Community points to road's dangers

St. Margarets residents say high speeds, curve make Route 179 intersection unsafe

June 11, 2006|By PHILLIP MCGOWAN | PHILLIP MCGOWAN,SUN REPORTER

Residents demand safer intersection St. Margarets residents have a warning for motorists looking to turn from Pleasant Plains Road onto St. Margarets Road.

Don't forget to look left last.

Less than 200 feet to the left on St. Margarets Road is a blind curve that one man calls "Kamikaze Corner." A 6-foot-high fence at the arc of the curve and trees impede the view. The recommended speed limit is 20 mph, but residents say drivers rarely adhere to it. Cars, trucks and 18-wheelers often whip around the curve on the two-lane road at twice that speed, they say.

No one has been killed trying to pull onto St. Margarets Road. But with more than 40 accidents having occurred within a mile of the intersection on the Broadneck Peninsula in the past two years, they are convinced it's just a matter of time.

"Somebody is going to get killed out here," said Carol Saunders, a St. Margarets resident.

Last week, the State Highway Administration's top official listened to about 100 residents plead for measures to make St. Margarets Road safer. The official agreed to form a committee to take a new look at the state road, also known as Route 179.

A committee of five residents, two SHA officials and a representative for House Speaker Michael E. Busch, a Democrat who serves the area, will meet within two weeks. SHA spokesman David Buck said he anticipates the committee will reach a consensus on safety improvements by the end of August.

Buck said Friday that SHA officials will monitor traffic speeds and bring data from the study to the first meeting.

"We are willing to take a look at everything and bring it all back out there," Buck said.

Noel E. Durm, a St. Margarets resident who for two decades has appealed to county and state officials for various safety improvements on Route 179, is optimistic that state officials will agree to modify the road.

"I do feel the state will be doing something because that intersection is very dangerous," Durm said.

County Councilwoman Cathleen M. Vitale, a Severna Park Republican who represents Broadneck Peninsula, agreed in an e-mail response that the road is unsafe.

Referring to the intersection of St. Margarets and Pleasant Plains roads, Vitale wrote: "The intersection is quickly becoming one of our more dangerous intersections. I believe that there needs to be some additional traffic engineering and/or control devices at the intersection and leading up to it."

Durm organized the meeting with SHA after rounding up nearly 900 letters of support to make St. Margarets Road safer. When U.S. 50 becomes congested, the two-lane road is a popular backdoor path toward the Eastern Shore.

The posted speed limit on St. Margarets is 40 mph. A sign with flashing lights recommends that eastbound drivers slow to 20 mph going around the curve toward Old Mill Bottom and Pleasant Plains roads. Crews installed rumble strips before the curve on the eastbound lane this year.

Residents complain that too many drivers go 40 mph or faster in general. That and the limited sight distance caused by the hilly terrain, overgrown trees and utility poles makes it difficult for residents to pull off or onto the road safely from their driveways.

Evidence of an accident from last weekend remains for all who turn off Old Mill Bottom Road onto St. Margarets Road: a section of 6-foot-high fencing caved in. Farther down on St. Margarets, an accident occurred last weekend that sent five girls to the hospital.

Durm is convinced of the reason a fatality hasn't occurred on this stretch of road: St. Margaret's Episcopal Church sits nearby.

In the meeting last week with SHA Administrator Neil J. Pedersen, residents called for lowering the speed limit on the road. Pedersen said, however, that doing so could lead to rear-end accidents around the bend.

"In the name of safety, solutions have been put in that have actually made the problem worse," Pedersen said.

Resident Steve Ripley countered: "We are certainly gambling with no stop sign now. Let's gamble with a stop sign."

Some have criticized county police for not enforcing in the area. Others have said that officers don't have a safe place to watch traffic along the two-lane roads that crisscross the area.

Durm said a few residents have offered county police use of their driveways to patrol for speeders. Officer Sara Schriver, a county police spokeswoman, said the offer "to use their property for traffic enforcement is certainly something we are willing to look into. Of course, the area must be safe and spacious."

Vitale said in her e-mail that she believes the current police presence has made a difference.

"The police [do] quite a bit of enforcement already, and I believe have prevented several death and near death accidents, but as long as there are accidents, there is always a benefit to additional patrols," she said.

Buck said the county police are "committed to being right there with whatever decision we make." He emphasized there's no easy solution to slowing down the traffic because it's a matter of modifying people's driving habits. On such a well-traveled road as this one, Buck said, that will be challenging.

Residents also have called for installing speed humps, clearing land along St. Margarets Road to improve sight lines, and installing traffic signals for the intersections St. Margarets Road has with Pleasant Plains and Old Mill Bottom roads.

"You put a man on the moon, you think they can put in three lights," said Karen Gosnell, a St. Margarets resident.

"Don't be so sure," said Saunders.

phill.mcgowan@baltsun.com

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