EDITORIAL: God bless the Rexburg roads

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Cars driving on Main St. Photo credit: Grace Wride

This editorial was presented to the Scroll Editorial Board and received 8 votes in favor and 1 abstaining vote.

Written by: Jessica Banks and Grace Wride

On Nov. 29, 2021, Briggs Robert Kline, a BYU-Idaho student, was struck by a vehicle as he crossed the street. Between that night and the next few days, he died due to his injuries. Less than two weeks later, another student was hit by a vehicle while crossing the street. Two vehicle-pedestrian accidents over a two-week period.

Living in Rexburg, we know we aren’t signing up for sunny skies and high temperatures for most of the year. From around October to April, snow will likely engulf the ground. Add daylight savings time and Rexburg becomes a dreary, dark place around 4 p.m.

With only around eight hours of light and slippery, snowy roads, it is important to keep a higher level of awareness when driving and walking. However, there are some things the average citizen can’t control.

In the cases listed above, we don’t know who was in the wrong, if anybody. This editorial is not meant to point fingers at the city for these incidences, just invite an overall improvement to promote safety.

We at Scroll petition the city to fix burned-out street lights, install new lights where necessary and more strictly follow the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) in maintaining road conditions.

Scroll interviewed Mayor Jerry Merrill and uncovered what it takes to care for roads that are under such high amounts of weather torment. However, some adjustments can be made to improve safety for all.

We believe there are three main issues at hand in handling the road conditions. These include the poorly lit roads, poorly plowed roads and irresponsible people on the roads. If we as a community can come together to attack these issues, we can work to prevent incidents like Kline’s.

Poorly lit roads

West Sixth South Street runs right past at least five apartment complexes. There is one street light present on that street. Earlier this year, multiple street lights were out along South Second West Street. That street also passes many apartment complexes and a few busy intersections.

Main St. captured with the camera settings: f/4.5, 2 sec, ISO 640.
W. 6 S. St. captured with the camera settings: f/4.5, 2 sec, ISO 640. Photo credit: Grace Wride

These are just two of the many streets plagued with darkness once the sun goes down.

While these streets might not be heavily populated with houses, they do house hundreds, if not thousands, of students who use the streets to walk home at night.

Aaron Morris, a senior studying biochemistry, has experienced many winters in Rexburg. He shared a story about how he almost got hit in the intersection of West Sixth South and South Second West.

“I was crossing the street in front of University View, and the street light that illuminates the crosswalk had been out for several months,” Morris said. “As I was crossing the street, I noticed that a car was coming. It was far enough away, and I’m like ‘Oh yeah, they’ll see me with plenty of time and slow down because that is what you do when someone’s in the crosswalk.’”

Needless to say, the car didn’t see him, which forced him to run through the second half of the street to avoid being hit by the moving vehicle. Morris assumed this could only be the result of freshmen who don’t know how to drive in Rexburg.

“But I realized a couple of days later, it’s not because they’re punks,” Morris explained. “It’s because you can’t see people crossing the street at that intersection, because I almost hit somebody at that same intersection.”

With people walking home late at night after long days of studying and working, the poorly lit roads make this venture home dangerous for students.

Morris said that he walks home in the dark four to five times a week.

The city of Rexburg works to light up roads when the lights go out. Merrill said they especially try to illuminate roads that are heavily used by pedestrians. He gave the example of Main Street. Anyone that has been on Main Street at night can recognize that a lot of the city’s street lighting budget must go to the lighting up of Main Street.

Obviously, we are not normal citizens of Rexburg, and, therefore, don’t often peruse Main Street. But neither are 20,000 of the 28,000 residents of Rexburg. The city’s lighting budget could be readjusted to put more money into lighting streets that the majority of the population of Rexburg uses on a daily basis rather than just satisfying the 8,000 or so people that consistently live here.

Main St. captured with the camera settings: f/4.5, 1 sec, ISO 640.
Main St. captured with the camera settings: f/4.5, 1 sec, ISO 640. Photo credit: Grace Wride

Additionally, most of the stores on Main street are the type of stores that close around 5 p.m. How much are people really walking around on Main Street in the dark?

Poorly plowed roads

The ADA’s policy on road upkeep requires the city to provide access to pathways year round including removing ice and snow completely from the roads and parking lots.

Merrill provided some insight into the history of Rexburg’s roads. With the Teton Dam breaking and flooding much of the city’s roads, the roads needed to be repaired and rebuilt all at the same time. This requires much of the city’s budget for road conditions.

In addition to this, completely plowing the roads costs $25,000 to $30,000 each time they need to be plowed. Due to this high cost, the city only plows the streets completely 10-15 times each winter.

They do take precautions like spraying a brine-type substance over the roads while they are still dry to help soften the ice up when it does form on the roads.

While the city is very concerned about improving the snowy roads, a level of mercy is important in helping drivers who are very new to the snow.

Oftentimes, the comparison will be made that people from California or Florida can’t expect the roads to be in the same condition in Rexburg as they are in their home states. While that is true, Idaho doesn’t have to put funding into preparing for some natural disasters like hurricanes. Snowy, icy roads are an issue that Rexburg is going to face, and, likewise, the city needs to financially prepare for it.

Perhaps plowing more or making more of an effort to melt the ice on the roads before they are crowded by people will help show that mercy to new snow drivers.

For example, in both Idaho Falls and Rexburg they label any accumulation of snow greater than two inches as a snow event. Any time this amount of snow covers the ground, the city commits to removing that snow.

Idaho Falls roads are significantly safer to drive on due to following through with this commitment. We hope Rexburg can do the same.

Merrill said that due to the price of plowing, they choose which storms to plow after. They don’t plow after every storm.

Most students understand that we are not normal citizens of Rexburg. But much of the money that is given to the city is because of us. We grocery shop here, we participate in the census here, we get gas here. Taxes from that money go back to the city of Rexburg. We ask that the city consider that when making choices about which streets to light up or where to plow.

Irresponsible drivers and pedestrians

It’s nearly impossible to walk to class or drive to Walmart without encountering someone on the crosswalk staring at their phone or glancing to the side and seeing someone updating their Spotify queue in the car next to you.

Kelly Campbell is a research analyst at the Idaho Transportation Department Office of Highway Safety. She spends her days collecting data, analyzing statistics and striving to reduce deaths from motor vehicle accidents. She expressed a single hope for people to understand about driving.

“Honestly I just wish people realized that they need to pay attention all the time they are driving because they have no control over others’ behavior or the roadway.”

While bright, clear roads would greatly enhance drivers’ visibility, it would be wasteful if drivers and pedestrians continue to distractedly engage with the streets.

Photo credit: Grace Wride

Conclusion

Regardless of who has permanent residency in Rexburg, we all live here now. Simply lighting roads heavily populated with apartment complexes and plowing more thoroughly when it snows can help keep students and residents safe during the winter months.

We will do our best to learn and adapt to new road conditions. Please help make that goal practical by improving the roads.