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Pedestrian-activated stoplight installation underway at fatal Papillion intersection

It's been almost three years since a young girl was hit and killed by a distracted driver in downtown Papillion.
Published: Jun. 20, 2022 at 10:27 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - August will mark three years since 10-year-old Abby Whitford died after a 19-year-old driver hit her and her brother while crossing the road in downtown Papillion.

August will also mark the official opening of a new pedestrian-activated stoplight that has been in the works since Whitford died.

“We’re trying to solve a problem that shouldn’t exist, you know, traffic should stop for pedestrians in crosswalks, period,” says Trenton Albers with the City of Papillion.

On Monday, construction on a permanent, pedestrian-activated stoplight at the intersection of Washington and W. 2nd streets in downtown Papillion finally began.

“But what we’ve obviously found is that crosswalk with the 30 to 40,000 cars that go through per day has been a treacherous crosswalk over the years,” Albers adds.

“[She] fought for the underdog, you know, she’d see kids who didn’t have anybody to play with and she would approach them, play with them,” says Lisa Lewis, Abby’s Martial Arts instructor at Omaha Tang Soo Do. “Just a great kid. A fun kid.”

Lewis says it’s been a long time coming for the changes to be made and still wonders if it will be enough.

“Kids can do everything right, you know, Abby hit the crosswalk, she was in the right. If a driver doesn’t do the right thing, you can put lights up like Christmas trees, and it won’t matter,” she says. “I think it’s necessary, I think it’s long overdue, not just for Abby but for that intersection in general.”

The new light was approved for the intersection in December 2020, after a series of roadblocks. The stretch of 84th Street was owned by the State of Nebraska and only minimal changes could be made to the intersection under state rules.

The road was relinquished to the City of Papillion in January of 2021.

Construction to put the light up was set to begin months ago but was held up by supply chain issues.

The light will be identical to just two other pedestrian crosswalks across the metro, one at 50th and G and one at 192nd and Center. Citizens will be given the capability of fully stopping traffic with a red light before they cross.

“[Drivers will] see a yellow light, then they’ll see a red light which is obviously recognizable, gonna tell them when to stop, and then it’ll go to a flashing red, which will allow traffic if the intersection is clear of pedestrians to proceed.”

The light will also have clear ‘stop’ and ‘walk’ signals for pedestrians as they cross.

“The main message is that when we say we’re going to do something in Papillion, we’re going to do it. Safety in downtown Papillion is super important, and we’ll play the long game if we have to in order to get to the ultimate final solution,” Albers says.

“I would say thank you to the people making it happen and hopefully it will mean that nobody else has to be killed at that intersection or injured in any way,” Lewis adds.

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