Beltway interchange in Arbutus draws concerns about traffic safety

Beltway interchange in Arbutus draws concerns about traffic safety
A car passes construction barrels and cones where Southwestern Boulevard, a major route, narrows into one lane past the Interstate 695 interchange. Road work and high speeds on the road are causing a traffic hazard, authorities said. (Libby Solomon/BSMG)

As construction wraps up on an entrance ramp to the Baltimore Beltway from Southwestern Boulevard, first responders say car crashes and other incidents have nearly doubled since the ramp opened.

The Arbutus Volunteer Fire Department, on Southwestern Boulevard near the interchange, has responded to more than 25 calls in the area — including vehicle incidents and other emergencies — since the ramp opened last November, Capt. Norman Simpkins Jr. said.


In 2016 there were 15 crashes, including fender benders and those that caused injuries, on the 1.2-mile stretch of Southwestern Boulevard that crosses the interchange, according to the State Highway Administration. There were 10 crashes in 2015; in 2014 there were 12. About half of the incidents involved injuries and none were fatal.

Official statistics on the number of crashes at the interchange this year are not yet available, Charlie Gischlar, a spokesman for the SHA, said.

Within 24 hours last week, the fire department responded to two separate car crashes at the interchange, according to a post on its Facebook page. The post drew comments from multiple people calling the intersection "dangerous."

"Honestly, I avoid it, I don't even use it," said Allison Glascock, who owns a flower shop in Arbutus. She said that although she commutes to work driving southbound on the Beltway, she takes back roads to return to her home so that she can avoid the ramp.

Work began in 2015 to move the entrance ramp from Leeds Avenue, a residential street, to Southwestern Boulevard, a section of Route 1, a major highway with a 45 mph speed limit. The road provides access to the Beltway for the fire department, as well as for commuters using the Halethorpe MARC rail station. Last fall, the ramp was opened while construction continued.

The project, which also involved replacing two aging bridges, is scheduled to be completed by early December, Gischlar said.

Gischlar said a traffic engineer will evaluate the interchange after construction is completed to determine whether it needs a traffic signal.

Right now, one major problem is speed, officials said.

"People are seeing people driving at excessive speeds, way faster than the speed limit," Gischlar said. "This is an active work zone; It's even more important for people not to drive fast."

He said there are work-zone speed cameras on the Beltway, but that the SHA is not authorized to put them on Southwestern Boulevard. Baltimore County posts speed cameras only in school zones.

Gischlar said the ramp project engineer has contacted the Baltimore County Police Department about stepping up speed enforcement in the area.

Scott Miller, an Baltimore County police officer who patrols the area, said that the department is aware of the problem. The design of the road, however, makes enforcing speed limits difficult.

"There's no place to do any enforcement at that specific location," Miller said. "There's one lane north, one lane south, except for the turn lane. Pulling people over would create a massive bottleneck." Officers enforce speed limits farther down the road on either side of the interchange, he said.

"People fly," Glascock said, saying when she is driving to work at the limit, other drivers pass her.


The problem is made worse, she said, by concrete construction dividers that block visibility at the intersection.

"You can't see when you're turning onto the ramp from Southwestern Boulevard," she said. "You can't see until you're pulling out … It's hard to see who's coming."

"With the construction going on, with the barriers and road cones up and down Southwestern Boulevard, it sometimes can be a maze to try and get through," Simpkins said. "Even for emergency responders that travel [on the ramp] every day, it's confusing."

The routes can "change from day to day," Simpkins said. On Tuesday, close to half a mile of the road crossing the interchange was narrowed to one lane.

Gischlar said improving safety in the area is a matter of getting drivers to slow down.

"It's just a tragedy waiting to happen if people speed through there," he said.