Land of the Lost ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

March 05, 1993

How can a business be isolated when tens of thousands of cars pass it every day? Just ask the merchants along U.S. 50/301 near Cape St. Claire, who complain that prospective customers have had trouble finding them ever since the state reconfigured the highway two years ago.

The landscape a couple miles west of the Bay Bridge has changed dramatically for the handful of fast food restaurants and sporting goods retailers who line the highway there. When those businesses were established, they were near the last traffic signal on Maryland's western shore on the route toward the Atlantic resorts. Legions of Virginians, Washingtonians and even some Marylanders who could hold out no longer for a hamburger and fries, or bait and beer, stopped to patronize those shops.

But the state tore out that last traffic signal, and a few others on 50/301, in recent years. To be sure, it made the John Hanson Highway safer and made reaching the beach easier.

Still, those owners and managers lament that the complex exits that were constructed in place of the traffic signals have dampened their trade by making it less conducive for motorists to stop. The businesses have asked the State Highway Administration for improved signage.

The bureaucracy's reply: It only erects signs with business logos in "rural areas." The state created the hardship for these businesses, however, and it should be more willing to bend. Wouldn't better signage make as much sense at this location as in a rural area, where access to a roadside gas station or greasy spoon may be even more evident to a traveler?

The cost of what these businesses request is negligible. And some of them have made sizable investments of their own. The McDonald's franchise, for instance, concluded a $500,000 expansion just a few years ago, complete with one of the largest restrooms of any Mickey D's in the nation. (Another good reason for helping travelers find these places quickly.)

Location is everything, affirmed a spokesman for Jerry's Subs and Pizza, an eatery which didn't last long at the Cape St. Claire site after the roadwork began. It does the state no good to have these businesses struggle. The state sends the wrong sign by ignoring the problems it helped create through its own road changes.

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