The tragic truck crash that left one dead and several injured, and tens of thousands trapped in backups for many, many hours raises three critical questions that need to be examined, said Ragina C. Averella, Manger of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic. Those concerns are:
- The engineering failure of the Bridge to restrain the truck and keep it on the Bridge.
- The impact of two-way traffic on the bridges.
- The issue of inadequate capacity of the bridge across the Bay.
RESTRAINING WALLS: In April of 2006, following an incident in which debris fell off a truck on a bridge onto the Beltway, killing a motorist at I-270 and the Beltway, AAA Mid-Atlantic wrote a letter to the Maryland State Highway Administration concerning the apparent need to strengthen barriers to restrain big trucks. The letter called for an investigation of the barriers on overpasses and bridges, and questioned whether they needed to be strengthened to restrain big rigs and their cargo in crashes. The letter also cited the 2004 gas tanker truck that crashed though a barrier on an I-895 over pass and landed on motorists below on I-95 killing five. (Letter available upon request).
TWO-WAY TRAFFIC: Statistics indicate that approximately 70 percent of the fatal crashes happen on the Bridge when two-way traffic is employed. “We are concerned about the unique safety challenges that two-way traffic poses to motorists. We don’t yet know what impact the two-way traffic that was employed at the time of the crash had on yesterday’s tragedy; however, it likely magnified the severity of the terrible May 10, 2007 crash that killed three people and it could have been a factor in yesterday’s incident.”
CAPACITY ACROSS THE BAY: “Yesterday’s crash with the resulting 13-14 mile back-ups should be an urgent reminder of the very finite and fragile nature of our current Bay crossings,” Averella noted. Crashes will happen, resurfacing and other maintenance will be required and all of this diminishes the current five lanes on the two spans.
“Under the best of circumstances, we do not have enough capacity with long back-ups now the norm around weekends,” the AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman noted.
“Former Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich convened a task force to examine whether Maryland should be seriously studying how to increase traffic capacity across the Chesapeake Bay. That panel, which AAA Mid-Atlantic served on, found the need for further study that could lead to construction of another structure was compelling,” Averella noted. “Unfortunately, the current administration has not pursued a study for additional capacity across the bay. Yesterday’s gargantuan traffic back-ups are a reminder of just how limited and fragile our current bay-crossing arrangement really is.”
“The reality is that yesterday’s tragedy did not have to be as serious and as disruptive as it was,” Averella concluded. “While it is too early to determine what the exact cause of the crash was, it is possible that the two-way traffic flow may have been a contributing factor in this tragic crash. We urge Governor O’Malley to consider studying additional solutions addressing traffic capacity across the Chesapeake Bay. It is a crucial need which is further demonstrated by yesterday’s crash and lane closures which extended over 24 hours and has left tens of thousands of motorists trapped in traffic jams extending over 13 miles. These are serious and nagging issues that need to be addressed.”