Safety improvements begin at deadly Bethesda intersection

Work to make a River Road intersection in Bethesda, Maryland, safer for drivers and pedestrians has finally begun, years after a deadly crash.

In 2016, a driver traveling 70 mph over the speed limit crashed into a car at the intersection of River Road and Braeburn Parkway in Bethesda, killing 18-year-old Thomas De Macedo and his parents Michael and Alessandra, and injuring his sister, Helena.

Residents had long complained that stretch of River Road — which many used to access Whitman High School, where De Macedo was a student — was too dangerous and in need of improvements.

This week, the state began taking the first permanent steps to make the intersection safer.

There will be a new traffic signal at River and Braeburn, which also is getting redesigned.

Concrete islands will prevent cars from being able to turn left from Braeburn onto River in either direction, and cars on Braeburn will not be allowed to go straight across River.

Since the deadly 2016 crash, flexible poles had already been set up to guide cars making a left turn from River onto Braeburn, along with flashing lights — a move residents said at the time didn’t go far enough.

South of that intersection, a new pedestrian crossing featuring a full traffic light will be installed near Pyle Road, with the pedestrian crossing on westbound River Road set to move closer to the school. The new signals going up for that pedestrian crossing will remain green unless a pedestrian pushes a button to cross.

Tree removal necessary to begin the project is already underway, and the Maryland State Highway Administration warns some sidewalks may be closed to pedestrians during the work.

The project is expected to wrap up in spring 2021.

Below is a map of the intersection.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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