After over 20 years of plans, deliberations and complications, construction on Route 5 has begun with the intention to make the highway safer, especially for pedestrians.
The Capital Design Advisory Committee has three projects it is currently working on, with Route 5 being one of them. The committee hopes to bring better lighting, improved crosswalks and a way to make sure cars obey the posted speed limit. Associate Vice President of Planning and Facilities Chip Jackson has been working on this project since 1987. “The first ideas for Route 5 safety began in 1987,” said Jackson, “and the planning began in 1992.” However, complications arose and the project never went through. In 2008, more serious planning began for traffic calming.
Right now, one of the main focuses to improve safety is on forcing drivers to acknowledge and drive the actual speed limit for this stretch of the highway. “The speed limit for the area is 30 mph, but the road is built for cars to go 50 mph,” said Jackson. “Right now the road suggests you can drive fast.” According to Jackson, if a person is hit by car that is going 40 mph or more, there is only an 8% chance of survival. However, highway engineers have methods of designing roads that will encourage drivers to drive quickly or slowly. Narrowing the lanes would get drivers to go the speed limit, at which point the chance of survival after an accident jumps to about 60 percent.
In addition to the speed limit concern, campus officials and engineers are also considering painting more appropriately placed crosswalks, building a pedestrian bridge over Fisher’s Creek (much like the one that crosses St. John’s Pond), implementing more and better lighting along the road, and constructing elevated sidewalks. The sidewalks would serve at least two purposes: they would provide a safer place than the shoulder for pedestrians to walk and they would discourage crossing at anywhere other than at a designated crosswalk, since people are less likely to leave a raised sidewalk.
Though there have been no reported pedestrian accidents along Route 5, Jackson cited many “close calls” and noted numerous vehicle accidents. The overhaul is also part of a larger attempt, according to President Joseph Urgo, to improve safety on campus in general. Urgo noted the increased call boxes, the widening of the path leading to the Campus Center, and the pavement improvements to the paths by Glendening Hall.
Jackson and Urgo have been working with the local and college community to get feedback on the plans through open houses and open-to-the-public meetings. “I’ve spoken to elected officials, our State Delegate and our State Representative, along with locals,” Urgo said. “The main concern with locals is if firetrucks and police cars will be able to get through. Also, Route 5 is an evacuation route so we want to make sure that isn’t impaired.” Because of these concerns, officials have eliminated some traditional traffic calming methods such as speed bumps and medians.
In addition to evacuation concerns, Urgo noted the importance of maintaining the aesthetic of the road. “[We] don’t want to do anything that would compromise the glory of the turn [and] the view of the water.” Consequently, the intention is to do nothing that would dramatically alter the look.
All of Route 5 construction is being paid for by federal funds and will cost about $1 million. Construction, tentatively, will begin next summer and take six to seven months to complete. Jackson “wants students, faculty and staff to be involved in the process and to come to the preliminary meetings.” The next open house will be Sept. 14 from 3 to 6 p.m. in Daugherty-Palmer Commons with another, more formal presentation happening at 7 p.m. at St. Mary’s Hall. The meetings are open to the public and students are encouraged to attend and provide their input.