State highway officials say metal barriers due to be installed along Interstate 95 this summer might have prevented the two accidents that have killed eight people since Friday.
But they say that even without the barriers, the highway is as safe as any in Maryland.
There were 690 accidents along the 48-mile stretch of I-95 from Baltimore to the Delaware line in 1989 -- including 10 fatal accidents -- making it slightly safer than most other major highways in the state, said William MacLeod, an engineering technician with the state Department of Transportation.
Last year there were 10 fatal accidents along the stretch, including a Dec. 31 crash in which a woman was killed after the car she was driving crossed the median near Elkton and struck a tractor-trailer.
The number of fatalities isn't particularly high in relation to the 76,500 vehicles a day handled by that portion of I-95, state highway officials said.
No statistics were available on how many fatalities involved vehicles crossing the median.
"Statistically, it's about the safest type of road there is," Mr. MacLeod said.
The most dangerous roadway in Maryland is the half-mile section of the Capital Beltway at the U.S. 1 interchange, state officials said.
The Maryland Transportation Authority plans to install steel barriers along a 30-mile stretch of I-95 to make the highway safer and eliminate the possibility of motorists crossing the median, according to Thomas Freburger, an authority spokesman.
Federal safety standards call for medians to be at least 50 feet wide, he said. The median along most of I-95 is 54 feet wide, but the barriers will be installed on all portions less than 75 feet wide, he said.
"Over the years we were seeing that the most serious accidents were those where someone crossed over the median, and we felt there was a need to address that issue," he said.
Accidents Friday and Monday along I-95 that killed eight people have focused renewed concern on the portion of the interstate from Baltimore to the Delaware line.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer is expected to hold a news conference today near the scene of the accidents to discuss the highway's safety features and encourage motorists to wear seat belts.
State police say that the amount of traffic along I-95 is picking up -- and that they're writing more speeding tickets than ever.
"It appears that the volume of traffic is getting a lot heavier due to the construction of new homes in Harford County, causing more traffic to go to Baltimore," said Tfc. John Wotton of the state police John F. Kennedy Highway barracks along I-95 in Perryville.
"Speeds are definitely above the posted speed level," the trooper said. "I wrote 144 tickets last month. Most averaged 70 to 75 mph near White Marsh and up to the 80s near the Maryland House [rest area], where there is a little more open space and more room to go faster."
Mr. Freburger said the authority has been planning for the past two months to install steel barriers along the 30-mile stretch of I-95 from Route 24 near Bel Air to the Delaware border.
The project will cost an estimated $1.5 million and is expected to be completed over the summer. Bids are slated to be solicited later this week, with work due to start June 1 and continue for three to four months, Mr. Freburger said.
The steel rails are designed to prevent vehicles traveling at 60 mph from crossing the median and would "more than likely" prevent head-on collisions like those that killed eight people over the past five days, he said.
Mr. Freburger said the steel rails would run near the center of the median.
He said the barriers would cover all portions of the highway except for a short stretch about six miles north of the Susquehanna River near the Chesapeake House Travel Plaza where the median is extremely wide.
In Friday's accident, two children survived unhurt, but two victims of Monday's accident remained in critical condition yesterday.
Anthony W. Haywood Sr., 22, of Baltimore was driving his Ford Probe south on I-95 Monday when he lost control and veered across the grassy median into the path of oncoming traffic.
His speedometer was locked in at impact at more than 80 mph, state police said yesterday.
The Ford struck a Chevrolet Celebrity driven by Arthur Voight, 78, of Queens Village, N.Y., His wife, Georgiana Voight, 76, and their grandson, John C. Hinojosa, 22, of Herndon, Va., were killed instantly, along with Mr. Haywood's 18-month-old son, Anthony Jr. State police said the child's safety belt was improperly threaded through the safety seat.
Mr. Voight and Mr. Haywood remained in critical condition yesterday.