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OXON HILL — A number of recent tragedies that occurred on Indian Head Highway have become a significant source of concern in the region, and Maryland Del. Kriselda Valderrama (District 26) along with various local lawmakers and officials have “decided enough is enough,” and a call to action for a measurable safety plan on Route MD-210 is long overdue.
Valderrama, a lifelong resident of Prince George’s County, said the Maryland Department of Transportation’s State Highway Administration (MDOT SHA) has been cooperative in working with state delegation to get the desired safety developments in accordance with her vision.
“I’m proud to say that my staff and my district delegation and the county delegation to bring forth a bill that went straight to the Environmental Transportation Committee. And luckily, I was able to work with colleagues across the aisle from that committee to get a product out,” Valderrama said.
What was produced from Valderrama’s legislative initial request was one speed camera located at Old Fort (Road) on Route 210. However, the camera is going in one direction, facing southbound.
“And while that’s a start,” Valderrama said, “I think we can all agree that one camera going in one direction is not going to produce the results that we want.” Another speed camera is located at a construction site on MD-210.
In a joint press conference held on Jan. 4, County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said Indian Head Highway is once again on the county’s list of transportation priorities. Prince George’s County Police Department (PGPD) Chief Hank Stawinski, Valderrama and County Councilmember Monique Anderson-Walker also spoke at the press conference.
“Today those parents, and their family members, and our entire communities continue to grieve – not only the loss of these babies but we have had way too many similar losses on Route 210,” said Alsobrooks in reference to the Dec. 30, 2018, multi-vehicle accident in which a suspected drunk driver crashed into a family’s vehicle killing three children and leaving their two parents critically injured.
“We believe that it’s important to come together to send the message that it is not business as usual on Route 210, that we are bringing together all of our collective efforts, we’re continuing to work on Route 210 to make sure that no other baby, or parent, or family member lose their lives on this road.”
According to the PGPD, MD-210 had 336 accidents in 2016, 329 in 2017, and 354 in 2018.
Stawinski took a few minutes to express the PGPD’s commitment to aggressive enforcement, urging listeners to examine their driving behavior thoroughly.
“In 2019, you will see more traffic stops. You will see more citations,” Stawinski said.
“Prince George’s County Police has always been steadfast in their support of this issue, but to see them come forth with a press conference to say ‘we are behind this issue 110 percent’ is very gratifying and very pleasing to our delegation,” Valderrama said.
Another bill, which will likely be completed and submitted this year by Valderrama, will merely be an expansion of the already-existing legislation that Valderrama introduced and will target three objectives, according to Valderrama:
- To install multiple speed cameras with the possibility of roving cameras as well.
- For the newly installed cameras to be pointed in multiple directions as opposed to only facing southward.
- To place the speed cameras at spots where drivers are less likely to expect a speed camera; namely, non-intersections.
Since the time Valderrama and her delegation originally proposed legislation calling for drastic safety improvements along Indian Head Highway, she has been meeting with her constituents, advocates, law enforcement and the State Highway Administration, all of whom she said have shown diligence in their efforts.
Valderrama also addressed the “highway of death” stigma attached to the frequented corridor.
“The fact that AAA and all those who are very familiar with Route 210 has given it that name is sad in of itself,” she said.
“I mean, we’re by the nation’s capital. To have something designated as the ‘highway of death’ is not something anyone would want in their jurisdiction. And the fact that it’s taken this long even to try and resolve this issue is, I don’t know, unimaginable but again – presently pleased that everyone is pleased with what an issue it is.”
Though speed cameras have seemed to garner the unfavorable reputation of something just to generate revenue, Valderrama said the local delegation has no regrets to the legislative measures taken to install the equipment.
“There’s a lot of people out there who hate speed cameras and think it’s not an answer to what we’re trying to (accomplish), but I guess I think it’s part of the answer,” Valderrama said.
“And for those who are just adamant against them because they generate revenue, I’m sorry, but that’s not an issue for me because I’ve mentioned what a tragedy it’s been, and one life is one too many to lose. So if people are so worrisome or irritated that it generates money, I just tell them, ‘slow down.’ Simple as that.”
The Indian Head Highway Area Action Council (IHHAAC) is the advocacy group that has worked closely with Valderrama in this process. As it stands, the bill is in the hands of a law enforcement subcommittee of the Prince George’s County House Delegation. Once the bill leaves there, it enters what is called “full delegation,” then will be assigned to a standing committee (Environment and Transportation Committee) before passing.
“This is not the end of the fight. This is just the beginning, and it is my privilege and honor to have been the sponsor of this legislation,” Valderamma said.
Charlie Gischlar, media relations manager with the State Highway Administration of MDOT, said it has been working closely with the local law enforcement, stakeholders in the county and Maryland’s Highway Safety Office.
“Speeding is quite an issue on Indian Head Highway. We’re trying to reinforce to people to just ride the speed limit,” added Gischlar. He said the MDOT abides by a “three E’s principle”: engineering, education and enforcement.
Gischlar highlighted that MDOT has upgraded the lighting and signage at certain spots on the highway. Also, a major interchange construction project is underway at the intersection of Kerby Hill Road and Livingston Road on MD-210. The construction began around fall 2015 and is projected to be entirely complete and open for traffic in summer 2020, Gischlar estimated.
“This interchange project is something that’s going to benefit thousands of people,” Gischlar said. “We’re constantly looking at MD-210 on ways on how to make it safe as possible.”
According to a report provided by Gischlar, the scope of the project will improve safety and address existing congestion at the MD-210 intersection with Kerby Hill Road and Livingston Road and will maintain three through lanes in each direction on the highway.
The signal will be removed at Wilson Bridge Drive and the intersection reconfigured with only an off-ramp in the southbound direction to allow right turns to Wilson Bridge Drive. Upon completion, cyclists and pedestrians will be accommodated where appropriate.
In the project’s most recent update (as of Feb. 4), crews are slated to set steel beams on the bridge at Kerby Hill Road and will continue work on the noise-wall along the southbound service road by Wilson Towers Apartments. Verizon crews are scheduled to begin cable relocation work along MD-210 southbound between Wilson Bridge Drive and Kerby Hill Road.
The report concludes that there will be no impacts to travel along the highway are anticipated as work will be done outside of the travel lanes.
The transportation agency expressed condolences for those affected by the fatal Oxon Hill crash and pledged to implement a thorough safety plan for a less dangerous highway.
“The Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration’s is saddened and shocked in the aftermath of the tragic crash along MD 210 that claimed the lives of three children,” says a recent statement released by MDOT.
“We grieve with the community, as well as those affected by last year’s horrific crash… The average daily traffic volume is nearly 75,000 vehicles daily, which is expected to increase significantly in the coming years, particularly with recent and planned development.”
The MDOT also notes that to combat the issue of speeding on the long road, Automated Speed Enforcement Systems (ASE) have been deployed in two areas. One is at the MDOT SHA interchange work zone, and the other is a “locally maintained camera located nearby.”
The ASE system has reportedly yielded positive results since initial deployment.