Traffic is 'gridlocked' in Annapolis after car knocks down utility pole

January 11, 1995|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writers Kris Antonelli, Carol L. Bowers and Arthur Hirsch contributed to this article.

A car severed a utility pole at one of the busiest intersections in Annapolis just before dawn yesterday, sending thick, black power lines snaking across the streets and creating a traffic jam that nearly brought the city to a halt.

"It's basically gridlocked the entire city," said police Sgt. Philip Turner, who had been directing traffic for nearly six hours.

The accident temporarily cut off power to more than 1,000 residents, and the resulting traffic jam made scores of teachers and students late for school and commuters late for work.

"It's never been that bad. Never," said Annapolis Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins.

The intersection of Forest Drive and Spa Road, on one of the few routes from the southern border of the city to the freeways for Baltimore and Washington, was closed to traffic for eight hours after a man drove his Ford Escort off the road into the utility pole about 4:20 a.m.

Police said the downed wires, although deactivated, were dangerous to motorists and immediately closed all four streets within a block of the intersection. They routed traffic off Forest Drive onto Hilltop Lane, which parallels Forest Drive to the north, forcing four lanes of traffic into two.

Meanwhile, commuters clogged roads throughout the city searching for alternate routes.

"It's taken 1 1/2 hours to go two miles," Sergeant Turner said.

Police reopened the intersection just before 12:30 p.m., but traffic remained heavy in the city throughout the afternoon.

The accident that caused the jam was relatively minor. Frank M. Wilson, 48, of the 1200 block of Crows Nest Court told police he was on his way to work when the driver of another car forced him off the road and into the pole.

The crash created a bright flash as the wires that carry electricity, cable television and telephone service to the Forest Drive corridor pulled loose. There was a boom as the wooden pole splintered into three pieces.

"You could hear this good bang noise, and then the power went out," said Vincent Butler, who was watching television in his apartment on Hilltop Lane at the time of the crash.

Mr. Wilson walked across the street to a convenience store for coffee as city police raced to the scene. Later, he was taken to Anne Arundel Medical Center, where he was treated and released. He said he had bruised ribs and muscle strains, but the aftermath of the accident left him feeling worse.

"Yeah, I got hurt," he said in a telephone interview. "It hurt my pride."

More than 1,375 people lost their electricity for about half an hour, said Peggy Mulloy, a spokeswoman for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. Six work crews were sent to the

scene, but some of them were stranded in the traffic snarl.

About 200 people lost their cable service briefly because of two separate outages, said TCI Cablevision general manager William J. Forest. Telephone service was not interrupted, Bell Atlantic officials said.

Buses, students and teachers reported late to Annapolis High and Annapolis Middle schools and Germantown, Georgetown, Hillsmere, Tyler Heights, and Walter S. Mills/Parole elementary schools.

Lance Copsey of Annapolis, the executive director of the state Republican Party, took refuge in a McDonald's on Bay Ridge Road near the intersection of Forest Drive shortly before 10 a.m., after he abandoned the fight with traffic. The party's office is on Forest Drive, not far from the accident scene.

"We're not sure we'll have power at our office," he said, referring to the downed utility lines, not GOP political influence. He already had missed a 10 a.m. meeting and was beginning to wonder about a 1 p.m. briefing with Republican legislators at the State House.

"I hope we're not here for lunch," said his colleague, Jim Burton of Baltimore, the party's communications director.

When Kristi Bafford dropped her daughter Carly at preschool at St. Martin's Evangelical Lutheran Church on Spa Road, about a block from the crash site, two children were sitting in a classroom that usually holds 18.

"Carly really wanted to go to school," said Ms. Bafford. So she parked at the 7-Eleven at Forest Drive and Spa Road and walked her daughter down the street.

The accident also created problems for schoolchildren far beyond the city, said Winship Wheatley, supervisor of transportation for Anne Arundel schools. Buses that serve an Annapolis school early in the day serve other schools later, he explained.

"The delays throughout the community were considerable," Mr. Wheatley said. "We had one report of youngsters on a bus for an hour and a half. We had other kids standing at bus stops waiting for buses that weren't showing up on time."

Drivers and passers-by were baffled by the size of the jam.

"People can't believe it," said Michelle Burkhardt, a clerk at the 7-Eleven near the intersection. "The whole town is backed up for one stupid traffic light."

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