Officials aim to boost safety of road near Mildenhall
Safety devices will be installed on a highway near RAF Mildenhall where five people from the base died in recent car crashes.
Guy Smith, assistant area highway manager for the Suffolk County Council, said Wednesday that chatter strips, reflective posts and new center lines will be added to a five-mile stretch of A1101 west of the base. He said the work will begin later this month or in early December.
Smith also said the road’s speed limit will be lowered next year from 60 mph to 50 mph after lawmakers approve the change.
“The need was highlighted by the recent fatalities,” Smith said. “But we have always been conscious of the need to monitor safety on that road.”
On Sept. 26, Cortina Hamilton and her three young children died when their car collided with another and landed upside down in a drainage ditch. Hamilton was the wife of Airman 1st Class Curtis Hamilton.
On Oct. 7, Staff Sgt. Sean Bortel died a few miles away in a head-on crash with a truck.
Eighteen Americans and Brits have died on that stretch of highway since 1981, according to Steve Beard, a former tow truck operator who lives next to the road. Minor accidents there are common.
“Sometimes you can stand here and see it coming,” said Beard, whose family has operated the Burnt Fen Garage on A1101 since 1959.
The two-lane highway connects Mildenhall with the residential areas of Ely and Littleport. There’s farmland on either side of the road that has sunken from rain and tilling. The road has risen from repaving. In places, it’s like driving on top of a dike, with deep ditches left and right.
Farm vehicles drag dirt up onto the road and make it slippery. Much of the road has grass shoulders or no shoulders at all. The pavement is uneven.
Smith said the safety devices will be installed from Mildenhall to Prickwillow Corner. They include:
• White chatter strips on the edge of the pavement that alert drivers when they veer off the road.
• New center lines with road studs.
• Reflective, plastic posts that will be placed about every 80 feet on both sides of the road and every 33 feet on the bends.
• Signs that warn drivers of the water-filled ditches.
Smith said the work is expected to take two to three weeks and cost $70,000 to $85,000.
“We’re hopeful a contribution will be made from the RAF bases,” Smith said, referring to the U.S. military facilities at Mildenhall and nearby Lakenheath. About 10,000 active-duty airmen are stationed at the two bases and live in the area.
Nine U.S. airmen or family members have died on local roads since March. Many of the roads are similar to A1101 — narrow two-lane highways with grassy shoulders and no lighting.
In October, RAF Mildenhall implemented a safe-driving program called Operation Street Smart. At the same time, the 48th Fighter Wing Safety Office announced it was meeting with local highway and police officials to explore ways to reduce traffic accidents.
Mary Crane, the Suffolk County councilwoman for the area, said she believed many accidents were caused with Americans’ “unfamiliarity” with the local roads.
Crane said RAF Mildenhall might make changes at Gate 15 on A1101, which is heavily used by both motorists and pedestrians.