Bypass upgrades planned

Stretch of U.S. 1 in Bel Air was site of fatal crash last year

January 29, 2009|By Jonathan Pitts | Jonathan Pitts,jonathan.pitts@baltsun.com

State highway officials are planning safety upgrades for the Bel Air Bypass, a stretch of U.S. 1 where a mother and her 8-year-old son were killed last year in a head-on crash.

The State Highway Administration plans to install, by May, rumble strips, reflective markers and new pavement markings to create better separation between the northbound and southbound lanes of the bypass, agency spokesman Dave Buck said yesterday. There are no plans for a concrete barrier between the lanes, as some have called for, but the highway administration is seeking money to put a double-faced guardrail on part of the bypass.

The plan is in response to requests by Sen. Barry Glassman of Harford County, who called for safety improvements after the fatal crash in November.

"This is an initial step, something they can do quickly," he said. "We can chalk that up as a tentative victory."

In the crash, a Jeep Cherokee crossed into oncoming traffic and collided with a Saturn minivan. Two occupants of the minivan, Katherine S. Brady, 31, and her son, Wilson Brady, 8, both of Perry Hall, were killed.

The driver of the Cherokee, Christopher Herman Lentz, 37, of Glen Arm is awaiting trial on charges that include two counts of manslaughter. Lentz - who has a history of drug convictions and driving violations, including a conviction for driving under the influence 13 years ago - was driving 75 mph on the shoulder of the bypass before he crossed into oncoming traffic, according to charging documents.

The Bel Air Bypass has averaged three crashes per year dating to 2005, police said. That falls within the normal range for similar roadways, Buck said. The bypass, built during the 1960s, carries about 37,000 vehicles per day. There is no barrier or grassy median separating opposing traffic.

Glassman, saying constituents have told him the stretch of road is hazardous, originally asked for a concrete barrier. Buck said such a barrier would be unfeasible because of drainage issues and other factors.

The first phase of improvements will cost $150,000 and will extend from the Winters Run bridge, just north of where Bel Air Bypass splits from U.S. 1, on the south, to Route 23, on the north.

"We looked at what we could do in the short term and the long term," Buck said.

The SHA is awaiting word on a request for money to install a double-faced median guardrail in the northern half of the bypass. That project would require engineers to widen the road, which would also require an upgrade to the road's shoulders, which were not designed to bear traffic, Buck said.

The project would cost upward of $12 million and take at least two years to complete.

Glassman said that he and SHA are working to identify state or federal money that could be used for such a project.

Michael Loftus, the father of Katherine Brady, said he was pleased the state had agreed to the initial phase of safety improvements, but that the effort shouldn't stop there.

"I'd like to see that barrier put in, too," he said. "Those [rumble] strips might help, but they're not going to slow people down. That's the only way you'll prevent another tragedy like this from happening."

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