If you’ve ever driven on Interstate 270 during morning or evening rush hour, you’ve probably seen how easily even a fender bender or disabled vehicle can create delays.
A task force of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments has issued several recommendations on helping emergency vehicles and traffic crews respond to crashes and other incidents, in order to help relieve traffic congestion in the Washington, D.C., area.
The region experiences high levels of traffic congestion, which is often exacerbated by traffic incidents that slow traffic down, said Andrew Meese, systems performance planning director for the council’s Transportation Planning Board.
Coordinating a process to detect, respond and remove incidents as soon as possible can help to ease the region’s traffic congestion, he said.
That then lets police, fire, and medical personnel do their own jobs more quickly.
More than half of delays for motorists are attributed to crashes and vehicle breakdowns, according to a presentation given to the Transportation Planning Board last week.
The council’s board identified incident management as a priority for 2018, and a task force was set up to look at the issue.
Now the planning board will find ways to work on the various issues in its transportation and public safety planning policies, Meese said.
The report’s recommendations include the need to update regional agreements to improve the consistency of incident management laws and policies, such as Maryland’s “Move Over” law that requires vehicles to attempt to move to a farther lane when emergency, service, utility, and other types of vehicles are parked on the roadside.
Other recommendations include coordinating regional self-assessments of incident management performance, as well as encouraging and coordinating training to promote the best policies and practices.
A recommendation to expand a regional compact that allows officials to cross state lines to remove disabled vehicles from a bridge could impact three bridges in or near Frederick County.
The agreement currently applies to the Woodrow Wilson, Rochambeau, George Mason, and Theodore Roosevelt memorial bridges and the Francis Scott Key, Chain, and American Legion bridges on and inside the Capital Beltway.
The report’s recommendation would expand it to include the Md. 17 bridge in Brunswick, the U.S. 15 bridge at Point of Rocks, the U.S. 340 bridge in Washington County, as well as a bridge on U.S. 301.
The region’s commuter patterns have grown, and the compact should be expanded to the four additional bridges, Meese said.
Another recommendation is to designate incident responders as emergency vehicles across the region, a practice that is currently law in Maryland but not D.C. or Virginia.
Maryland’s Coordinated Highways Action Response Team has a very limited policy for when its vehicles can use their flashing lights to get through traffic, said Scott Yinger, deputy director of operations for CHART.
Using their lights is allowed only if they’re responding to a verified incident that is blocking travel lanes and stopping traffic, Yinger said.
CHART has six parts to an incident response: detection of an incident, verification, response, clearing the road, clearing the incident, and returning traffic to its normal flow, he said.
They look for ways to shorten each in the process of reducing overall response time.
Most of the incidents they respond to, about 70 percent, are reported by CHART’s own vehicles, Yinger said.
“Our trucks are constantly on patrol,” he said.
In 2018, they patrolled about 2.4 million miles of roads in the Washington and Baltimore regions, as well as the area from Frederick to Hagerstown, he said.
On a typical day, they have up to 18 trucks working, with several more out during rush hour.
The I-270 corridor is one of the most congested in the country, Yinger said, and he appreciates that the Council of Governments is championing the issue.
“There’s a lot of leverage that that group has,” he said.