2-Way Span Is Called No Factor in Crash

A memorial display at the Crumpton Volunteer Fire Department honoring Randall R. Orff, 47, and his son, Jonathan R. Orff, 19, who died in the crash.
A memorial display at the Crumpton Volunteer Fire Department honoring Randall R. Orff, 47, and his son, Jonathan R. Orff, 19, who died in the crash. (Crumpton Volunteer Fire Department)
By Philip Rucker and Eric M. Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, May 12, 2007

For 25 years, Sveinn Storm has crossed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to and from work at his Annapolis ice cream shop. When he drives on the westbound span with two-way traffic, he thinks of the worst.

On Thursday, as Storm drove home on the one eastbound lane that was open on the westbound span, the worst came true. A small trailer came unhitched from an SUV. Taillights flashed. A tank truck swerved in front of a row of cars. Five other vehicles collided.

Vehicles "pounded two or three or four times right in succession," said Storm, 51. "It's just the sickening sound of wheels locking up and just smashing."

The crash killed three men, injured five people and unleashed a rush-hour nightmare that snarled traffic for eight hours and forced motorists to detour onto routes well out of their way.

Authorities said yesterday that two-way traffic on the bridge's westbound span was not a contributing factor to the collision. But that did not stop some commuters and advocates for drivers from questioning the safety of two-way traffic.

"This is a wake-up call to figure out how to barrier-separate traffic on the bridge," said Lon Anderson, AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman.

Police identified the dead as Randall R. Orff, 47, and his son Jonathan R. Orff, 19, both firefighters from Millington on Maryland's Eastern Shore, and James H. Ingle, 44, of Preston, also on the Eastern Shore.

Since the 4.3-mile bridge opened in 1952, 16 people have died in at least nine fatal accidents, according to a Washington Post analysis. At least six of those nine accidents and 10 of the deaths occurred in two-way traffic.

Marcus L. Brown, chief of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police, said he is "well aware" of concerns about two-way traffic but said the Transportation Authority, which controls the bridge, will continue to allow two-way traffic on the westbound span during peak travel hours.

AAA has called on authorities to install a permanent barrier or a movable system such as the one on the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge over the Potomac River.

Lyndsey Reilly, a Transportation Authority spokeswoman, said engineers have explored ways to increase the safety of two-way traffic, including barrier systems. But she said adding a permanent barrier would add weight to the bridge, potentially restricting vehicles by size and weight.

Reilly said that in 2005, bridge officials tested a moveable barrier system but that it "didn't work for us." She said engineers are eyeing lighter alternatives, such as rumble strips, to divide lanes.

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