Two-way traffic to continue on span

Despite fatal crash, transit chief sees no other option

August 13, 2008|By Michael Dresser and Justin Fenton | Michael Dresser and Justin Fenton,Sun Reporters

The head of the agency that operates the Bay Bridge said yesterday that two-way operations on the twin spans would continue even after Sunday's fatal accident that left a westbound tractor-trailer in the water after an eastbound passenger car apparently swerved into its lane.

"Two-way traffic is not the optimum way to do business," Ronald Freeland, executive secretary of the Maryland Transportation Authority, said at a news conference called yesterday to discuss the first crash in the bridge's 56-year history in which a vehicle left the roadway and plunged into the Chesapeake Bay.

But, he added, "I don't know that we're in a position to totally eliminate it."

Freeland said that two-way operations on the spans is usually required for construction and maintenance and is carried out at off-peak hours. But on other occasions, he said, two-way traffic is allowed on the three-lane westbound span to relieve congestion.

Truck driver John Robert Short, 57, of Willards was killed in the early-morning crash, which occurred on the eastbound span while the westbound span was closed.

Chief Marcus Brown of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police said that of 259 crashes on the Bay Bridge over a four-year period, 24 percent occurred during two-way operations.

However, Brown said he did not have information on what percentage of total time the bridge was in two-way operations - making it difficult to put the crash statistics in context.

Brown said that in Sunday's crash, the driver of an eastbound Chevrolet Camaro crossed the center line and sideswiped the cab of the 18-wheeler. He said the truck swerved across the eastbound lane and slid atop the concrete barrier before the swinging of the trailer broke through the wall.

The truck rolled off the 34-inch-high wall and into the water below, Brown said. Short's body was recovered later that day. Police said yesterday that they did not have an autopsy report and do not know whether he was killed by the impact or by drowning.

Freeland said yesterday that investigators believe the truck was traveling about 55 mph before impact. Cheryl Sparks, spokeswoman for the authority, said the speed limit during two-way operations on the eastbound span is 40 mph.

Doug Hecox, a spokesman for the Federal Highway Administration, said concrete barriers of the type used on the Bay Bridge represent the best technology traffic engineers have for use on bridges.

"There is nothing currently better," he said. "By all accounts, the barriers in place were very appropriate on that bridge, given the traffic population it serves."

Another federal agency, the National Transportation Safety Board, is investigating the crash and will look into all aspects of bridge design, including the integrity of the barrier, said NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway. He said an investigation of this type can take 12 to 18 months.

The 19-year-old driver of the Camaro, Candy Lynn Baldwin of Millington, was taken to Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where she remained yesterday. Police said she told them she had fallen asleep at the wheel. Brown said a test for the presence of alcohol in the drivers' blood had been performed and that results would be available in about a week.

Court records show that Baldwin has a history of speeding offenses. She pleaded guilty in Kent County District Court in 2006 and 2007 for driving 70 mph in a 50-mph zone and 72 in a 55-mph zone, and received probation before judgment in both cases.

The son of the crash victim described his father yesterday as a hard-working man and conscientious driver who had been trying to spend less time on the road. He had been working as a dispatcher five times a week and only occasionally getting behind the wheel, according to John Short Jr., 36, of Newark, Del.

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