Baltimore County traffic jams getting worse, study finds With decline in federal, state aid, even more tie-ups are expected

October 14, 1991|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun

If one road sign could be erected to alert Baltimore County motorists to future highway conditions, officials say, it would probably read: "Caution: Traffic will get worse."

The county's new "Basic Services Traffic Report" identifies seven intersections where at least 85 percent of motorists must endure two red lights before getting through. They are classified as "F," or "failing."

Seven county intersections were failing last year. Officials say several more intersections, while not failing, are close to that this year.

They say the number of failing intersections last year and this year was dramatically higher than in 1988, when the only intersection in the county so classified was Stemmers Run Road and Eastern Boulevard in Essex, where construction was blamed.

Eugene Neff, chief of the Department of Public Works, said state budget cuts, which are expected to cost Baltimore County $27 million in school and government aid, are likely to translate into more traffic tie-ups in the future.

The county won approval at the polls in November to begin $75 million in improvements to roads, bridges and storm drains. But Mr. Neff said the state cuts would endanger many of those projects because the county might not be able to pay interest on the bonds it sells to finance them.

"Some severe things are going to be happening," he said. "I don't know the exact magnitude of the impact, but it's going to be severe."

The annual traffic report, released four days ago, will be presented to the county planning board Thursday, then forwarded to the County Council for review and a decision on whether to adopt it.

County traffic engineers give all intersections classifications based on the time required to pass through them, using other rankings in addition to "F." A "C" ranking means that up to 30 percent of the traffic at an intersection cannot pass through it the first time the signal turns green. A "D" ranking means that up to 70 percent cannot make it through.

County officials say up to a dozen intersections could drop from the "C" into the "D" category because of increases in traffic over the past two years.

C. Richard Moore, chief of the bureau of traffic engineering in the county's Department of Public Works, said that if the report is adopted, by the County Council, the seven failing intersections will get priority for repairs and improvements.

Mr. Moore said some traffic problems are attributable to growth in the county, where the population increased from 655,615 in 1980 to 692,134 in 1990, a 5.6 percent rise. Building permits for commercial and industrial development, which includes everything from new office buildings to the modification of a repair garage, jumped to 3,339 from 752 in the same period.

"As you have more growth, you're going to have to deal with more traffic," Mr. Moore said.

When it comes to traffic, it seems that everybody has an opinion. Many motorists who live or work near failing intersections argue that they are no more congested or dangerous than several others they negotiate each day.

David Starkey, a cook at the Pizza Palace in Towson, a stone's throw from the failing intersection at York Road and Burke Avenue, said he sees and hears more problems at Stevenson Lane and Osler Drive near his home in Towson.

"I swear, three times a week I'll be in bed and I'll hear 'screeeech' -- you know what I'm saying," Mr. Starkey said, recalling accidents.

Dorothy Brandau, co-owner of the Oxford Shop on York Road in Towson, said she has more problems getting through the intersection of York and Padonia roads and others in the nearby Timonium area than getting through the York-Burke intersection.

"Those roads [in Timonium] are crawling with traffic any time of the day," she said.

Mr. Moore said traffic engineers are focusing much of their planning effort on arteries in Catonsville and Towson.

One of the area's largest malls, Towson Town Center, is set for a grand opening at York, Dulaney Valley and Joppa roads Wednesday and is expected to add to the area's traffic.

Highway planners are expected to count traffic at a dozen intersections around the mall after next week to determine whether more road improvements are needed, said Gregory M. Jones, head of the traffic engineering design division.

In Catonsville, residents have been complaining that neighbors from across the Howard County line in nearby Ellicott City are using Frederick Road as a short cut to reach the Baltimore Beltway. There are frequent traffic jams on the road, particularly during rush hours, county officials say.

Fifty community volunteers followed traffic along Frederick Road for two weeks during morning and evening rush hours in April, Mr. Moore said.

The numbers they collected, which detail how much traffic was backed up at key intersections and the direction if flowed, will be analyzed for inclusion in a report due at the end of the month, he said.

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