MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — The road where two teenage girls were struck and killed by an allegedly drunken driver has been the subject of complaints about poor lighting, an excessive speed limit and the lack of curbs and sidewalks.
But while improvements to Bayshore Road, also known as County Road 603, might have made the roadway safer, it’s not clear they would have protected the young girls Tuesday night, Cape May County Engineer Dale Foster said.
“The guy went off the road, and if he was drunk, there is nothing we can design for a drunk driver,” Foster said.
Police allege Joshua Malmgren, 30, of Lower Township, was driving while intoxicated when he ran into Nioami Lazicki, 15, and her cousin from Philadelphia, 13-year-old Ashley Dauber. Malmgren has also been charged with vehicular homicide, reckless driving, failure to maintain a lane and consuming alcohol while driving a motor vehicle.
Foster acknowledged the road could be made safer. The 45-mph speed limit on the section of Bayshore Road through Green Creek, where the accident occurred, has “been a bone of contention” for some time, he said.
The speed limit a short distance away, as the road passes a residential area in the township’s Del Haven section, is 35 mph. Foster said the county has looked at extending the 35-mph zone “a little bit,” but said the extension would not have gone as far as where the girls were hit.
“People have been racing there, and we’ve been unable to get (the speed limit) down. We’ve done surveys and have had a hard time justifying going below 45,” Foster said.
One reason is that the section of Bayshore Road as it approaches Route 47 is not a residential area. There are a few businesses nearby, along with the Green Creek Volunteer Fire Company building. Foster said such surveys look at what is known as “side friction.”
“Side friction is the development on the sides, the density of development and what type of development it is. There’s not much until you get to Del Haven’s second curve, and then it drops down to 35. You have a big residential area in Del Haven,” Foster said.
Sidewalks are another issue. There are none, so pedestrians share the road with motor vehicles, using the roadway’s shoulder, which is just over 3 feet wide.
Neighboring Lower Township had problems with pedestrian safety on its section of Bayshore Road and used grants in the early 1990s to construct curbs and sidewalks on both sides of the street. Lower Township police Lt. Thomas Beeby said it created a safer situation for pedestrians. There is still an occasional collision with bicyclists, who use the road, but not with pedestrians.
“I don’t recall any pedestrian accidents since we had the sidewalks. I’d say it’s safer now, definitely,” Beeby said.
Foster agreed sidewalks would make the road safer for pedestrians, but said they are expensive and the county does not have the right-of-way to install them in this area. Property owners sometimes don’t want sidewalks because they become responsible for maintaining them, Foster noted.
“Nothing says he couldn’t have jumped the curb and gone into the sidewalk,” Foster said.
Neighboring Lower Township ran into a right-of-way problem as it dealt with a dangerous street in the Villas; Mowery Avenue was plagued by speeders next to a public park. Mayor Mike Beck said four-way stop intersections were the answer.
“Cars were doing 50 in a residential area. We put two four-ways on either side of the ballfield and cut the speed on Mowery. It may have saved a life, but how do you determine that? The accident that never happened,” Beck said.
Rumble strips are another idea that Foster said could have helped in this incident, but he added that the county does not want them on roadways used heavily by bicyclists. He said they are also rough on postal delivery trucks constantly on the sides of roadways.
Police Chief Chris Leusner said lighting has also been a concern on the road. He noted, however, that the township formed a traffic committee to take complaints from residents, and there have not been many about Bayshore Road. He said there have been five accidents on the road this year, including Tuesday night’s, but most were minor. One person before this accident was transported to a hospital.
Former Middle Township Mayor Mike Voll was an advocate of sidewalks when he was in office, using grants to install them in the Whitesboro section. He recalled getting lots of complaints about speeding on Bayshore Road, but said he never recalled a pedestrian being hit. Voll gets upset when he sees people walking on the streets next to the new sidewalks the township constructed, even pushing baby carriages.
Foster said there is very little engineers can do to combat impaired drivers, or those distracted when using cellphones.
“We try to provide the best shoulder we can,” Foster said.
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