Residents say safety ‘lacking’ on Frederick Co. highway after deadly tanker explosion

Just a little over a week after a deadly tanker truck explosion on U.S. Route 15 in Frederick County, Maryland, sparked a fire that spread to nearby homes, members of the community came together Wednesday evening to share their concerns with state and local officials about the highway and the response to what took place.

At the Frederick County High School auditorium, residents stepped up one by one to the microphone to speak about the March 4 incident.

One resident said the tree that stopped the tanker truck from going into the nearby neighborhood is now gone, which she claims leaves residents vulnerable to another crash.

She called for officials to lower the speed limit on the road until protective barriers can be put in place. Others seemed skeptical that safety improvements would ever come.

“Traffic safety along (U.S. 15), especially along residential areas, has been lacking for some time,” resident Eric Jones said.

Andrew Radcliffe Jr., an engineer with the Maryland Department of Transportation, told the crowd that work is actively being done to install guard rails at the site. Radcliffe said he believes they could be installed as early as Sunday.

“The guard rail will provide a safety measure to help keep vehicles on the highway that errantly leave the road,” Radcliffe said.

Photo of a man in an sparsely attended auditorium and standing behind a microphone wearing a tucked in plaid shit with some fresh sneakers.
During a gathering Frederick County High School auditorium regarding a recent fiery crash, a man behind a microphone and speaks to the panel on Wednesday, March 15, 2023.

Others called on the state, which maintains the road, to install a sound barrier wall in addition to the guard rails to protect people in nearby neighborhoods from not only crashed cars, but also the noise pollution caused by the busy highway.

Radcliffe said sound barriers are coming to the road by 2026 as part of a widening project, but his team will look at the possibility of installing them even sooner.

The March 4 crash sent flames into nearby brush and led to three homes and several cars being damaged by the fire.

Some residents who were home that day said they felt it took too long for the city to notify them about what was going on and let them know if they should have evacuated.

Frederick County Fire Chief Tom Coe told the crowd on that day they got reports of fires at several different locations near the crash site. One thing that slowed crews down, he said, is that the fuel from the truck ignited and was on fire as it poured into nearby storm drains.

“We were actually chasing fire down the storm drain system,” Coe said.

He told the crowd he would always recommend that people err on the side of caution and evacuate if they feel unsafe.

A representative from the Maryland Department of the Environment said work is also underway to remove soil that was saturated in fuel at the site. The state department added that since residents in that area use city water, there are no concerns that the fuel-impacted groundwater supplies are used for drinking.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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