(TNS) — Annapolis and Anne Arundel County announced a partnership Thursday to tackle traffic on Forest Drive — and it involves drones.
County Executive Steve Schuh and Mayor Mike Pantelides used the often-congested roadway as a backdrop for a memorandum of understanding that will create a cooperative effort to mitigate gridlock.
“This is not just a one-two punch — it’s a full-court press,” Pantelides said.
Forest Drive is a major traffic route that serves most of Annapolis, touching five of the eight wards. It’s also the major traffic artery serving communities outside the city on the lower Annapolis Neck Peninsula, such as Hillsmere, Arundel on the Bay and Bay Ridge.
It has been the focus of commuter ire and political attention for decades, a subject of regular complaints about chronically sluggish traffic and traffic jams created by accidents and roadwork. Most recently, concerns about increasing traffic have been a frequent criticism by opponents of new development along the corridor.
Under the agreement, the city and county will share information on land use, traffic patterns and other transportation factors to come up with new solutions for the Forest Drive corridor. The county and city formed a workgroup that will meet at least monthly to analyze traffic data and land-use policy.
The agreement centers on increased technology use.
The Annapolis Police Department will be using two drones to better assess accidents. Currently, traffic accident investigations require police officers to work out in the roadway, taking measurements, marking evidence and investigating damages.
Drones can take on some of that work. Operated by a trained officer, they can fly above the accident scene and take photos and measurements, then send the information back to the department. Each drone can fly up to 400 feet high, in accordance with Federal Aviation Administration regulations. They can withstand winds up to 12 mph and have a 30-minute flight duration on a single battery charge.
Each drone cost $1,100 and drone training costs $2,100 per officer, including the cost of drones, city police Chief Scott Baker said. There currently are two officers trained to operate the drone. Four crash investigators will be trained in the next few weeks, Baker said.
The department has purchased two new portable message boards, which will allow officers “to give drivers advanced notice and direction prior to getting to the issue that is causing the delay,” Baker said. The department also uses a new smartboard to train officers to keep traffic moving during an event.
The road is currently maintained jointly by the city and county. Under the agreement, the county will turn over its data on the road the city needs to “create, design and implement traffic management solutions for the Forest Drive corridor and the Annapolis Neck Peninsula” and vice versa.
The city, using its data, will refine the county’s regional travel forecast model. Eventually, Schuh said, the county will implement the refined model into a transportation master plan. The county will also install additional traffic monitoring cameras and adjust current cameras to more accurately capture traffic conditions and facilitate more timely traffic response.
“Ultimately, these tools and data will provide the city and county with a master traffic impact model covering the entire city and the Annapolis Neck peninsula,” Schuh said. “This will facilitate more comprehensive and reliable traffic impact and land-use analysis and most importantly, this will serve as a pilot that county government can apply to the other peninsulas around the region that face similar challenges.”
The agreement is the latest between the Pantelides and Schuh administrations, creating a closer working relationship between city and county governments. The county provides funding for city bus routes, which serve stops outside the city. The county Board of Elections ran Tuesday’s primary election in an effort to reduce problems that occurred in the 2013 city elections.
The announcement also comes just two days after Pantelides won the Republican primary for a second term. He will face Democrat Gavin Buckley in November.
Buckley indicated support for the partnership and said he’s looking forward to having a “bromance” with Schuh, should he capture the mayoral seat. He proposed widening shoulders and building pedestrian and biking infrastructure for easy access to businesses, Quiet Waters Park and Annapolis Middle School, where his children go.
Alderman Jared Littmann, who owns a business on Forest Drive, supported cooperation with the county but questioned the timing of the announcement. Alderman Ross Arnett, D-Ward 8, said there are solutions and studies in the 2009 plan that still have not been implemented.
“It all sounds good in the generalities, but getting to specifics … is the hard part,” Arnett said. “Every time I get into the discussion, we broaden the scope. That worries me.”