Forest Drive has become nightmare for motorists Accidents, jams bring calls for solutions

March 19, 1996|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

It's morning rush hour and Forest Drive in Annapolis is overflowing with trucks, buses and automobiles that crawl from one light to the next. Even the slightest fender bender here could cause a traffic jam that would nearly cripple the city.

As development along this road, one of three main routes in and out of the state capital, has mushroomed, so have the traffic jams and accidents.

Last Friday, an 11-year-old boy ran into traffic on Forest Drive and was struck by a car. He is in critical condition at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore. Last fall, a car severed a utility pole at Spa Road and Forest Drive about 4: 30 a.m., sending thick, black power lines snaking across the streets and creating a traffic jam that lasted until 12: 30 p.m.

It has gotten so bad that the city council considered ordering a moratorium on development, but backed off last week.

The members are to meet Friday with county and state highway administration officials to discuss preliminary recommendations, such as building an alternative, parallel route to take some of the traffic off the road.

"Something must be done fast," said Alderman Wayne C. Turner, a Ward 6 Republican who represents the corridor.

Mr. Turner and Alderman Dean L. Johnson say they have heard all the nightmare stories about the road.

"You name it, they talk about it," said Mr. Johnson, a Ward 2 Independent. "Having to wait at light cycles three, four or five times. Getting caught in minor traffic accidents. My constituents have experienced it all. Once you're on that road, you're trapped."

Forest Drive "can be a real nasty piece of roadway," said Capt. John W. Wright, a city police spokesman who lives in Blackwalnut Cove and travels the road several times a day.

"It's not unusual for me to drive that road to work, home or even the store and come upon an accident," he said. "We've had accidents out there where we had to shut down the road for hours, sometimes halting traffic to a near-standstill."

A city Planning and Zoning study says Forest Drive, which runs along Annapolis' southwestern border, carries more than 40,000 vehicles a day. Intersections at New Town Drive, Hilltop Lane, Spa Road and Tyler Avenue, created long ago for what once was a two-lane, tree-lined road, are among the most hazardous in the city, police said.

The road, the primary route in and out of the Annapolis Neck peninsula, has been the subject of repeated studies and public hearings.

A 1971 study recommended building an alternative route to Forest Drive and advised officials to allow limited development. But officials took no action.

Aris T. Allen Boulevard, designed to relieve traffic on Forest Drive, opened three years ago, but it hasn't solved the problem in the stretch from Chinquapin Round Road to Bay Ridge Avenue.

Attempts to halt development in that area also have failed, city aldermen say, referring to the resolution rejected last week.

And plans for additional development on file in city offices would add more than 1,500 new homes whose residents would rely on Forest Drive as their main roadway.

"We have failed miserably in our zoning attempts," said Alderman Turner, who sponsored the resolution for a moratorium. "I've gotten telephone calls from people who said it took them over an hour to travel that stretch of road when a major accident has occurred. That's ridiculous because it should only take 10 minutes maximum."

Charles E. Lamb, an architect who lives in Eastport and a member of the group that began studying the Forest Drive congestion problems last year, said he doesn't "believe in moratoriums." But he agrees that "we need some kind of slowing down on development."

However, relief may come in the next couple of years, with state highway improvements that are scheduled to begin in January, officials say.

The plans are to widen the road, build sidewalks along parts of the road and add an extra lane, officials said.

Besides a building moratorium and a parallel route, other options that have been discussed include expanding the road to as many as 10 lanes, moving shopping centers to side streets, limiting the flow of cars and enforcing new restrictions on speeding.

Whatever the solution, it is clear that "action must be taken," said William K. Wohlgemuth, who was born and raised on Bay Front Drive in Bembe Beach.

"In the old days, it was one or two cars that would use that road," said Mr. Wohlgemuth, 61, a retired insurance consultant. "Nowadays, the traffic that comes through there is ten thousandfold. It's gotten worse, and it seems like it's going to get a lot, lot worse."

Pub Date: 3/19/96

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