Harford's deadly highway Route 24: Death of woman, granddaughter spurred state to act, but it must do more.

February 26, 1997

IT TOOK A TRAGEDY to arouse state officials to the disaster in highway planning that is Route 24 in Harford County. A 58-year-old woman and her 6-year-old grand daughter were killed Saturday in a grisly accident with an oncoming vehicle at Route 24 and Bel Air South Parkway. It was the 10th collision there this year, including one involving a state trooper a day before the double fatality.

The State Highway Administration deserves credit for reacting quickly. By Monday, crews were altering the signal at the intersection to allow left turns only when oncoming traffic has a red light. Unfortunately, it took a horrific accident to awaken the SHA to risks that are so apparent to motorists who use that hilly road between Edgewood and Bel Air.

The problem of Route 24 seems to be shared by several state roads in Baltimore's burgeoning suburbs: County officials say it's not their road. State officials dispassionately say they are mulling the numbers, but don't seem motivated to act. Interstate 95 in southern Harford also seems a tragedy waiting to happen with bedroom commuters backing up to a crawl nightly as traffic whizzes by at 65 mph or more in the adjacent lane. That highway too falls into the void of a local problem under a state agency, the Maryland Transportation Authority.

On Route 24, the SHA must do more. It should disallow left turns across oncoming traffic at Wheel Road. That intersection and the one at Bel Air South Parkway border the busy Festival at Bel Air shopping plaza. It is understandable that pre-World War II suburban thoroughfares choke on the stream of cars as the population has gushed outward from the city. But government has no excuses when a modern road like Route 24, opened just a decade ago, becomes defined by high-profile catastrophes and countless near-misses. This is not "smart growth."

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