The Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) began work over the weekend to install flashing yellow signs at a River Road intersection where three members of a Bethesda family were killed when their vehicle was struck by a speeding BMW in February.
Dave Buck, a SHA spokesman, said Monday morning the signs will flash when cameras detect a vehicle attempting to turn left from River Road onto Braeburn Parkway. The agency also will ban vehicles coming from either direction on Braeburn Parkway from making left turns. For example, the vehicles traveling from the Walt Whitman High School area on Braeburn Parkway will have to turn right onto River Road, travel north to Wilson Lane and make a U-turn there in order to head southbound on River Road—rather than being able to turn left from Braeburn.
Intersection diagram via SHA
SHA expects the work on the intersection will be completed by mid-fall at a cost of about $300,000. The work will also separate left-turning traffic on River Road from through traffic via left-turn lanes.
Whitman Principal Alan Goodwin said in an email Monday he spoke with the crew working at the site and they told him two street lights will also be installed at the intersection to improve visibility at night. He said the improvements are a "good step."
Buck said the agency’s engineers decided against adding a full signal at the intersection because the traffic load doesn’t warrant one.
“Yes we had folks who wanted a full signal,” Buck said. “But this will alert drivers on River Road of those making a left.”
The left-turn ban and flashing signals come after Michael Buarque de Macedo, 52; his wife, Alessandra Buarque de Macedo, 53; and their 18-year-old son Thomas Michael Buarque de Macedo, a Whitman senior, were killed when their Chevy Volt was struck while trying to cross River Road at the intersection. Helena Buarque de Macedo, now a Whitman sophomore, was injured in the crash. She returned to school in April. The family was headed to a school play at Whitman.
The family’s car was struck by a BMW driven by Ogulcan Atakoglu, a 20-year-old Potomac man, who was driving an estimated 75 mph at the time of the collision. Atakoglu pleaded guilty earlier this month to three counts of vehicular manslaughter for his role in the collision.
Buck said that while engineers examined the intersection after the deadly February crash, there’s little they can do to prevent a collision when a vehicle is speeding as fast as the BMW is believed to have been traveling.
The changes also come after fifteen local elected officials—including Rep. Chris Van Hollen and County Executive Ike Leggett—urged SHA to improve traffic safety at the Bethesda intersection.