Convenience Store Opening Raises Safety Concerns; School Will Not Allow Students To Cross Route 50 By Foot

Convenience Store Opening Raises Safety Concerns; School Will Not Allow Students To Cross Route 50 By Foot
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BERLIN — Each day the new Royal Farms store and Arby’s restaurant on the north side of Route 50 across from Stephen Decatur High School inch closer to completion, the potential for students attempting to cross the busy dual highway grows nearer, but there have been discussions about a possible pedestrian crossing at the intersection.

It’s no secret once the Royal Farms store is completed on the north side of Route 50 across from Decatur it will likely become an oasis of cold drinks, snacks and other temptations for students at the high school and perhaps the adjacent middle school as well. The same can be said, although on a reduced level, for the new Arby’s nearing completion on a site immediately north of the store and also across from the high school.

In between, however, is a dangerous dual highway utilized by thousands of vehicles every day and even more during certain times of the year with heavy traffic heading to the resort area. State Highway Administration (SHA) officials are keenly aware of the potentially dangerous situation and have been meeting with school officials on possible solutions, but thus far there are no immediate plans for pedestrian crosswalks, increased signage or signals.

On the one hand, installing pedestrian crosswalks or signage would certainly improve safety for students and others at the high school campus and appears on the surface to be a no brainer. On the other hand, pedestrian crossings at the busy intersection might only encourage students, and even staff for that matter, to cross the highway to visit the new establishments. Finding a balance is now the challenge for SHA and the school, according to SHA Media Relations Manager David Buck.

‘It’s a great question and one that has been under discussion,” he said. “SHA has had some preliminary discussions with the school. School officials want to balance the safety of the students with the reality that a crosswalk might encourage students to go off campus and cross Route 50.”

With few other commercial interests in the area, save for the existing convenience store on the opposite corner and the old Harley Davidson store turned auction center on the other, there is little existing foot traffic in the area that would warrant a pedestrian crossing, making it uniquely a school issue.

“There isn’t too much additional pedestrian activity in the area, so we wanted to work with the school on any decision,” said Buck. “SHA will continue working closely with the school to determine the best course of action that takes into account pedestrian and vehicular safety.”

Stephen Decatur High School Principal Tom Zimmer is keeping a close eye on the situation. Zimmer said this week he knows SHA has had some discussions with the higher-ups at the Board of Education. He said he has concerns about his charges attempting to cross the busy highway, especially after school.

“My personal feelings are that I worry if a student would try to cross Route 50 by foot,” he said. “That is a dangerous situation for anyone on foot. I’m not sure what the laws are regarding a crosswalk on a dual highway located by a school. That is something the legal people would have to answer.”

Regardless of the outcome with SHA, Zimmer said he is already preparing for the new establishments to open with an in-house plan of his own.

“I know that when those establishments are open, I will stress to the student population that they cannot cross Route 50 on foot,” he said. “We will have staff members initially by the intersection at school dismissal to prevent students from crossing on foot. I am not worried about students crossing during the school day.”

For decades, there was a McDonalds adjacent to the high school on the opposite side of Seahawk Road and students would often pile into it after school, or after sports events, concerts or other after-hours events at the school. Zimmer said this new situation is different because of the dangerous dual highway.

“The situation is not like it was with McDonalds on the side road,” he said. “Ultimately, I do not want to see anyone, student or adult, be hit by a car on a highway that literally sees millions of cars travel on it.”

The Royal Farms store is expected to open in November with a soft opening introducing the community to the store with free food, a grand opening and then a ribbon cutting a few weeks later

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.