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Bridge Crash Highlights Safety Problem

The fatal crash Thursday on the Bay Bridge highlights a problem we've created for ourselves. Two-way traffic on one span is an accommodation to increasingly heavy volume, but it leaves motorists with no protection from the oncoming traffic a lane over. (Here's a link to a WJLA TV video of the crash scene.)

It's one more case in which the rapid growth of the Washington region has far outstripped the travel system designed in the mid-20th century to support that growth. (Here's a link to a Maryland state task force report on the future of the Bay Bridge.)

Drivers observe that same flaw in our system where shoulder lanes that should be available for breakdowns are converted into travel lanes for cars or buses.

In Virginia, the latest planning for highway expansion -- the creating of the high occupancy or toll (HOT) lanes on Interstate 95/395 -- has raised concerns about whether the highway's footprint is wide enough to accommodate adequate shoulder lanes.

All of our region's highway planners say they put safety first. But these are not examples of safety first. We can't allow our concerns about getting someplace faster to trump concerns about getting there at all.

UPDATE: Lon Anderson, the director of public affairs at AAA Mid-Atlantic, sent over a copy of his statement in which he says the bridge accident was preventable. I know he also has concerns about the safety of the breakdown lanes on our highways and the width of the ones proposed for the HOT lanes.
This is what he said today:

"Had the counter-flows of traffic been barrier separated, the head-on collisions that made this crash so horrific would not have happened," Anderson said. "And there are moveable barrier systems that could be used on the bridge to separate traffic flows--the District of Columbia uses such a system on the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge and changes the barrier locations for each rush hour."

"Given the enormous volumes on these bridges, having counter-flows of traffic on one bridge was a ticking time bomb. And it went off yesterday afternoon, costing lives and destroying families. We urge the State of Maryland and the Maryland Transportation Authority to examine viable ways to barrier separate the traffic flows when mixing directions on one bridge."

By Robert Thomson  |  May 11, 2007; 8:28 AM ET
Categories:  Safety  
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