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State tackles Md. 77 problems

October 19, 2000

State tackles Md. 77 problems



By LAURA ERNDE / Staff Writer


SMITHSBURG - Maryland State Highway Administration officials promised residents of Md. 77 an anti-skid surface and more engineering studies to try to cut down on the numerous accidents on a series of sharp turns.

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But they couldn't promise the road's problems will ever be fixed.

"Maryland 77 is a very steep, curvy mountain road and it won't ever be anything but a steep, curvy mountain road," said Fred Crozier, an engineer for the State Highway Administration.

About 50 area residents vented their concerns Thursday night at the Smithsburg Fire Hall, during a meeting with state traffic engineers organized by Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington. The meeting was prompted by a Sept. 25 school bus accident that sent 39 Smithsburg area students to the hospital with minor injuries.

Phil Miller, 48, held up his wrist, which is still in a brace from an accident on the road last year.

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"This is something I'll live with the rest of my life," he said.

Betty Monn, who lives along a curve in the road, said she broke her leg in several places after being hit on her way to the mailbox by an out-of-control vehicle in 1993.

Others talked of hearing screeching wheels and crunching metal from their living rooms on a regular basis.

Many blamed most of the wrecks on reckless drivers or those who are simply unaware that the curves are so dangerous.

But even people who drive the road every day and obey the speed limit can run into trouble, especially when the road gets wet, said the bus driver in the recent accident, Christina Ann Wachsmuth.

"Someone needs to do something," she said.

Bob Bushey said the road is challenging, even for a driver experienced with its hazards.

"When it's wet or icy you really don't stand a chance," he said.

Crozier said he'll work on laying down an anti-skid surface as soon as possible. If luck and the weather holds, it will happen this fall. If not, the work will have to wait for warmer temperatures in the spring.

The state can't use the same rough material that residents credited for reducing accidents several years ago. The material, known as "popcorn mix," crumbled after five or six years and the pieces that were kicked up broke people's windshields, he said.

Meanwhile, the state will study whether it would help to install more signs to give drivers earlier notice about the upcoming curves, said traffic engineer George Small.

And the state will take another look at tricky drainage problems that residents say cause cars to hydroplane when it rains.

It's often difficult to find a place to divert the water without causing another problem by, for example, sending water into someone's driveway, Crozier said.

Some residents said they were satisfied with the meeting.

"I'm very pleased. It gave everybody on the road a chance to air," said Mary Lou Ni Maire. "I think we're all going to be waiting to see what they do."

Fred "Snuffy" Smith, a Smithsburg fire policeman who asked for Hecht's help in calling the meeting, was skeptical that the state will do anything about the problem that has been complained about for more than 20 years.

"They've surveyed so many times the pencil should do its own work," he said.

Some said they were upset that it took the Sept. 25 bus accident to get anything done.

Tammy Whisner, who has been documenting the problem for years, brought pictures and newspaper clippings. One article about the road's problems was dated 1980.

Small said it takes three things to solve traffic problems: engineering, education and enforcement.

Small said he'll do the engineering, but everyone needs to work on educating the public about the dangers of the road. It's up to police to enforce the traffic laws.

Hecht said on hindsight she wished she had invited a representative from Maryland State Police.

Crozier, who serves on a traffic advisory committee with the state police and Washington County Sheriff's Department, said he would communicate their concerns about enforcement.

He also promised to talk with officers responsible for inspecting commercial vehicles about residents' complaints of numerous dump trucks and tractor-trailers using the road.

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