Lisbon traffic circle project criticized after accidents

April 11, 1993|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

Lisbon residents never wanted to be part of the State Highway Administration's "roundabout" traffic circle experiment to begin with.

And they say two traffic accidents in less than two weeks since construction began on the project is proof enough that highway officials didn't make sense when they said there's not enough traffic to justify installing a signal at the intersection of Routes 144 and 94.

"I'm angry that that would happen," said County Councilman Charles C. Feaga, a Republican who represents western Howard. "After seeing a blinking light up there for a long time, it's very confusing.

"They should have at least had a warning blinking light; the portable ones were only brought in there after the accident, but certainly anyone should have known to do that before," Mr. Feaga said, adding that he had asked highway officials to maintain the blinking lights until the project was finished.

Last Saturday, the flashing red light that warns motorists on Route 144 to stop before entering the intersection was taken down.

Last Sunday, six people were in jured when a car ran one of the stop signs.

Nearby residents say the project also helped cause a less serious accident on the afternoon of March 31.

"They told us there were going to be flag men when they built this thing," said Dot Gray, who works at Lee's Market.

But Liz Kalinowski, a spokeswoman for the highway administration, pointed out that there were stop signs at the intersection and that driver error caused the accidents. County police confirmed that the accidents were caused by motorists who failed to stop before entering the intersection.

Ms. Kalinowski said that, while any accident is unfortunate, "this is exactly the type of collision that the roundabout is designed to eliminate."

Traffic engineers believe that roundabouts, which have become popular in Europe as a way to relieve congested intersections, will be safer and more efficient than intersections controlled by traffic lights.

The roundabout, the first of its kind in Maryland, will operate like a revolving door. Approaching vehicles will yield to traffic already in the circle. Small curved ramps then will feed traffic into and out of the roundabout.

Because all motorists must merge into the same lane that goes around the roundabout, instead of crossing the path of other motorists, the system will make serious broadside collisions highly unlikely, engineers say.

But some Lisbon residents are unimpressed with what the project has done to their crossroads town so far.

"It's a mess out there," said Sharon Pickett, who lives a block from the intersection.

"I sat behind this lady for five minutes, because she didn't know what lane to go into. With machinery on all four corners of the road, you can't see anything."

Ms. Pickett said residents were told that poles for the flashing warning lights would remain in place, so that it would be easier to install a traffic light if the roundabout did not work.

Another source of confusion was the advertised date of the construction project, residents say.

Handouts distributed to area residents and left in public places such as the post office and Lee's Market read, "State Highway Administration to construct a traffic Roundabout in Lisbon, Howard County, on April 12." Many interpreted that to mean construction would begin tomorrow, not the week of March 30, when it actually started.

Work crews have been widening the corners this week, and are scheduled to begin work tomorrow on the circle. Highway officials said construction was scheduled to coincide with county schools' spring break this week, so there wouldn't be school buses on the road.

Highway officials said flag men will be at the site beginning tomorrow, waving motorists around the circle until the project is completed at the end of the week.

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