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Assateague Island lowers speeds for safety of wildlife

Photo courtesy: Liz Davis
Assateague Island National Seashore consulted with the Maryland State Highway Administration to slightly reduce speed limits along the barrier island.

By Greg Ellison, Staff Writer

(Aug. 30, 2018) Speed limits were reduced last week on the Assateague Island National Seashore, after park officials brought concerns about traffic flow endangering wildlife to the Maryland State Highway Administration.

Liz Davis, public information officer at Assateague, said new speed-limit zones have been established on the Highway 611 approach to the island and on internal park roads.

“First and foremost, it’s about safety for park visitors and park wildlife,” she said.

Bob Rager, state highway community liaison, said signage on the Verrazano Bridge was updated last week.

“We dropped it to 30 mph, right before you get to the bridge,” he said.

Speeds after crossing the causeway, eastbound to the Bayberry Drive intersection, have also been dropped to 25 mph, Rager said.

“The idea came from the National Park Service, which wanted to know what we could do to slow down traffic,” he said. “It’s a subtle and fairly simple common-sense change.”

Many first-time visitors are caught off guard by the proximity of water after ascending and descending the tall Verrazano Bridge, Davis said.

“You cross the bridge and the road ends suddenly,” she said. “You come right down and it’s all right there and everybody else is having the same experience.”

To that end, Rager said the intent behind lowering the causeway speed from 40 mph to 30 mph was to prepare drivers for the approaching 25 mph zones.

“We’re hoping to get people to slow down before they reach the bridge,” he said.

The National Park Service is updating signage this week for east and westbound travel lanes on Bayberry Drive, Davis said.

Thirteen horses during the last quarter century have died from motor vehicle collisions on the 611 causeway, which at times is congested with slow-moving vehicles and hikers, Davis said.

“It can be dangerous when you get a mix of visitors and wildlife,” she said.

Although equines typically draw the attention of drivers, Davis noted the barrier island also hosts five species of aquatic freshwater turtles, three species of sea turtles, half a dozen snake species, and even Northern fence lizards, all of which are less likely to grab the eye if sauntering across roadways.

Rager said the amended speeds would not solve all traffic related issues on Assateague, but might improve safe-driving practices by some motorists.

“We want people to be going slow enough [that] if there’s a pony on the shoulder or crossing the road, they’re in a position to stop quickly,” he said.