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Residents say center needs a traffic light

February 17, 2003|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

The State Highway Administration is studying whether more traffic controls are needed at the site of a crash that killed a Hagerstown man earlier this month.

James Edward Wilcox, 32, was killed Feb. 1 when his van hit a tractor trailer pulling out of the Pilot Travel Center on Md. 63 near the I-70 interchange. The driver of the truck did not stop; police are still searching for the truck and the driver.

Since the accident, the Highway Administration has received a number of complaints about truck traffic coming out of the travel center, said Nancy Jones, a transportation engineer for the agency's Washington County office.

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Jones said on Friday the agency is looking at the location to determine if further regulation is needed.

"The reported accident history does not show a safety problem," she said, "but our study's not done."

In the minds of local residents, there seems to be little doubt. Chris Helman, who lives in the Walnut Point Heights subdivision just north of the accident site, said he "and about 50 other guys" believe there's a serious safety issue involving trucks exiting the travel center.

"I hear it about every other day," he said. "My best friend lives right around the corner. He mentions it at least once a week."

Helman, who works at Dot Foods, said a petition was being circulated among his co-workers seeking a traffic light at the travel center's truck exit, one of three exits at the center.

"I think there should be a stoplight where the trucks come out," said Walnut Point resident Ashleigh Thomas. "It's caused a lot of problems."

But putting another traffic light so close to an existing one at the intersection of Md. 63 and French Lane could cause other problems, including traffic backups on the I-70 ramps, she said.

Nevertheless, she said, "We are hearing the concerns."

So is the travel center's corporate owner.

In fact, Tennessee-based Pilot Travel Centers LLC had a call earlier this week from one of Wilcox's relatives, company spokeswoman Edna Stephens said. She said the company had been assured the Williamsport location was in compliance with all state traffic control regulations, including stop signs at the center's exits.

"There's really no way they can stand out there and make (truckers) stop," she said.

Because the center, which opened three years ago, is an established business, the Highway Administration is limited in what it can recommend, Jones said.

She said she doesn't believe the problem is that truckers aren't looking before they pull out of the travel center, noting that on the night of the accident there were adverse weather conditions. Without a chance to look at the truck or interview the driver, Jones said possible causes of the crash are a matter of speculation.

Some residents say truckers shoulder responsibility for creating a dangerous traffic situation at the travel center.

"Trucks just pull out; it's like they're on their own time," said Walnut Point resident Susan Wolfe. "They don't stop; you have to stop for them."

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