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Signs to boost safety on Bay Bridge


In the wake of two separate head-on collisions last summer, state officials yesterday unveiled steps intended to make two-way traffic a little bit safer on the westbound span of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

The three-lane bridge frequently has to accommodate one lane of eastbound traffic during peak travel times in the summer, generally Friday nights and Saturdays when tourists are heading to the beach. The older eastbound span has only two lanes.

In June three people died in a four-car collision, and in August seven people were injured in a five-car pileup. That raised concerns from Eastern Shore residents that the two-way flow was not safe.

"We had two unfortunate incidents last year, and while both were attributed to driver error, it made us sit back and take a look to see if there was something more we could do," said Tom Freburger, spokesman for the Maryland Transportation Authority, which operates the Bay Bridge.

The $95,000 project will include permanent highway signs with flashing yellow lights to warn approaching motorists of the two-way traffic on the Bay Bridge. To further alert eastbound drivers to stay in their own lane, a strobe light will be activated above each of the overhead red "X" signs above the westbound lanes.

The authority also will increase the size of traffic signs, replacing the existing 24-inch by 30-inch signs with 36-inch by 48-inch signs. Additional signs warning drivers to "Obey Lane Signals" will be installed overhead.

The pavement markings, a series of 10-foot-long double yellow lines, will be thickened by 2 inches and will be be spaced every 10 feet instead of the current 30 feet.

The speed limit for eastbound traffic sharing the westbound span will be reduced from 50 mph to 40 mph.

Two-way traffic will be instituted only when traffic is heavy enough to create a steady stream of eastbound cars.

Toll authority police also plan to more aggressively crack down on speeders and on trucks that don't stay in the far right lane.

"I know we're being redundant, but we're trying to cover every angle," said Jack A. Moeller, the authority's director of engineering. "Realistically, the bridge operates at a lower accident rate than most other roads, but that's hard to tell a family that's had someone hurt."

Mr. Moeller said the authority's other option, never using the westbound span for eastbound traffic, would likely have caused traffic backups of five miles or more leading to the Bay Bridge on the busiest summer weekends.

William V. Riggs III, president of the Queen Anne's County commissioners, said yesterday that he was satisfied that the changes would improve safety. County residents had complained last year that the state was more interested in getting tourists to Ocean City than keeping the bridge safe.

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