s 690 feet long and has 14 spans.
The bridge was built in 1952 and the deck rehabilitated about 20 years later. Although considered “functionally obsolete” due to its travel lanes being narrower than those with bridges built now, he said, it’s not scheduled for replacement.
Pettyjohn said Wilkesboro Town Manager Ken Noland mentioned the town council’s interest in having a sidewalk on the bridge before the fatal hit-and-run.
Noland said in interview that the town council indicated that Curtis Bridge Road was its highest priority for a sidewalk where there isn’t one now well before the fatal hit and run.
He said it would be built from the south side of the Yadkin River bridge to where an existing sidewalk on the far southern end of Curtis Bridge Road ends at Woodland Boulevard, a distance of about a half mile.
Noland said it would also be built from the north side of the bridge to where it would connect with a sidewalk to be built by DOT along U.S. 421 as part of the conversion of that highway to a superstreet starting in 2023.
Noland said there is money in Wilkesboro’s fiscal 2021-22 budget for building this sidewalk. He said sidewalks along Curtis Bridge Road and the portion of U.S. 421 in the commercial district of western Wilkesboro are needed partly due to apartment complexes in the Winkler Mill Road area.
Yadkin River Greenway Council Director R.G. Absher said greenway plans include building a pedestrian bridge across the Yadkin River somewhere between the western end of the greenway at West Park, North Wilkesboro, and the Curtis Bridge Road bridge.
There already is a greenway bridge across the Yadkin a short distance downstream from West Park and behind the Old Wilkes Jail and Cleveland cabin.
Absher said the greenway council would be involved in more specific planning for the new bridge, but initial discussions would be between DOT and town officials. This could mean Wilkesboro and/or North Wilkesboro officials, depending on the location.
The owner of most of the land on the south side of this section of the Yadkin hasn’t been willing to deed an easement allowing the greenway there.