The State Highway Administration is planning to install concrete curbs at the intersection of Braeburn Parkway and River Road in Bethesda to make its temporary traffic improvements to the intersection permanent.
The move would replace the plastic bollards installed at the intersection in April 2017 with new concrete curbs to prevent vehicles from cutting across River Road or taking left turns from Braeburn Parkway onto River Road. Improving safety at the intersection has been a priority for the community and the department after three members of a Bethesda family were killed in a fatal crash at the location in February 2016.
Images of the plan via State Highway Administration.
The department is also planning to install new pedestrian and traffic signals on both sides of River Road at the existing marked pedestrian crossing at Pyle Road to make that path safer. Pedestrians will be required to push a button to activate the signals before crossing. The signals facing the road will turn red to stop traffic while pedestrians use the crosswalk.
State Highway officials estimate the improvements could be constructed by the summer of 2019.
The intersection is widely used by Walt Whitman High School students and families arriving and leaving the school by a back entrance. On Thursday evening, Whitman Principal Alan Goodwin said the permanent improvements were a good start to making the intersection safer.
“I see it as a small step in the right direction,” Goodwin said during a SHA event to explain the improvements at the school. He added that he’d like to see additional changes and speed cameras installed in the area to slow drivers on River Road.
However, River Road is not in a school zone because Whitman doesn’t front the road and the 45 mph speed limit is higher than the 35 mph or below required for cameras in residential areas–therefore it is not eligible for speed cameras, officials said at the event. Whitman is at 7100 Whittier Boulevard.
Del. Marc Korman (D-Bethesda) also described the permanent improvements as a “good start.”
He said he’d like to continue talking with the community and SHA about installing a new intersection in the area.
Some community members have called for a new intersection at Pyle and River roads to replace the Braeburn Parkway intersection, saying that would address the safety issues and improve access to the school.
The state department studied three different designs to build a new intersection, but later settled on the permanent improvements proposed Thursday night. The designs called for realigning River Road at the site and connecting Pyle Road through River. The state estimated building the new intersection would range from $4.3 million to $8.9 million.
Charlie Gischlar, a spokesman for the state department, said the permanent solution detailed Thursday night came about after officials worked with the community to develop “a safe and sensible solution” that did not include a new intersection.
Michael and Alessandra Buarque de Macedo, both 52, and their 18-year-old son, Thomas, were killed in the 2016 crash at the Braeburn intersection on River Road when their car was struck by a driver traveling in excess of 100 mph. Helena Buarque de Macedo, 15 at the time, was seriously injured. Michael Buarque de Macedo was attempting to turn left from eastbound River Road onto Braeburn Parkway when the crash occurred.
The 21-year-old driver who struck the family’s vehicle, Ogulcan Atakoglu, later pleaded guilty to three counts of vehicular manslaughter and was sentenced to 12 years in prison by a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge.
Gischlar said Thursday that the new improvements can’t prevent fatal crashes if drivers operate in excess of the 45 mph posted speed limit on River Road.
“We can’t engineer human behavior,” Gischlar said. “We need people to follow the rules of the road.”