Local intersection drives discussion for road improvements

By Eli Saletan

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Graphic by Emma Davis.

Graphic by Emma Davis.

The Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) proposed four options to alter the median at the intersection of River Road and Braeburn Parkway in a meeting with members of the Whitman community April 11.

Following the Feb. 27 accident resulting in three fatalities in the Whitman community, the Bannockburn Civic Association (BCA), with the help of Montgomery County Councilmember Roger Berliner, organized the meeting to receive proposals addressing the intersection. Plans were designed to regulate or prohibit the left hand turn from River Road onto Braeburn Parkway, which requires crossing two lanes of oncoming traffic.

Although the attendees debated a variety of solutions, they agreed that safety is top priority.

“I think there was a feeling amongst everyone that, because of the fatalities, it’s hard to ignore — we need to do something to affect change,” BCA president Mike Zangwill said. “I think that was agreed by everybody.”

The SHA proposals included closing the median completely, constructing a T-shaped median, constructing an S-shaped median or constructing designated left turn lanes.

Closing the median is the least useful solution because blocking Pyle Road would direct more traffic onto Whittier Boulevard, which is already congested during arrival and dismissal times, BCA vice president Richard Boltuck said.

The meeting also addressed other possible alterations to the intersection in addition to the four proposals.

“We talked about how that section of River Road is not a school zone – you cannot reduce the speed limit at that point,” Zangwill said. “We talked about getting speed cameras, and that’s a police department decision.”

It’s unlikely that the SHA would install a traffic light because it would slow traffic on River Road, a major commuting route, Boltuck said

In addition, a traffic light may not have prevented the Feb. 27 accident, SHA official Anyesha Mookherjee said.

However, support for a traffic light within the community is strong; junior Melody Lee’s online petition to install a signal at the intersection has over 4,000 signatures from parents and students alike.

“I don’t think any accidents like this should ever happen again,” Lee said. “I think a traffic light would definitely improve safety and prevent any other accidents.”

The SHA’s traffic studies of the intersection reveal that fewer people use Braeburn Parkway than the number required to warrant a signal. The studies may be inaccurate, however, because many people avoid the intersection because they think it’s dangerous, Boltuck said.

Once a solution is decided, actual construction could take up to two years, said principal Alan Goodwin, who attended the meeting.

In an email to the Whitman community, Boltuck emphasized that the meeting was held only to receive the SHA’s proposals. The SHA will be hosting an open public discussion June 7 at 7 p.m. in the Whitman cafeteria.

“If mediation between the community and SHA satisfies the community, then we don’t intend to block that, we intend to facilitate it,” Boltuck said. “So that we can move ahead and get something in place that the community feels comfortable with.”

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