SNOW HILL – A public meeting this week on the future of the dangerous intersection of Routes 113 and 12 near Snow Hill was long on questions and short on answers as local residents and elected officially continue to seek solutions for the problem junction.
Dozens of local residents attended the public meeting hosted by the Concerned Citizens of Worcester County at the Snow Hill Library on Wednesday night. Unfortunately, most left feeling no better about the situation than when they arrived.
There have been 10 serious accidents since the intersection was “improved” as part of the ongoing dualization of Route 113 from the Delaware line to just north of Pocomoke. Ironically, the latest occurred shortly before 4 p.m. on Wednesday, just hours before the scheduled meeting to discuss the problematic intersection. In that accident, a tractor-trailer struck a Jeep attempting to cross, totaling the vehicle and sending its driver to the hospital.
The basic problem with the intersection is the median, at just 24 feet, it’s too narrow to allow crossing traffic to safely stop in the middle, essentially forcing drivers to attempt to cross four lanes from a dead stop against high-speed traffic from both directions.
County officials urged the State Highway Administration (SHA) to make changes at the intersection after four serious accidents in the first 17 days after it reopened, and SHA responded with several minor alterations including more signage, rumble strips and improved sight lines. While the changes have improved the intersection somewhat, the carnage continues, forcing local residents and elected officials to push for even more changes, and possibly a long-term solution, including a traffic signal or an overpass.
On several occasions, SHA officials have turned down requests to replace the flashing yellow light with a regular traffic signal, citing studies that show traffic lights on rural highways such as Route 113 increase the likelihood of more accidents. The state has been amenable, at least conceptually, to a future overpass at the intersection, but that would happen only after the other phases of the dualization project are completed, which could take several years.
In the meantime, the accidents continue to pile up at the intersection, and although there have been no fatalities, several victims have been sent to area hospitals with serious injuries. Several in attendance on Wednesday said it would likely take a fatality for the state to take notice of the situation and respond to the local community’s concerns.
“I hate to say this, but it’s probably going to take someone getting killed out there before the state responds to our concerns about that intersection,” said County Residents Action for Safer Highways (CRASH) President Bob Hulburd. “For whatever reason, it’s become a situation where we’re hearing ‘this is fine, it’s how we designed it’ and ‘live with it.’ It’s become a butting-heads thing.”
Hulburd formed CRASH 13 years ago in the very room where the meeting was held on Wednesday after his cousin was killed on Route 113. After of wrangling, the state responded with the massive dualization project for the entire length of the highway, which will take several decades before it is entirely completed.
“The fatality rate on Route 113 was three times the state average for similar roads,” he said. “That’s why they [SHA] were embarrassed into finally doing something about it.”
Commissioner Virgil Shockley, who has been at the forefront of the effort to get the state to make improvements to the intersection, said the problem began with the design phase of the project. The intersection was designated a design-build project, meaning 30 percent of it was designed up front while the other 70 percent was designed as a work in progress. Somewhere between the original 30 percent design and the finished product, the train jumped the track.
Shockley said the state is aware of the problems with the finished product and has taken small steps to improve it, but the minor changes have fallen short of their objective. The county has written letters to state officials asking for more substantial changes, but thus far, the requests have fallen on deaf ears.
“It seems like nobody’s listening,” he said. “Not to be too negative, but it’s total confusion out there. How can anybody design something like this?”
Delegate Jim Mathias listened quietly while the local officials and residents pleaded their case. When it was his turn to speak, Mathias assessed the situation as being two-pronged.
“What I’m hearing tonight are two basic things,” he said. “We need to get the intersection of Routes 113 and 12 as safe as it can be as soon as it can be, and we need to get Route 113 completed sooner rather than later. I promise I will get on the phone tomorrow to start making that happen.”
As for the specifics of the intersection, Mathias said the horrible track record of the site since it reopened was reason enough to get the SHA engineers to give it another look.
“I’ve never had a traffic study class and I don’t pretend to know how to design a road,” he said. “When you see those state taxes taken out of your paycheck each week, that goes to pay those experts. Let’s get them back down here to get this fixed.”