SNOW HILL – The controversial dualized intersection of Routes 12 and 113 has witnessed 14 accidents since opening a year ago, more than one a month, and further improvements lie far in the future.
Four accidents in the first 17 days after the intersection was opened on Dec. 19, 2006, seemed to herald a dangerous intersection, living up to the warnings of some who worried that the median was too narrow for crossing and turning vehicles.
The rate of accidents slowed down after that, but three occurred in a 2 ½-week span in June and two within 1 1/2 weeks in July. Two accidents also happened on the same day in October, the second apparently because of fog and the backup generated by the first crash.
No accidents at the Routes 12 and 113 intersection have been reported since mid-October.
No one has been killed, but at least 17 vehicles have been totaled, including a county dump truck and a Perdue chicken truck.
Only eight accidents were reported there the year before the dualization.
Whether the narrow median and difficult sight lines or whether driver error and inattention caused the 14 crashes is disputed.
“Whether it’s the result of the construction of the intersection is not something we’re going to say is the cause,” said Captain Stuart Murray of the Worcester County Sheriff’s Department.
The crash causes have been determined to be failure to yield and failure to pay proper attention, Murray said.
“To my knowledge we’ve never had a cause for a crash at that intersection that was due to the intersection [construction],” Murray said.
Commissioner Virgil Shockley has been a vocal opponent of the intersection.
“The road doesn’t move. Every accident is driver error in one fashion or another,” said Shockley.
The County Commissioners have been warning that the intersection would be perilous to drivers since before it was open to public use.
According to Shockley, the commissioners were not shown the plans for the improvements. It was not until gravel was laid during construction that he could see the issues with the intersection, Shockley said.
The median is too narrow to be safe, said Shockley, a school bus driver. The Board of Education has rerouted school buses around that intersection to ensure children have a safe ride to school, making some bus routes miles longer.
“Is it safer than it was? Yes,” said Shockley. “Is it safe enough I feel confident driving a school bus full of kids through there? Hell no.”
The commissioners wrote several letters to the state, the first in April 2006, eight months before the intersection was opened for use, but no solution was forthcoming.
“The state is supposed to at least listen to your concerns,” Shockley said. “Sometimes they act on them, sometimes they don’t.”
While the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) did not yield to protests before the road opened, the agency has made minor changes to the intersection in the interests of safety. Last winter, yield and look again signs were added, vision blocking poles and guardrails were removed and traffic counts conducted to determine if a stoplight was warranted.
A traffic light is not warranted by the traffic counts, however, SHA District Engineer Donnie Drewer concluded, because there is not enough traffic.
Stoplights on busy highways, especially after 10 miles of no lights, can be hazardous themselves, according to SHA staff.
“If you do it right and do it safe, people don’t have to have any accidents to get used to a road,” Shockley said. “You need to kill some people. That’ll warrant having a stop light there.”
There are five stoplights on north Route 113, in Berlin, Shockley pointed out.
“There’s no excuse for not having the stoplight except they don’t want to put one there,” he said.
Shockley wants an overpass at the intersection. While an overpass is planned for that site, the timeline for Route 113 improvements puts it at the end of the project, after all sections have been dualized. Given the delays in the dualization, an overpass could be many years away.
There are few further improvements that could be made, according to Drewer, although he has considered adding J-turns, eliminating left-hand turns entirely, or rebuilding an emergency crossover for u-turns.
The county should have some say in whether the next phase of the Route 113 dualization project is another stretch of road, or the intersection, said Shockley. The sequence of the next phases could be changed.
“We’re open to what the order should be,” said Neil Pedersen, Maryland State Highway Administrator at the annual Department of Transportation visit to the County Commissioners in October. “It should be based on an analysis of facts and data.”
Shockley said the intersection remains a concern for many in his immediate district and elsewhere.
“At what point does your luck run out? What cost is a human life?” Shockley wondered.