Most of the time, Thetford Road off Loch Raven Boulevard looks like a typical, quiet residential street -- one of hundreds in Baltimore County. But during rush hour, residents claim it resembles the Beltway.
Commuters use Thetford Road and other streets in the Knettishall and Loch Raven Village neighborhoods to bypass the intersection of Loch Raven Boulevard and Putty Hill Avenue. Consequently, traffic backs up on Putty Hill Avenue as a steady stream of commuters use two lanes to go straight or turn right or left onto Loch Raven Boulevard.
Putty Hill carries commuters to and from Towson. There is no left-turn lane on Putty Hill and right turns on red are not allowed. The speed limit on Thetford and other nearby residential streets is 25 miles an hour.
"The cars coming down Thetford do 45 or 50 miles an hour without regard for the safety of the people who live here," said Mrs. Dale Livingston, president of the Knettishall Community Association. "You take a risk just trying to get out of your car."
Last week, community leaders met with traffic experts from the State Highway Administration and Baltimore County to find a solution to their problem. State and local representatives were on hand because Loch Raven is a state highway and Putty Hill is a county road.
During the meeting, community leaders suggested widening Putty Hill near both ends of the intersection and putting in a left-turn lane. That would be the ideal solution, the traffic experts said. Unfortunately there isn't enough money in the county capital budget for that. "In terms of funds allocated for intersection improvements, we have to give priority to the more congested intersections," said C. Richard Moore, chief of the county's traffic engineering bureau.
The county rates its intersections A through F, according to the percentage of waiting vehicles that get through a green light. At Level A intersections, all waiting vehicles get through the light, while at Level F intersections a significant number don't get through.
The Putty Hill-Loch Raven intersection is rated a Level C and averages about 11,000 vehicles during the combined morning and afternoon rush hours, Mr. Moore said.
"I don't think during the past five years, we have ever had enough money to get to a Level C intersection," he said.
Mr. Moore suggested the community do its own traffic count on the number of commuter vehicles bypassing the intersection and cutting through Thetford and other streets. Because communities often challenge the county's traffic count, Mr. Moore said, "It's better to let the community do its own count and avoid that problem."
If the number is significant -- meaning those vehicles would have added to the total number passing through the intersection -- that might lead the county to change the intersection's rating and give it a higher priority for funds.
Community requests to change the intersection's signal light by giving it a leading left-turn arrow during rush hour or a green light for one direction at a time for Putty Hill traffic, might cause more of a backup than already occurs, said Darrell Wiles, a state traffic engineer.
"The best solution might be not to do anything and hope money can be found soon to improve the intersection," Mr. Wiles said.
In the meantime, state and county traffic officials said they would again survey the number of vehicles using the intersection and research the number of accidents at the intersection. According to Mr. Moore's figures, nine serious accidents occurred at the intersection last year, down from 14 in 1990. But community leaders dispute those figures, contending the number of accidents was much higher.