First re­spon­ders, SHA talk about Route 404

Record Observer - - News - By CON­NIE CON­NOLLY cconnolly@ches­pub.com

QUEEN ANNE — In an ef­fort to keep Mid-Shore res­i­dents and beach trav­el­ers safe dur­ing the state Route 404 widen­ing con­struc­tion project, Maryland State High­way Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials met with first re­spon­ders and town man­agers on Wed­nes­day, March 22.

About two dozen peo­ple at­tended the 5 p.m. meet­ing at Queen Anne-Hills­boro Vol­un­teer Fire Depart­ment in Queen Anne to share con­cerns, pore over draw­ings, of­fer sug­ges­tions and ask ques­tions.

Rolling out draw­ings of the du­al­iza­tion project for one of the two main Maryland routes to Delaware and Maryland Atlantic beaches, SHA en­gi­neers, road con­struc­tion con­trac­tors and de­sign con­sul­tants fielded ques­tions from first re­spon­ders and those who may be af­fected by di­verted traf­fic in Tal­bot, Caro­line and Queen Anne’s coun­ties.

Fast-tracked by Gov. Larry Ho­gan, the Route 404 du­al­iza­tion project from U.S. Route 50 to Den­ton is de­signed pri­mar­ily for im­prov­ing safety, not get­ting va­ca­tion­ers to the beach quicker, SHA con­struc­tion man­ager Fred Va­lente said.

“What we’re do­ing is pre­vent­ing accidents,” Va­lente said. “Emer­gency re­spon­ders are con­cerned about not be­ing able to make turns. We’re try­ing to bal­ance that with (cre­at­ing safe turns and in­ter­sec­tions). You can’t please ev­ery­one, but we can cer­tainly try.”

Re­spond­ing quickly to accidents while keep­ing first re­spon­ders safe was the main con­cern of Caro­line County Emer­gency Ser­vices direc­tor Bryan Ebling, QAHVFC Chief Danny Lis­ter and Chief En­gi­neer David Chaires. Be­cause of its lo­ca­tion, QAHVFC re­sponds to accidents in all three coun­ties.

Route 404 from Route 50 at Wye Mills to the Tuck­a­hoe Creek bridge in Queen Anne sep­a­rates Queen Anne’s and Tal­bot coun­ties. The stretch of Route 404 from Tuck­a­hoe Creek east to Den­ton is in Caro­line County.

Lis­ter has been a “prime mo­ti­va­tor” in gen­er­at­ing the meet­ings be­tween SHA and first re­spon­ders, SHA spokesman Bob Rager said. Rager, who is based in the Dis­trict 2 of­fice in Ch­ester­town, is in charge of pub­lic out­reach. He said this is the third such meet­ing re­quested by first re­spon­ders.

“This is an un­usual de­sign­build project,” Rager said. “The de­sign is go­ing along with con­struc­tion, and first re­spon­ders wanted to be part of that process. We’ve got a re­ally, re­ally good, ded­i­cated group of re­spon­ders who want to make sure they do their job well.”

Con­cerns voiced by the re­spon­ders in­cluded the ma­neu­ver­abil­ity of J-turns for tower trucks and po­ten­tial ac­cess over me­di­ans di­vided by steel guard rails. Dis­cus­sion of emer­gency ve­hi­cle wheel-base, turn­ing ra­diuses and an­gles, clear­ances, road di­men­sions, and di­men­sions and lo­gis­tics with hy­po­thet­i­cal sce­nar­ios at var­i­ous points on the high­way went back and forth across the ta­ble.

Jeff Wence, as­sis­tant dis­trict en­gi­neer for traf­fic, said J-turns on U.S. Route 301 have re­duced accidents by 80 per­cent. Ebling said the J-turns pro­posed for Route 404 would be suf­fi­cient for al­low­ing emer­gency ve­hi­cles to ac­cess the high­way.

More accidents are an­tic­i­pated, how­ever, at in­ter­sec­tions hav­ing traf­fic lights on Route 404. And the “pinch point” at the turn onto Route 404 from Route 50 will con­tinue to be an area of con­cern. The en­tire in­ter­sec­tion would have to be shut down be­cause, Chaires said, “I can’t take a chance on my guys get­ting run over.”

Other con­cerns of first re­spon­ders in­cluded ra­dio com­mu­ni­ca­tion when a lane of traf­fic is closed, dy­namic sig­nage and emer­gency lights, and mak­ing sure all sig­nals have work­ing Op­ti­coms, emer­gency ve­hi­cle pre-emp­tion sys­tems that al­low first re­spon­ders to over­ride traf­fic sig­nals.

Lis­ter said the safety of his emer­gency per­son­nel as they re­spond to accidents dur­ing the sum­mer con­struc­tion is para­mount.

“I just want to make sure ev­ery­body is in agree­ment, “he said. “We’re not tak­ing a chance of get­ting our folks killed if only part of the high­way is shut down.”

SHA of­fi­cials said they would con­tinue work­ing if their work did not af­fect emer­gency re­sponses.

First re­spon­ders agreed that com­pro­mise be­tween the ideal and the prac­ti­cal would have to be the re­al­ity.

“We’ll have to adapt and con­quer,” Chaires said.

Ac­knowl­edg­ing that many driv­ers use their GPS nav­i­ga­tional sys­tems and apps to find al­ter­na­tive routes, Rager said other routes will be com­mu­ni­cated to va­ca­tion­ers on the western shore and be­yond.

How­ever, Rager sought feed­back on roads that should be avoided to re­duce im­pacts on emer­gency re­sponses. Sug­gested roads and ar­eas were Dover Bridge, state Route 662 around Ch­e­sa­peake Col­lege and state Route 309 that backs up at Route 404.

“No truck traf­fic on Cen­tral Av­enue through Ridgely (onto) River Road,” Ebling added. “We need to keep them on the state high­ways, as much as we can.”

Other spring and sum­mer traf­fic road projects that may af­fect beach traf­fic, Rager said, are the work on Route 50 near Trappe “that will drag into April now,” and paving work in three lo­ca­tions: Route 50 west from Queen­stown to Kent Nar­rows (night­time work be­gin­ning in the next cou­ple of weeks), Route 404 busi­ness in Den­ton and state Route 318 in Fed­er­als­burg this sum­mer.

Route 404 work will take place six days a week un­less it rains, which means work will con­tinue on Sun­day.

“We have plenty of places to work off-road,” Va­lente said. “So we can avoid lane clo­sures on week­ends.”

The state has man­dated a $22,200 per day penalty “for not get­ting done on time,” Va­lente said.

A con­sen­sus formed by the at­ten­dees was to con­tinue meet­ing monthly at 5 p.m. on the third Wed­nes­day.

“The only other state­ment I have is just a big thank you,” Chaires said on be­half of the fire com­pany. “It’s worked since our first meet­ing. We’ve made great strides, and we’ve kept peo­ple pretty darn well safe out there, and I think that’s what we’re all af­ter.”

Fol­low me on Twit­ter @con­nie_s­tar­dem.

PHOTO BY CON­NIE CON­NOLLY

Caro­line County Emer­gency Ser­vices direc­tor Bryan Ebling, left, points to a sec­tion of the Route 404 du­al­iza­tion plan map which SHA of­fi­cials shared with first re­spon­ders af­fected by the project’s im­pact on de­liv­er­ing emer­gency ser­vices in a timely man­ner.

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