After an Ellicott City man was killed in a fatal accident on Route 32 in Clarksville on Nov. 13 the safety of the high speed, two lane road has been called into question.
Currently the stretch of road where the fatal accident occurred is a two-lane road that experiences traffic during rush hour.
On Nov. 13, the fatal accident was caused by the driver of a flatbed truck losing control of the vehicle while driving southbound, skidding into the northbound lane and striking a Jeep driven by an Ellicott City man who later died at the hospital, according to police.
A Maryland State Highway Administration spokesperson said officials are still examining the circumstances surrounding the crash to determine exactly what happened.
In 2004, a group of graduate students at UMBC conducted an in-depth study of the stretch of road where the fatal accident occurred—the approximately 5 mile route between 108 in Clarksville and Tridelphia Road in Glenelg.
In the study, the students grappled with two lines of thought. One was the State Highway Administration’s recommendation in a planning report that the road be widened to four lanes. The other, championed by environmental and community groups, believed that widening the road would cause more growth in the rural western part of the county. The students estimated the cost of widening the road to four lanes at $220 million over 10 years.
The students noted in their study that safety data on the road showed there were approximately 125.9 accidents per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) compared to the state average of 100.1 accidents per 100 VMT.
Back then, the road wasn’t significantly more dangerous than other roads, but at the time, the statewide average for a four-lane road was 38.5 accidents for every 100 million VMT.
To this day, the concerns over growth have kept the stretch of road from being built into four lanes, according to Jane Wagner, the project manager overseeing the development of the road for the Maryland State Highway Administration.
A 1994 proposal to expand the road to four lanes, create new interchanges at several exits and build a 34-foot median to divide the highway, left the planning stage in 2012, according to the SHA website. However, the full build project is currently on-hold, with only the interchanges being constructed now, according to Wagner.
“There was more public outcry that didn’t think [four lanes] was necessary,” said Wagner. “They saw it as fueling development.”
In 1996, Carroll County planners called the development of Route 32 vital for the county’s economic development hopes, according to the Baltimore Sun, but by 2000, opposition in Howard County had become so fierce to the road-widening that a panel to discuss how best to do it was forced to meet in closed sessions due to public outrage at the meetings, according to the Sun.
According to a public hearing transcript posted on the SHA website, dozens of people came out to a public hearing testimony to testify against the plan to expand the highway back in 1999.
"As a group we have for 2 1/2 years been opposing and have come again tonight to ardently oppose the mammoth freeway being presented with this plan," said Debbie Issy, who identified herself as the president of the Citizens Alliance for Rural Preservation, according to the public hearing transcript.
Donald Norris, chairman of the Department of Public Policy at UMBC, was the advisor to the students who wrote the Route 32 study. He’s also a Howard County resident who occasionally travels the road. He said he often experiences congestion on the road during rush hour and addressed the fatal accident.
“It was just a matter of time before something like that happened,” said Norris. “If [the government] values safety and traffic flow, they’ll value four lanes.”
He noted his students laid out both options, the first being the benefits of four lanes to improve safety and traffic flow, the second being two lanes with improved interchanges to control sprawl and improve the environment.
“My personal view is that it should have been four-laned a long time ago,” said Norris.
Weigh in on our poll or in comments: Should the road be widened?