Dunkirk resident Marie Moeller is one of many citizens concerned about the dangers of the intersection of Mt. Harmony Road and Route 4, her primary route to many of her activities in the county, including her church, the Covenant Community of Jesus the Good Shepherd on W. Mt. Harmony Road in Owings.
“Not only do I go to church that way. I go to Chesapeake Beach. I go to the senior center — there’s a lot of things down that road,” Moeller said.
“Even when you look and it’s clear — ‘OK, it’s clear’ — so you can turn onto Route 4 from Mt. Harmony Road, and all of sudden a car is right there, speeding over that hill there,” Moeller said of her attempts to go northbound onto Route 4.
Drivers attempting to gain access from Mt. Harmony have to accelerate to negotiate a right turn safely.
“I can tell you that if I’m going 65 [mph], they’re going 80 [mph],” Moeller said, of travelers going northbound on Route 4 where the speed limit is 55 mph.
Moeller turned her concerns for safety into action and elevated them to local and state leaders, agencies and law enforcement asking that something be done before another accident happens at the intersection.
As a result of her pleas, along with the pleas of many others, something substantial will finally be done at one of the county’s most dangerous junctures.
“By summer, [Maryland State Highway Administration] is planning to install a flashing light (hazard identification beacon) that will alert northbound motorists that they are heading toward the Mt. Harmony Road intersection,” SHA spokesperson Charlie Gischar reported to The Calvert Recorder.
Gischar said the intersection of Route 4 and Mt. Harmony Road, which SHA maintains, carries nearly 35,000 vehicles daily. The road is also covered by Maryland State Police.
Moeller started her crusade almost a year ago, reaching out to the Maryland Department of Transportation and other entities. In February, Highway Engineer Jonathan McCoy, who was assigned to the case, let Moeller know that SHA was going to recommend to the state police that they make speed enforcement a priority at the intersection. Moeller said she followed up with MSP as well.
“Two of the Maryland State Police goals speak to this issue. One of the goals is to enhance the safety of all who travel on Maryland highways and the second is to support citizens and the communities in which they live,” MSP Prince Frederick Barrack Commander Lt. Jimmie D. Meurrens told the Recorder.
Meurrens, who joined the Prince Frederick barrack in September, said he became aware of issues of “prevailing speed” at the intersection and, upon receipt of recommendations from SHA, immediately directed troopers to consider that area for primary speed enforcement, and has since noticed improvement.
“Ultimately what we want is for driving behavior to improve — that’s the goal,” Meurrens said, noting that targeted enforcement is an ongoing project.
In addition to SHA and MSP, Moeller said she reached out to the Board of County Commissioners, Calvert County Sheriff’s Office and even through her church.
Moeller said the Rev. Mike King placed an item in the church bulletin encouraging parishioners to reach out to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Charles, Prince George’s) about the intersection in which his parish falls.
King shared with the Recorder, in an email, that he has seen accidents at the intersection that have resulted in injuries and fatalities to “innocent people.”
From 2013 to 2017, there were 14 accidents at the intersection of Mt. Harmony Road and Route 4, one fatal in 2016 involving a left-turning vehicle form Mt. Harmony Road to southbound Route 4, according to MDOT. After the 2016 fatality, SHA investigated the area and determined to restrict left-turn movement and installed signs advising motorists.
“I simply voiced my concerns to Maryland state officials that safety needs to be addressed to prevent the same in the future,” King said.
Miller’s office confirmed receiving a request for assistance from King and contacted SHA to seek a remedy. The concerns were elevated to Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn and eventually Gov. Larry Hogan (R) in an attempt to solicit a response and resolution. Staff reports that Miller and Rahn had a face-to-face meeting, at Miller’s request, Jan. 26 that included a discussion on the need to implement physical restrictions at the intersection of W. Mt. Harmony Road.
King said they have followed up and he is “somewhat” satisfied with the intersection, but feels it is still hazardous, referring to the recent implementation of “right turn only” signs prohibiting drivers from going straight across the intersection to make left turns to go southbound on Route 4.
“Drivers continue to make a left turn south onto Route 4 from W. Mount Harmony Road and the speed limit on Route 4 south is not respected,” King said. “The potential for future accidents, in my opinion, remains significant.”
“They don’t always obey — I saw two cars crossing over and making lefts,” Moeller said.
In addition, drivers can still cross over from the southbound lanes of Route 4 to make a left onto Mt. Harmony.
Commissioners’ President Evan Slaughenhoupt (R) said his board continually complained to SHA, asking them to close the crossover, which they will not do.
Calvert County Department of Public Works Director Rai Sharma confirmed the commissioners and Del. Mark Fisher (R-Calvert) asked SHA to close or modify this crossover.
“Our office has been working on the Route 4 and Mt. Harmony intersection for two years,” Fisher said, who is concerned about crossover traffic, lack of visibility and inability to have more than one car in the intersection at one time. “It is one of many intersections that are dangerous in the county.”
Fisher said the efforts are part of the legislature that people do not get to see, the work behind the scenes to get in the cue for funding, obtain a traffic study and get an engineering assessment. He also stressed the need for increased highway user revenue to the counties so they can be used to improve local roads and bridges.
Fisher said installing signs limiting crossover traffic “was a good stop gap measure, making that intersection less of a death trap.” But more must be done.
Gischlar reported that SHA is developing concepts for channelization that would physically restrict left turns out of Mt. Harmony Road.
Miller’s office confirmed that SHA notified the senator that they would be tasking an outside consultant to develop two engineering scopes and cost estimates for two improvements that would physically restrict left turns from westbound Mt. Harmony Road onto southbound Route 4.
The options include a “Z” crossover in the median or widening Route 4 to construct a concrete island to create a right turn only onto the route. Both options involve physically restricting the left turns out of Mt. Harmony, while still allowing the left turns in. However, the crossover would be the most immediate resolution. The widening of Route 4 would be estimated as a multi-year project, according to Miller’s staff.
SHA confirmed with the senator that it received initial concepts back from its consultant and is trying to determine the most viable option.
The sheriff’s office’s accident count is much higher than MDOT’s, showing 20 accidents involving damage in just 2015 and 2016 combined. However, Dfc. Mark Robshaw said the intersection has actually improved over time with the changes such as right turns only and no crossing, which most people follow.
Concerned with the rate of speed traveled on Route 4, in addition to the flashing lights and beacons and the exiting signs restricting turns, Moeller would like to see more monitoring of the intersection by MSP during the morning and evening rush and the addition of speed monitors to show drivers how fast they are traveling in comparison to the speed limit.
Meurrens told the Recorder he was unaware of those specific recommendations, as Moeller’s correspondence may have predated him taking the helm. He also noted the department does not have the “radar speed sign” devices at the Prince Frederick barrack but he is willing to look into it.
Meurrens said he encourages citizens with concerns about traffic safety at a particular location to reach out to MSP directly so they can work collectively to come up with solutions to improve safety.