Can Sixty Foot Road intersection be made safe?

It was during a Friday lunch hour on June 25, 2010, when the Sixty Foot Road intersection claimed a beloved community leader’s life.

Sam Vincent, Wicomico County’s deputy State’s Attorney, was driving back to Salisbury from Ocean City, where he had attended a conference for state law enforcement officials. While driving through the intersection 11 miles east of Salisbury, a car driven by a Sussex County woman entered the highway and clipped Vincent’s SUV, causing it to flip.

Vincent, 52, was killed, and his passenger, Assistant State’s Attorney Lee Britt, was injured. Vincent was the leading contender to be elected State’s Attorney in the coming fall election; the tragedy generated extensive discussion about whether the intersection was unduly dangerous.

More than five years later, however, few obvious improvements have been made.

Rumble strips have been beefed up approaching the Pittsville intersection and State Highway Administration engineers have increased the size of the stop signs that north-south drivers see when approaching Route 50.

No fatal accidents occurred there over the busy-traffic summer season; the last fatal there was in March, when a 71-year-old Rehoboth Beach woman was killed when turning left from eastbound Route 50 and collided with a westbound vehicle.

County Executive Bob Culver and the County Council have asked state officials to further study the intersection and come up with some more safety improvement ideas.

In a letter to state officials, county leaders are asking for improvements similar to those recently implemented at Tilghman and Hobbs Roads, locations of Wor-Wic Community College and Arthur W. Perdue Stadium.

Among the items on the county’s list is signalization. Wrote county officials: “The aforementioned intersection experiences an undesired amount of accidents throughout a given year. In part, the majority of accidents are in response to high volume of motorists along this roadway segment, as well as the limited line of sight.”

One obvious solution might be the installation of a traffic signal — the intersection has a flashing light now — but engineers fear a traffic light could contribute to even more accidents, as cars plow into cars stopped for an out-of-place signal in a rural area.

State Delegate Mary Beth Carozza, whose district includes the intersection, said she is working with state officials to review the safety concerns.

“I am pushing to make Sixty Foot Road project a safety priority, and am encouraged that this new report can be used to move forward with safety improvements at Sixty Foot Road,” she said. “Given the number of deaths and injuries over the years at Sixty Foot Road, we need to make sure Sixty Foot Road improvements are a top transportation priority.”

The intersection is on the SHA’s list for an overhead camera, and a pole has been erected there for future camera installation.

SHA spokesman David Buck said any possible changes to the intersection will be determined based on facts, not emotion.

“Over the past several years, SHA has studied the intersection of U.S. 50 at Sixty Foot Road.   Past traffic studies have shown that adding a traffic signal at this intersection would not improve operations or safety.” Buck said.

“SHA engineers have decades of experience studying and reviewing traffic studies. We must and do make our engineering decisions based on facts, not emotion.”

Buck said SHA recently completed an additional study of the intersection and is reviewing the study.

“We plan to meet with the public once we have analyzed and identified a range of potential improvements,” he said. “There are several possibilities and before we move forward with anything, we will discuss with the elected officials, the police/fire departments and the public.”

He added: “At this point everything is on the table and nothing has been decided.”

Greg Bassett is editor and general manager of Salisbury Independent. Reach him at gbassett@newszap.com

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