Officials to lower speed on Route 179

Improvements set to be finished by mid-August


State highway and Anne Arundel County officials have agreed to make a series of minor safety improvements along St. Margarets Road, responding to calls from Broadneck Peninsula residents that the winding two-lane thoroughfare is a death trap.

Officials will reduce the speed on the corridor, also known as Route 179, from 40 mph to 35 mph, narrow the travel lanes by widening the white and yellow lines, install reflective pavement markers along the double-yellow line and replace warning signs with a more eye-catching fluorescent yellow paint.

Improvements will also be made around two nearby intersections at Old Mill Bottom Road and Pleasant Plains Road - the specific area of concern for hundreds of St. Margarets residents. The two roads intersect the state road within 200 feet of a blind curve, the impact point for several serious collisions.

Engineers will raise the curve, repaint road markers and install a "stop ahead" warning sign on Pleasant Plains approaching Route 179.

A state highway spokesman yesterday described the improvements, to cost an estimated $65,000 to $70,000, as "subtle."

Most changes will be in place by mid-August. Officials will conduct a study in the fall to measure the effect of the changes, then will hold another meeting with residents in November.

Hundreds of residents have implored the state, most recently at a June meeting with SHA Administrator Neil J. Pedersen, to slow traffic along the back-door path from Annapolis toward the Eastern Shore. Within the past two years, more than 40 accidents have occurred on Route 179 within a mile of the intersections of Old Mill Bottom and Pleasant Plains.

In response to the complaints, the state formed a task force of highway officials and residents to recommend safety upgrades.

"I agree with the changes they are making. They are positive," Noel E. Durm said yesterday. But the St. Margarets resident, who has spearheaded the community effort to improve Route 179, quickly added: "They won't be enough."

State officials are cautious about the effects of the road improvements, emphasizing that engineering changes may do little to change the predominate driving behavior on the well-worn road. A state sign warns drivers traveling east on St. Margarets Road to slow down to 20 mph around the blind curve. But residents say that many drivers hit it at close to 40 mph.

"We can make the edge lines wider and put down raised pavement markers and lower the speed limit ... but the people behind the wheel have to make the decision whether they are going to adhere to the rules," said David Buck, a spokesman for SHA.

Durm and others have called on the state to lower the speed limit to 25 mph along a one-mile section of St. Margarets Road around the intersection of Route 179 and Pleasant Plains. Residents also have called for installing speed bumps, clearing land along St. Margarets Road to improve sight lines and installing traffic signals.

Buck said speed bumps are not installed on state roads. He said the state isn't likely to reduce the speed below 35 mph or install traffic lights.

"If there's no sound engineering reason to do it, you increase the number of rear-end crashes," he said.

Durm said state officials remain in talks with property owners along the sharp bend on St. Margarets Road about giving up portions of their yards to increase the sight distance.

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