Md. high­way’s road­work a bum­mer for sum­mer trav­el­ers

The Washington Post Sunday - - COMMUTER - BY RACHEL SIEGEL rachel.siegel@wash­

The start to sum­mer comes early for Po­tomac’s Bruce Pollekoff, a cer­ti­fied public ac­coun­tant who heads to his va­ca­tion home on Bethany Beach, Del., al­most ev­ery week­end af­ter Tax Day.

Since his beach home was com­pleted in June 2013, Pollekoff, 66, and wife Linda have counted on a 21/2-hour drive each Fri­day morn­ing and then back Sun­day or Mon­day.

But re­cently, the ride to their sea­side re­treat has been tak­ing longer. Route 404 — the two-lane road that takes them there — is be­ing widened to a di­vided fourlane high­way. The work, be­ing done mostly dur­ing day­time hours, is sched­uled to con­tinue un­til Thanks­giv­ing. For the Pollekoffs, that adds 45 min­utes to their drive “just sit­ting there.”

“It just makes no sense,” Pollekoff said, re­fer­ring to the day­time road work. “I can’t tell you how many cars drive back and forth dur­ing the sum­mer on that road. I un­der­stand that they want to build it as soon as pos­si­ble. Well, if it takes an­other month or two months to have traf­fic flow, it’s worth it.”

In June 2015, Mary­land Gov. Larry Ho­gan (R) an­nounced $1.97 bil­lion for high­ways and bridges from west­ern Mary­land to the Eastern Shore. That in­cluded $845 mil­lion for newly funded, top-pri­or­ity projects — the widen­ing of Route 404 among them. The project spans Queen Anne’s, Tal­bot and Caro­line coun­ties, stretch­ing 11.3 miles from Route 50 to east of Holly Road.

Con­struc­tion along the high­way is al­lowed only be­tween noon Mon­day and noon Fri­day, said Bob Rager, spokesman for the Mary­land State High­way Ad­min­is­tra­tion. But the bulk of the work — which re­quires lane clo­sures and flag­ging op­er­a­tions — is be­ing done dur­ing the day, with spo­radic night­time op­er­a­tions only be­gin­ning last week. Rager said that there will be no lane clo­sures for the July Fourth week­end, and that crews won’t be back on the road un­til Wed­nes­day or Thurs­day of this week.

Rager said that even given ef­forts to move hard-to-com­plete tasks, such as con­crete work, into night­time shifts, there’s no way to elim­i­nate the week­day flag­ging op­er­a­tions that in­evitably hold back thou­sands of beach­go­ers.

“This is a re­ally dif­fi­cult project to get done in the time frame that we have,” Rager said. “We’re not out there on the week­ends, but we know there are peo­ple go­ing out dur­ing the week.”

Rager said his tra­di­tional motto — “travel off peak, go dur­ing the mid­dle of the week” — is hard to sell given the project’s sched­ule. But he still en­cour­ages driv­ers to travel to the beach late in the day or in the even­ing be­tween Tues­day and Thurs­day. And Rager said it is easy to over­look oth­ers who de­pend on the high­way on a daily ba­sis, in­clud­ing farm­ers, lo­cal res­i­dents and emer­gency re­spon­ders.

The push for a four-lane high­way with a di­vider was largely driven by con­ges­tion and safety con­cerns. Nearly 18,000 ve­hi­cles travel along Route 404 each day, with 23,000 ve­hi­cles us­ing the two-lane road each day dur­ing the sum­mer, ac­cord­ing to SHA of­fi­cials. But his­tor­i­cally, the route has had a higher col­li­sion rate than the statewide av­er­age — 402 crashes and 12 fa­tal­i­ties oc­curred on the high­way be­tween 2005 and 2014.

Rager said many of th­ese crashes were high-speed, head-on col­li­sions. For more than a decade, ad­vo­cates who have lost loved ones along Route 404 have been push­ing for the widen­ing project. Ded­i­cated in 2011, the Route 404 Me­mo­rial Gar­den, just west of Den­ton, Md., in­cludes the names of dozens killed on the high­way.

Tom DiFatta, trea­surer of the Queen Anne-Hills­boro Vol­un­teer Fire Co., which responds to many crashes on the high­way, said even a quick glance at a cell­phone while driv­ing 60 or 70 mph can be fa­tal. He said the widen­ing project “should save a lot of lives,” adding that even Route 50, a po­ten­tial al­ter­nate route, is usu­ally just as con­gested.

Rager said the SHA does not en­dorse any spe­cific al­ter­nate route, but en­cour­ages driv­ers to plan ahead when it comes to tim­ing and route.

“The more knowl­edge you have, the more op­tions you give your­self, the more pleas­ant your trip will be,” he said.

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