When her 13-year-old son, Joel, died in a head-on collision last year, Beatrice Gildersleve didn't blame the other driver. Instead, she targeted the narrow, snaking two-lane concrete ribbon on which he was killed: Church Road.
Channeling her grief into activism, the registered nurse from Liberia wrote a petition to prod the county to make improvements to the road. She walked door-to-door, asking homeowners along the road, as well as around Bowie and Mitchellville, to sign it. What she found was a lot of like-minded frustration.
"Everybody was talking about that road," Gildersleve said. "They said 'Yeah we know about it. It's a dangerous road.' "
She gathered more than 1,000 signatures, she said.
Then, in February, she sent a letter to Prince George's County Council Chairman Samuel H. Dean (D-Mitchellville) and member Douglas J.J. Peters (D-Bowie) seeking their help. Two months later, the Church Road Task Force was created. The goal of the task force was to analyze how development has affected the picturesque but sometimes dangerous 7.1-mile corridor, which stretches north to south from Annapolis Road to Oak Grove Road, and find ways to make it safer.
Last week, Gildersleve, of Upper Marlboro, witnessed another milestone in her cause. The task force presented its final report to council members.
It urged them to support funding for the realignment of Church Road in three areas:
* to the east of its current alignment between Central Avenue and Woodmore Road;
* at the intersection of Mount Oak and Woodmore roads; and
* the "gap" section between Annapolis Road and Route 50 (John Hanson Highway).
The task force also recommended bolstering traffic enforcement measures to reduce speeding. And it recommended redesigning the road to allow for walking trails and bike paths.
All this, Gildersleve hopes, will provide an antidote to the sharp spike in development that Church Road has experienced over the past 15 years. There are currently 18 subdivisions in various stages of construction that will, in total, add more than 5,000 homes.
That is having a dramatic impact on traffic. An estimated 6,776 vehicles now use Church Road, just north of Route 214 (Central Avenue), according to the Department of Public Works and Transportation. There have been 93 accidents, resulting in one fatality and six people becoming disabled, between January 2000 and December 2003.
Then there was the death of Joel Gildersleve in July 2004 in the collision on Church Road near Mount Oak Road in Mitchellville. He was pronounced dead at the scene. Two relatives, ages 11 and 20, were hospitalized with serious injuries. The other car's driver and a passenger, an elementary school-age child, were treated for non-life-threatening injuries.
The task force recommendations will cost about $13 million if fully enacted. The county has already earmarked $6.9 million for the realignment of the Mount Oak and Woodmore Road intersection. It has budgeted $6.1 million in fiscal year 2009 for the section between Woodmore Road and Central Avenue.
Todd M. Turner, an aide to Peters, said that the task force recommended that all the work on Church Road be done simultaneously, instead of in stages.
"We will now develop an action plan to implement the recommendations and consult with the County Executive and our colleagues on the County Council as we head into budget discussion for the upcoming fiscal year," Dean and Peters said in a joint statement.
For Beatrice Gildersleve, the recommendations are a bittersweet victory. She wished they were in place before July 2004.
"Unfortunately that's not going to bring back my son," she said.
She hopes that she will nevertheless derive "some closure and comfort in knowing that this will save other people's lives on the road."
"I'm hoping it will bring some major improvements to the road, or else there will be more fatalities," she said.