'We've got to get traffic moving' State highway workers look for drivers in trouble

December 01, 1997|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Johnny Hayden and Jeff Standiford pulled their lumbering dump truck onto the shoulder of northbound Interstate 95 yesterday afternoon, just behind a silver sedan.

While cars and trucks whizzed by, a head bobbed in the Hyundai's driver's seat and another bounced in the rear.

Hayden and Standiford, mechanical technicians with the Maryland Transportation Authority, started at 8: 30 a.m., patrolling their 12 miles of I-95 north of Route 155, helping stranded drivers and keeping an eye on increasing traffic yesterday.

Around 1 p.m., they happened upon the sedan, just north of Route 272 in Cecil County.

Standiford radioed dispatch as Hayden dropped from the cab, hustled to the car and knelt by the driver's window.

He asked the driver what was wrong.

Gwen Faison of Cockeysville told him that she had to stop, that her 7-week-old twin sons were crying, hungry.

"The driving, the traffic, that isn't the challenge; I drove in it Wednesday," said Faison, 30. "It's getting the twins fed that's the challenge."

Hayden told her to drive into the MDTA's maintenance lot just up the road -- for safety's sake.

As a semitrailer roared by, Faison fumbled in a pile of light-blue winter coats on the passenger seat -- cooing to her babies, now snugly clasped in safety seats by their 9-year-old brother, Edward.

Hayden and Standiford wanted Faison's car off the shoulder -- where a reckless driver could plow into her or slam into them -- especially on a travel day like yesterday, when people's thoughts are on anything but the road.

"What's dangerous out here isn't the amount of traffic," said Hayden, a crew chief who's been with MDTA for 14 years. "It's people more worried about where they're going than how they're driving."

Yesterday afternoon, traffic piled up several miles south of the Delaware state line, and gridlock grasped their stretch of I-95 in either direction from the Susquehanna River. Hayden navigated his truck down the shoulder toward the Millard E. Tydings Memorial Bridge.

While passing cars with children's faces plastered to rear windows, the team speculated about what was causing the snarl.

If it was an accident, their main concern would be to keep traffic fTC moving, Hayden said.

"Sometimes, the drivers will be screaming, 'I want to see a trooper,' " Hayden said. "Well, that just won't happen. We've got to get traffic moving."

Hayden, in a glowing orange jacket that matched the truck, and Standiford, in a similarly bright T-shirt, bobbed up and down as their truck thumped over rumble strips.

Standiford, who's also the chief of a volunteer fire company in Harford County, looked into the deepening rows of cars and talked about accidents.

"I have two jobs at an accident scene," said Standiford, 26. "I'm an EMT, got to make sure people are OK. But my first job is to control traffic, so other people don't get hurt."

As they drove north on I-95 around 2: 15 p.m., they noticed a man on the opposite shoulder. He stood by a white car, its hazard lights flashing.

Hayden thought little of it, but Standiford said the motorist might need help, so they made a U-turn and headed back.

As they ground south, they scanned the shoulder, but the car was gone.

"When are you going to learn to listen to me?" Hayden joked.

Pub Date: 12/01/97

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