Road's Fatal Design Flaw

I am writing to express my sorrow at the unnecessary multiple collisions and deaths that occurred at 5 a.m. Sept. 23 on Route 301 south of Brandywine in Prince George's County. This accident sequence could have been prevented if the Maryland State Highway Administration had equipped the available median with a linear center barrier instead of eight-inch concrete curbs. The SHA created an unsafe condition that allowed the accident to happen.

When the Ford Escort stalled in the left lane, the driver could not roll left safely into the median because the curb, which is only a foot outside the driving lane, blocked access to it. Because there was no shoulder breakdown lane, she left the car in the left driving lane and walked south to the Citgo station. A taxi came upon the stopped car, swerved left to avoid hitting it, climbed the curb and crossed over to the southbound lanes, where the first collision occurred.

Road design has evolved to accommodate for breakdowns or allow for evasive maneuvers without loss of control. This highway is a heavily used artery with three lanes in each direction and a speed limit of 55 mph. The SHA, apparently without consideration for safe road design, built a road with no left shoulder lane and installed curbs that block access to the median.

The bible for road designers is published by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. This geometric design book published in 1990 contains guidelines used by highway officials nationwide. On page 514, it says: "Curbs should never be used on rural high speed arterials except where protected by a guardrail." The median in this section of highway does not have a guardrail.

Over 14 years ago, SHA obtained a federal record of decision (ROD) that approved the construction of improvements to Route 301 at the intersections of Brandywine, Accokeek and Surratts roads. This ROD also allowed the improvements at Allentown and Woodyard roads, and we now use the overpasses constructed there. The SHA installed median guardrails at those locations. This triple fatality was not because of rush-hour traffic congestion. It was a result of SHA's design fault.

For far too long, the SHA has neglected Southern Maryland's state roads and sacrificed public safety by ignoring established highway design standards and guidelines. Route 301 is overdue to be upgraded to contemporary safety standards. SHA must accept improvements, such as contained in the federal ROD, as its responsibility to the public.

My opinion is that the SHA is marching to a political drumbeat for a western Waldorf bypass. The proof is the quotes in the newspapers by politicians every time there is an accident. The state neglects our major highway and wants us to think that the bypass is the only solution. The bypass drumbeat is simply a political, but not realistic, appeal to voters that our politicians are watching out for us.

Both the Charles County commissioners and the Prince George's County Council appointed citizens advisory committees to study and recommend improvements to Route 301 and related roads.

Only the Prince George's County Council accepted the non-bypass solution and unanimously approved the recommendations of its citizens advisory committee. The recommendations included that no western Waldorf bypass from Charles County would be allowed into Prince George's County, and advice was given to Charles County to upgrade Route 301 on its current right of way by building overpasses and service roads at the congested intersections through Waldorf.

The Charles County citizens advisory committee recommended no bypass west or east of Waldorf. It recommended to the county commissioners that Route 301 be upgraded with overpasses and service roads and that local road networks be improved. The commissioners ignored their committee's recommendation and instead chose a western Waldorf bypass as their highest transportation priority. This decision has the effect of stalling the highway improvements needed, justified and approved 14 years ago. SHA's highway design, not driver error, caused unnecessary death and destruction. If county and state politicians continue to ignore Route 301 and push for a Waldorf bypass, the result will continue to be an unsafe, killer highway.

Harry Kriemelmeyer Jr.

Waldorf

Editor's note: Kriemelmeyer is a registered professional engineer and an accident reconstruction expert. He has investigated at least a dozen traffic accidents on Route 301 from Brandywine through Waldorf.

Route 301's Other Dangers

This is in response to the horrible accident that happened on Route 301 in Brandywine on Sept. 23. My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families. Although a tragedy, for those of us who travel this road every day to and from work, we knew it was only a matter of time until something horrific happened. Poor lighting in the evening might not have been the sole reason for this accident but certainly contributed to it. Little to no law enforcement patrolling this highway will also be a factor in the next accident. We see motorists drive at high speeds, zigzagging in and out of traffic every morning and evening even at the highest times of travel.

It is time to lay out the money and build a connector to bypass these two small, dimly lit and dangerous lanes with too many traffic lights in between. Until that happens, more law enforcement patrols are needed to begin handing out more tickets for speeding and reckless driving. But until then, I will continue to drive the other speedway over on Route 210, Indian Head Highway.

Steven E. Long

Waldorf

Preserve Rural Hughesville

"Welcome to Charles County, Maryland: the best of both worlds," says the Charles County Economic Development Commission (CCEDC) Web site. It describes the area as "a combination of urban opportunity and suburban quality of life -- with a good measure of peaceful, open countryside." How ironic that this same entity is proposing to destroy that same "peaceful, open countryside" with a 192-acre industrial park and a wastewater treatment plant in the village of Hughesville. This proposal is contingent on the covert rezoning efforts associated with a proposed baseball stadium. The land on which this monstrosity would be built is owned and about to be donated by our "friendly neighborhood" Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative owners (or at least we thought they were our friends, until now). Also on the CCEDC Web site is a statement that it has identified three key industries for the best possible growth in Charles County: IT/telecommunications, health care services and engineering and management services. I am afraid that I do not see the connection between those "good for us" industries identified and what the Charles County commissioners are trying to force on the citizens of Hughesville.

At a recent community meeting sponsored by Preserve Hughesville, Aubrey Edwards, director of the EDC, described the proposed stadium as a recreational asset that Hughesville needs for economic development. As a resident of Hughesville, I am aware that Charles County already has 89 baseball fields (including baseball, softball and T-ball facilities), 15 of which have lighting. In fact, our 185-acre Oak Ridge Park in Hughesville has facilities for two adult leagues and four little league teams as well as picnic areas and playgrounds. The team that is proposed for this ridiculous stadium initiative is not even a minor league farm team, but rather one that is "independently managed." I can't see that the proposed stadium is a cost-effective choice for sound economic development. What I do see is that it is merely a way that developers are hoping to gain entry into our community and rezone it from agricultural to commercial.

Lower taxes, lower housing costs and the rural character of our area have attracted migration to Charles County from metropolitan Washington. This population growth has resulted in heavy traffic volumes (40,000 cars pass through the Routes 231 and 5 intersection every day). We already sit at the light for long periods during rush hour, attempting to get to our offices or homes. A 192-acre industrial site will only worsen those conditions and will not be offset by the Route 5 bypass because this facility would be inside the traffic diversion route. Additionally, we rely on the county sheriff and volunteer fire and EMS staff in Hughesville. I am not interested in having my property assessment raised to cover the increased costs associated with the maintenance of this type of facility and the additional services it would require.

When the Charles County Department of Planning and Growth Management met with the citizen participants of the sub-area plan recently, the 185 residents had visions of another Mayberry with a Main Street flavor containing small mom-and-pop-owned shops and sidewalk cafes, a barber shop or perhaps a tack store, in keeping with our rural village charm -- certainly not another unneeded sports complex, a wastewater plant or industry.

I want to seek the assistance of my neighbors. You are such a special mix of people: hard-working families who have lived in Southern Maryland for generations, Amish farmers who revere the simple way of life and business professionals who have moved here hoping to escape urban sprawl, searching for a home with peaceful pastoral beauty. I am appealing to the residents of Hughesville and the surrounding communities to protect and preserve the agricultural zoning that supports the Charles County identity, quality of life and rural character. I ask that you contact your county commissioners, state delegates and the governor to request this protection. Your presence at the Oct. 26 Charles County commission meeting is critical. I also ask you to put a note in your electric bill each month to Joe Slater, the president of SMECO, and remind him that a good neighbor doesn't sell out his community to a group of money-hungry developers who won't be the ones to suffer the consequences of this poor planning.

Winston Churchill once said, "Out of intense complexities, intense simplicities emerge."

Simply put: We don't want stadium lights; we prefer the glow of fireflies on a summer night.

Let's keep things simple and preserve the village of Hughesville.

Alicia Cook-Mrozowski

Hughesville