Traffic committee endorses closing Third Street

Chris Dunham

December 11, 2012

Frank Lewis

PDT Staff Writer

Despite determining early in their meeting that the City Traffic Committee was not the committee to deal with the issue of the proposed closing of Third Street, that group ultimately voted unanimously to endorse the plan when it comes before the appropriate governing body, the City Planning Commission.

The group met Tuesday afternoon and allowed representatives from Shawnee State University to present their proposal and members of the community to comment and ask questions.

Butch Kotcamp of SSU showed a mock up of the proposed plan and how the closing of Third Street would allow for growth within the university infrastructure.

“Our campus is busting at the seams,” Kotcamp told those in attendance.

He opened by announcing that because of questions presented by the public, the university did a second study and addressed those issues. Some of the issues were the safety of students walking to and from Portsmouth City Schools, access to First Christian Church at Third and Gay Streets, access to the Social Security office, the influx of traffic onto Fourth Street, signage, and others.

“Those questions were addressed in the second study,” Kotcamp said.

Committee member Earl Braun talked about the university’s contribution to the economy telling those present the university makes a $93 million impact and 3,700 jobs are impacted directly by the university. He addressed the rest of the committee.

“Reasonable people can solve reasonable problems.” Braun said. “For the sake of our community we need to leverage our talents and our resources.”

Braun called for the city to give the university what it needs to help meet its growth projections. Those projections, according to Elizabeth Blevins of SSU, are for a future enrollment of 5,300 students.

First Ward City Councilman Kevin Johnson brought up questions from his constituents.

“What I’m curious about is what has changed since City Council disapproved of this in 2011?” Johnson asked.

Kotcamp responded that all of the issues had been addressed. The cost of the original widening of Third Street came up and Kotcamp said he had researched it and it was nearly all paid for by the university.

Resident Curtis Shanks talked about the need to shut off parking on Fourth Street if Third Street is closed. Several members of the committee expressed reservations.

Portsmouth Daily Times General Manager Michael Messerly, along with many other community members, were in attendance. Messerly spoke to the committee about the future growth of SSU.

“This plan is wonderful for economic development,” Messerly said.

He talked about his idea of closing Fourth Street as well and letting economic development come to the area north of Fourth. Messerly said it is his opinion that the university is being too conservative in their plans for the future growth.

“It is time for the city to double down and give the university what they need,” he said.

After the meeting, the chairman of the committee, Portsmouth Police Chief Robert Ware spoke about Messerly’s comments.

“Michael Messerly opened the door and that allowed a lot of things to be said that should have been said a long time ago,” Ware said.

Following Messerly’s comments and comments of others, members of the committee then voiced their support of the plan.

“If it will help Shawnee State University grow we need to give them everything they need and we need to get behind you,” committee member James Saddler said.

Committee member Richard Grimm also voiced his support.

“I am prepared to move that the committee endorse the action,” Grimm said.

Minutes later, the seven members of the committee voted unanimously to endorse the closing of Third Street.

The SSU contingent must now make the same presentation before the City Planning Commission and City Director of Engineering Crystal Weghorst invited them to fill out the necessary paperwork to do so.

John Carey of SSU said he believes the meeting and the presentation went well and he was particularly glad to see the previous issues from citizens addressed in the new study.

Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at flewis@heartlandpublications.com