Fifteen local elected officials on Tuesday called on the State Highway Administration to evaluate as quickly as possible whether a traffic signal is needed at the Bethesda intersection where three members of a local family were killed in a two-car collision Saturday night.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, County Executive Ike Leggett, all nine County Council members and all four District 16 state representatives signed a letter to State Highway Administration Administrator Gregory Johnson requesting improvements.
On Monday, the State Highway Administration (SHA) released a statement saying the agency would conduct a new traffic study of the intersection.
The nonsignalized intersection, which allows drivers on eastbound River Road to cross the westbound lanes to an access road that leads to the Walt Whitman High School parking lot, has long been a concern of those in surrounding neighborhoods and in the Whitman community.
Three members of the Buarque de Macedo family were killed in the crash just before 7 p.m. Saturday and a fourth member, 15-year-old Helena Buarque de Macedo, remains in a local hospital with serious injuries. The Bethesda family’s car was crossing westbound River Road to the access road, police said, and apparently was headed to Whitman, where Helena and her brother, Thomas, were students.
Police said Thomas was sitting in the front passenger seat of his family’s car when the Chevrolet Volt and a BMW traveling on westbound River Road collided. He was killed in the crash along with his mother and father.
Potomac resident Ogulcan Atakoglu, the driver of the BMW, went to a local hospital with nonlife-threatening injuries.
“Local residents report that the combination of high speeds on River Rd., limited visibility due to the nearby crest of the hill, wide travel lanes, and proximity to the Beltway make this intersection particularly dangerous,” the elected officials wrote in their letter. “As this is a major entry point for a local high school, we must take all possible steps to address the unsafe conditions.”
The letter also referred to an online petition started by a Whitman student calling for a traffic signal at the intersection. The petition had more than 3,600 supporters Tuesday afternoon.
The letter also said the elected officials “regretted” a recent determination by SHA officials that a marked but unsignalized crosswalk near the intersection didn’t merit “any significant pedestrian safety improvement upgrades.”
Students at the school have long asked for a signal or other improvements, claiming that drivers on River Road rarely stop for pedestrians using the crosswalk as is required by state law.
“We do not think that fresh paint will be sufficient to address the serious safety challenges posed by an unsignalized crosswalk frequently used by high schoolers where the posted speed is 45 mph,” the elected officials wrote. “As we seek to improve traffic safety, everything must be done to also ensure that students walking to and from Whitman can do so safely.”