Study: Crashes more than twice as common on I-83 as other MD highways

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I-83 near the Orleans Street bridge. Photo by Wikimedia user Groupuscule.

Interstate 83 experiences more than twice as many car crashes as all other comparable Maryland highways, with the average driver exceeding posted speed limits along the stretch of the interstate that runs through the city, according to a new study by the Baltimore Department of Transportation.

According to data compiled by the department, there are 37.8 crashes per year per mile on the 6.7-mile stretch of I-83 in the city. On all other Maryland interstates, the rate is 15.7. The department has previously said about 250 to 300 crashes occur on the highway per year.

More than 125,000 vehicles take the expressway between Northern Parkway and North Avenue per day, and 67,342 continue on to I-83’s terminus at Fayette Street in downtown.

The posted speed limit on I-83 is below the 55 mph or 65 mph on many other highways, all the way down to 40 mph in some places, but motorists routinely exceed those limits by roughly 5 mph, with 15 percent of vehicles going as fast as 60 mph in a 40 or 50 mph zone.

While this information dates back to 2010 and 2011, more recent field observations conducted as part of the study confirmed that “many vehicles are exceeding the posted speed limit throughout the corridor.”

A majority of incidents, 41 percent, on the road only involve a single vehicle, compared to 26 percent being rear-end crashes and 19 percent being side-swipe collisions. Forty-two percent of wrecks happen when the pavement is wet or snow-covered.

Contrary to a sort of running joke on local social media, most crashes do not occur near the Pepsi Sign, a stretch defined in the report as the 41st Street Overpass. That distinction instead goes to overpasses for Northern Parkway and Cold Spring Lane, according to 2013 data.

The Maryland Automated Accident Reporting System does not have data for that explicit area near the old Pepsi plant, but it does show the overpasses at the major east-west thoroughfares leading the way with more than 240 crashes between 2010 and 2014.

DOT offers a host of short-term and long-term solutions it says will mitigate the number of wrecks. Among the ideas that can be implemented within two years and have a major impact: High Friction Surface Treatments to reduce wrecks in wet conditions, better-painted lane lines and raised markers, and enhanced signage.

In Pennsylvania, road treatments at 18 sites on highways cut the number of crashes from 234 in the previous five years to fewer than 20 after they were treated. DOT proposes placing the treatments on horizontally curved portions of the expressway near Cold Spring Lane, 41st Street, Falls Road and Guilford Avenue, at a cost between $1.5 million and $1.7 million.

Looking further out, the report suggests placing speed cameras on I-83, but notes it would require special legislation since state law only allows the cameras to be placed “within designated school zones or within work zones on controlled, limited access freeways.”

And it also offers the option of implementing a variable speed limit that changes depending on the traffic, weather and pavement conditions.

The report said speed studies, skid testing, lighting evaluation and other data might be required to study the incidents on the highway.

DOT launched the $65,000 study nearly two years ago in the midst of a spate of crashes near the Pepsi sign, The Sun reported at the time. The City Council also passed a resolution calling on the Maryland State Police to take over jurisdiction of the road, saying city police were already overburdened.

Frank Murphy, the city’s acting transportation director when the study began, told the paper the road’s curves and heavy use were contributing factors.

“The geometry’s a little old, so it’s going to have higher crashes per 100,000 vehicles than the Beltway, for example,” he said.

The findings have not yet been published publicly by DOT, but they were obtained by a Maryland Public Information Act request by resident Michael Ter Avest.

Brandon Weigel

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  1. Try correcting the posted limits in each area to be within 2 mph of the actual 85th percentile speeds.
    CAREFULLY check the coefficient of friction of the pavement – as the article indicated could be an issue. A long gentle ramp between freeways in Lansing, MI had a very high crash rate and the engineers found the pavement was too smooth with a too low coefficient of friction. Repaving the ramp fixed the problem.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

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