Ramp has been studied and studied -- it just hasn't been built

THE INTREPID COMMMUTER

November 29, 1993

Herb Haebler has had it up to here.

Besides being an easy target for alliteration, the Perry Hall resident is upset with lack of thought given to the design of Route 43.

For those of you unfamiliar with Route 43, or White Marsh Boulevard, it has become a real godsend for commuters living in the White Marsh area.

Last January, the highway was extended west from Honeygo Boulevard to the Beltway. That meant White Marsh commuters could avoid the congested I-695/I-95 interchange, a significant benefit in rush hour.

It's also a great way for people coming from White Marsh or Perry Hall to get to White Marsh Mall -- except for one little thing.

Eastbound traffic on U.S. 40 can't get on Route 43. You read that right. There's no ramp to get you there.

There IS a ramp allowing westbound traffic on U.S. 40 to get on Route 43. Conversely, eastbound traffic on Route 43 can flow onto U.S. 40 in either direction, toward Baltimore or toward Harford County.

Because of this shortcoming, the only way for eastbound motorists to get to the mall is to make a U-turn at Ebenezer Road and double back. This has not helped congestion at the Ebenezer Road intersection.

"Please explain why the State Highway Administration did not provide a ramp that would allow traffic headed toward Harford County to access Route 43," Mr. Haebler writes.

Well, Herb Haebler, here's a heaping helping of hooey from the highway hierarchy.

(Actually, it's probably not hooey, but darned if that alliteration wasn't too tempting a treat to take.)

The SHA intends to build that ramp from eastbound U.S. 40 to Route 43. It's been under study since 1987. Why has it taken so long? SHA spokeswoman Liz Kalinowski says it was caught up in a larger debate.

When White Marsh Boulevard first opened in the 1950s, it was a little bitty connector from Silver Spring Road to Route 7. It was extended to U.S. 40 in the early 1960s. At the time, there wasn't much traffic demand. This was long before there was a mall or a boom in housing.

But in the 1980s, an idea surfaced that maybe Route 43 should be extended to Eastern Avenue with the new ramp on U.S. 40 included in such a project. That would have a profound effect on development patterns in eastern Baltimore County and so it was studied, and studied, and studied.

With the extension studied all the way to the back-burner, the proposal for a new ramp languished, too. Earlier this year, SHA officials finally decided to go ahead and correct the problem at U.S. 40 regardless of whether the highway is extended to Eastern, Ms. Kalinowski said.

"This is an example of how something can be looked at long term, but then conditions change," she said.

The ramp is expected to cost $1.6 million. Construction is slated to begin next summer with completion by the summer of 1995.

On the subject of Route 43, we recently received an intriguing question: When driving from the Beltway's inner loop, is it faster to take Route 43 or keep going around the Beltway to the I-95 exit?

Of course, this is the age-old question for speed vs. distance. Route 43 is the shortest distance between the two points (about 4 miles compared to 6 miles), but the Beltway and I-95 is faster (no traffic lights compared to 5 signals and a speed limit of 55 mph instead of 50 mph).

Naturally, Intrepid Commuter decided to conduct a race. We timed ourselves both ways. (We were tempted to cheat but feared we would find out and face some ugly confrontation with ourself).

The result was a virtual dead heat. No matter which way we went, the trip took about 5 minutes give or take 10 seconds.

Ms. Kalinowski confirms the result. SHA engineers say Route 43 motorists are likely to get stopped by at least one signal.

C7 "Route 43 was never meant as a shortcut," she said.

Lights, Cameras, Inaction at the Tunnel

You may recall that in an Oct. 25 column, an alert reader called Intrepid Commuter's attention to a sign that read, "Turn Lights On," facing motorists leaving the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel.

This struck us as absurd and it was. In the column, a Maryland Transportation Authority spokes man said he was baffled. Maybe, he offered, it was put there for emergencies when traffic flows two ways.

Wrong.

Since the column ran we've been inundated with calls and letters from regular tunnel travelers who let us in on the authentic history of the sign.

After a bit more research, authority officials agree with their account.

Until six years ago when the facility was renovated, it was the policy of the authority to instruct motorists entering the harbor tunnel at night to turn off their headlights and turn them back on when exiting.

That may seem weird now, but the conventional wisdom was that it was safer to do it that way, admits Stephen L. Reich, the authority's executive secretary.

The reasoning behind the policy, adopted from New York City's tunnels, was this: Headlights might blind the police officers stationed in booths along the tunnel. Tail lights made it difficult for police to spot brake lights (which signal a slowdown or accident).

After the remodeling, the booths were replaced by video cameras. The new policy: Motorists are instructed only to "check" their headlights on exiting to make sure they aren't left on.

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