SO4S group sees project
CENTREVILLE — As the overpass across US 301 approaches its final construction phase, Support Overpass 4 Students organizers are thrilled to see the project nearing completion. A movement by students and citizens of Queen Anne’s County to advocate for an overpass at the intersection of US 301 and MD 304 in Centreville, the group began their petition in 2011.
The group began advocating for a safer way to cross 301 at Ruthsburg Road following yet another tragic accident at that intersection. An excerpt from the Record Observer in 2014 when ground was first broken for the highway overpass, “Connor Rice is a name etched in the hearts and minds of Centreville residents, and his memory has not been forgotten by the people or leadership of Queen Anne’s County. On Sept. 23, 2014, almost three years to the day after Rice was killed in a car crash on his way to Queen Anne’s County High School at the intersection of Route 304 and US Route 301 in Centreville, a groundbreaking ceremony was held at that very interchange to mark the beginning of construction of a highway overpass.”
Barbara Burkhardt was one of the women who said, enough is enough. She, along with Jennifer Fitzmaurice and Nikki Pino,
collected nearly 8,000 signatures and then went before the State Highway Administration imploring them to act.
Speaking with Burkhardt, six years after that fatal accident, the emotion is still evident in her voice. Rice was in the vehicle with his brother, who was driving, and another student riding to school with them, his father, said Burkhardt, was just a few cars back. The family was grieving, said Burkhardt, this was not a time for them to take action, but we could.
If we didn’t do something, who would, asked Burkhardt.
It was terrifying, there had been an increasing number of accidents along 301 near 304, she explained, and it was important for officials to realize there were names associated with those numbers. When Burkhardt and members of the SO4S made their presentation, she read those names aloud.
“We will not stand idle while the members of our community and our young drivers are at risk every time they approach this crossover,” she read. Those words became the mission statement of SO4S.
During the groundbreaking ceremony back in 2014, the members of SO4S were recognized for their role in pushing the project onto the governor’s desk by Sen. Stephen Hershey (R-36), Mar yland Transportation Secretary James Smith, administrator of the State Highway Administration Melinda Peters, a representative from Comptroller Peter Franchot’s of- fice, and the Queen Anne’s County Commissioners.
Jennifer Fitzmaurice, one of the founders of the group, thanked members of county and state government for their help in bringing the project to fruition and reminded them why the project was so important.
“Three years ago, Barb, Nikki and I came together and committed to make a change by securing funding and letting our government know that we wouldn’t back down until the children in our community could safely get to school,
our commuters to work, and our loved ones home,” she said.
Speaking to the crowd, Hershey praised the level of commitment from SO4S in their effort to help secure state funds for the project. He said when the group initially approached him about the overpass, he told them, “Public works projects like this are like turning around an aircraft carrier, they’re not very simple at all.” He said he believed the group had a fighting chance to achieve what they wanted to accomplish but had doubts it could be done as quickly as it was.
“What I didn’t expect was the dedication and commitment of these women, and most importantly the students, that they got to back them and be with them every step of the way in advocating for this project,” Hershey said.
Burkhardt said funding for the project had been set aside by Governor Robert Ehrlich during his term, which ended in 2007. Then Governor Martin O’Malley, reallocated monies from the Transportation Fund to the General Fund, essentially stalling the project. Through the efforts of SO4S, O’Malley gave full funding to the overpass in 2013, said Burkhardt.
Anticipated lane closures in the next two weeks will cause intermittent road closures on 301 at Ruthsburg Road, but contractor David A. Bramble is moving ahead of schedule, reports the State Highway Administration.