Traffic light hasn't turned red since 1992

U.S. 29

April 20, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

It's the best kind of traffic light, in the minds of most motorists -- the kind that never turns red.

In fact, the last time the light at South Entrance Road and southbound U.S. 29 turned red was on Sept. 23, 1992, the day that the Broken Land Parkway interchange opened as the high-speed south entrance to Columbia's Town Center.

Although it is common to remove traffic lights when overpasses replace such intersections, one Columbia resident -- State Highway Administrator Hal Kassoff -- thought it would be prudent to leave it.

The reason for saving the light (at no cost to the taxpayer, says SHA spokeswoman Liz Kalinowski) is that right next to South Entrance Road is Merriweather Post Pavilion, with room for more than 6,000 cars and 14,000 people to watch performances ranging from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra to the heavy metal rock group Van Halen.

The intersection was kept as a safety valve for unruly pavilion traffic and a possible route for emergency detours, Ms. Kalinowski said.

"We felt that it was better to have it there and be absolutely sure before removing it," she said.

SHA traffic engineers studied the pavilion's traffic last year, but "we only got about half the traffic for the season," Ms. Kalinowski said.

So this season, which begins May 22, traffic engineers will observe traffic to and from concerts for the entire season to get a better idea of how well the Broken Land Parkway interchange is handling traffic.

Jean S. Parker, general manager of the Rouse Co.-owned pavilion, couldn't be happier with the new traffic pattern.

"The interchange has actually been great. From an ingress standpoint, from an egress standpoint, and from an operations perspective, the traffic has been flowing smoothly," Ms. Parker said. "Now we have more points from which people can enter and exit."

Before the Broken Land Parkway interchange, the majority of concert-goers came north on U.S. 29 and turned left onto South Entrance Road at the light, then left into the pavilion's only entrance. The arrangement sometimes caused traffic tie-ups of several miles.

Now, coming from the same direction, motorists exit to the right onto the high-speed ramp to northbound Broken Land Parkway, and turn right into the pavilion. Motorists coming from the north on U.S. 29 can still exit onto South Entrance Road, so the traffic is divided between the two entrances.

During last year's survey, there were still traffic backups -- particularly on the exit ramp from northbound U.S. 29 -- but delays were minimal, said George R. Miller, a traffic engineer in SHA's District 7 office.

Last year, all four members of the district's traffic staff were used to observe traffic for some of the larger-drawing shows, such as Van Halen and Jimmy Buffet.

"The Earth Day show was particularly crowded because it was the [opening] day show and they had a lot of alternative bands, which are a big draw," Mr. Miller said.

Within a month of when the concert season ends in mid-September, engineers expect to complete a report on the pavilion traffic and submit it to Mr. Kassoff, who will decide whether to dismantle the traffic signal or not.

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