Whitman Principal, Nearby Residents Still Want Traffic Signal at Site of Deadly Accident
State Highway Administration presented four other improvement options for intersection in April
Whitman Principal Alan Goodwin (far left) speaks to the audience at Tuesday night's meeting on the River Road intersection that leads to the school's parking lot. Bannockburn residents Richard Boltuck and Beth Rogers are also pictured.
Walt Whitman High School senior Thomas Buarque de Macedo would’ve graduated Wednesday night in the top 5 percent of his class with a college career lined up at Georgia Tech, where he had been accepted and hoped to attend.
But Buarque de Macedo and his parents were killed Feb. 27 when trying to cross River Road in the family’s car while heading toward the school’s parking lot access road, three deaths Whitman Principal Alan Goodwin said Tuesday night could’ve been prevented with a traffic signal at the long-debated intersection.
“We lost two parents and a senior, a senior who would have graduated tomorrow, a senior whose uncle will come and get his honorary diploma [Wednesday],” Goodwin said at a meeting in the school’s auditorium to discuss options for improving the intersection. “The deaths did not have to occur.”
Helena Buarque de Macedo, a Whitman sophomore who was also in the car when it was hit by a driver headed west on River Road, survived the accident and returned to the school after spring break. Goodwin said she’ll also be at the graduation ceremony tonight at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C.
On Tuesday night, Goodwin, parents and residents of the Bannockburn neighborhood across River Road from the school gathered to discuss the next steps in their push to get the State Highway Administration (SHA) to install a traffic signal with a green turn arrow for drivers turning from eastbound River Road to the access road that flows into the school’s parking lot.
In 2008, Goodwin and Bannockburn neighborhood leader Richard Boltuck asked SHA for a traffic signal there, but were denied after SHA said there’s not enough traffic at the intersection to merit one.
Shortly after the Feb. 27 crash, the SHA said it would examine the intersection again. Melody Lee, a Whitman student, started an online petition calling for a traffic signal at the intersection. It had more than 4,200 supporters as of Wednesday morning.
Boltuck said Tuesday he believes the fatal crash, while tragic, has provided the political momentum to get a light installed. District 16 state Del. Marc Korman was in attendance at the meeting, as were staff members from the offices of Rep. Chris Van Hollen and County Council member Roger Berliner.
“They have never been more prepared to discuss something than they are now in the wake of this accident,” Boltuck told an audience of about 45 people Tuesday. He said he’ll bring the group’s concerns back to SHA, which has indicated it could take about 18 months to implement any changes.
Boltuck and other community members met with SHA engineer Anyesha Mookherjee in April and were presented with four potential plans for improving safety at the intersection. None involved the traffic signal the group is seeking. Three involve various new medians the SHA says would provide oncoming River Road drivers with better sightlines toward drivers hoping to turn.
Via State Highway Administration, one of four proposed safety improvements for the intersection of River Road and Braeburn Parkway. The T-shaped median would buffer drivers hoping to cross westbound River Road and back onto eastbound River Road.
One proposal would close the intersection, an option Goodwin and most others were against because the access road is the entrance used by about a third of the students and parents who come to the school every morning.
Boltuck said Mookherjee seemed open to the idea of a flashing yellow light farther east on River Road to alert drivers to a turning vehicle up ahead.
“I thought it was a good sign that she was starting to consider putting a little electricity down near there, so it can be done,” Goodwin said.
Whitman parent Christine Ladd said more drivers would use the intersection if there was a traffic signal. She doesn’t allow her Whitman student to use the access road because of the dangers of crossing River Road, which has a 45 mph speed limit in the section.
“There are so many other people who forbid their families from using that intersection,” Ladd said. “It is really a scary, dangerous place.”
Many at the meeting Tuesday asked Boltuck to push SHA to install an new signalized intersection at River Road and Pyle Road, just east of the intersection in question where a nonsignalized pedestrian crosswalk already exists.
Parents and students have long complained that drivers don’t yield for pedestrians in that crosswalk, even though state law requires them to do so.
Boltuck said that in a recent meeting with residents of the Bannockburn neighborhood, Berliner called the proposed Pyle Road intersection the “Cadillac option.” It would connect directly with Braeburn Parkway, the school parking lot access road, on the north side of River Road, but also likely be the most expensive for the SHA to design and build.