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Construction to widen Route 5 in Leonardtown is perhaps a decade away. In the meantime, the Maryland State Highway Administration plans to make some short-term improvements along the road to slow traffic down and make it safer to make a left turn.

A $2.3 million study is under way to widen Route 5 from Hollywood Road (Route 245) to Newtowne Neck Road (Route 243), but there are several more steps to go through, and each phase needs state funding.

The short-term improvements suggested can be made for far less money and in far less time, Lee Starkloff, SHA district engineer, told the commissioners Tuesday.

SHA wants to add overhead signs and pavement markings to heighten driver awareness of turning vehicles and of the 40 mph speed limit. The dual-lane highway through town has no shoulders or turn lanes. This section of Route 5 serves businesses, homes, MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital and the central administrative office of the board of education.

A traffic signal at the intersection of Route 5 and Moakley Street is not warranted at this time, Starkloff said.

A recent study showed that the average speed along the stretch of highway was 52 mph, 12 miles higher than the posted speed limit, said James Holls, consultant for SHA.

Starkloff said a speed limit sign on the side of the road sometimes goes unnoticed. “Fifteen percent of drivers don’t pay attention to that,” he said.

Crash data shows more accidents south of the intersection with Moakley Street, Holls said. “We’re significantly above statewide averages” in accident rates, he said, as a “result of not having left-turn lanes.”

Commissioner Dan Morris (R) said there are many more accidents that go unreported, if someone isn’t injured or doesn’t need a tow truck. “The number of accidents is more than what you have,” he said.

“These are strictly reported crashes,” Holls said.

“In reality, there can be 10 to 15 percent more … but it can’t be proven,” Starkloff said.

The state looked at three options for the short term: changing to one lane each direction with a center turn lane; changing to reversible lanes with green and red arrow signals; and reducing the two southbound lanes into one and adding another turn lane, keeping the two northbound lanes.

All three “are extremely expensive cost options,” Holls said.

The reversible lanes option is used on the Chesapeake Bay bridge and other urban areas. “Sometimes motorists have a difficulty getting used to them,” Starkloff said.

The next step is to draw up a detailed implementation plan for the added signs and pavement markings, Starkloff said.

jbabcock@somdnews.com