Towson traffic roundabout proposed

May 20, 1994|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun Staff Writer

A three-lane roundabout to move traffic through beautiful downtown Towson? What's next?

Maybe a smoother flow of traffic and less complaining, state highway officials and legislators hope.

After all, they say, what could be worse than the complicated series of traffic lights and sharp turns required now to get through the intersection-within-an-intersection where York, Dulaney Valley and Joppa roads meet with Allegheny Avenue?

County planners have been searching for a way to simplify the intersection at least since Spiro T. Agnew was county executive 32 years ago. Mr. Agnew proposed ending part of Dulaney Valley Road with a sharp westbound turn north of the current intersection and digging a four-block long tunnel to connect York Road and Dulaney Valley Road traffic underground and remove it from central Towson.

The state's newest idea -- the roundabout, which works like a traffic circle -- would put a racetrack-shaped oval in the intersection connecting to the existing streets without use of traffic lights. For example, a motorist driving north on York Road would turn right to enter the oval and keep going around until turning right again to exit on the desired street.

Parking at night and on weekends also would be prohibited along southbound York Road south of the intersection, eliminating another traffic flow problem.

State officials said the new arrangement likely would take getting used to, a period probably punctuated by a few crumpled fenders. But state highway district engineer Charles R. "Dick" Harrison said speeds would be low, and the state would try to limit confusion at the beginning by marking the road for only two lanes.

Two consultants told the state they thought the roundabout would work in Towson. It's a concept that's gaining popularity in the United States, Mr. Harrison said. He said the state has installed one roundabout -- last year in Lisbon in Howard County -- and plans one for southern Anne Arundel County. Traffic circles have existed for years in Annapolis and Washington.

This new state plan for Towson follows a controversial nine-month jersey wall barrier experiment conceived in the Towson Community Plan. The barrier, taken down by the state in early 1993 in large part because of merchants' opposition, was the last attempt to solve traffic problems in the intersection. The jersey wall plan, which blocked southbound York Road traffic, came after the state abandoned plans to build a $4 million transit center next to the intersection.

The death of the transit center idea left the state with ownership of an abandoned store on the north side between York and Dulaney Valley roads. That building could be demolished for the newest idea.

Mr. Harrison will present the roundabout proposal to the public at a 7:30 p.m. meeting Wednesday in the County Council chambers in Towson.

"This is not something we're going to force on the community," he stressed.

There's an irony in the site for the meeting, because no love has been lost over this issue between county and state officials.

The jersey wall was championed by County Councilman Douglas B. Riley, but his partners in the state legislature abruptly ordered the state to remove the barriers from York Road, a state highway, without consulting the Towson Republican.

The county also wasn't consulted about the newest plan, said C. Richard Moore, county highways and traffic engineering chief.

Leaders of several Towson business and development groups were cautious in their comments yesterday about the roundabout proposal, saying that something needs to be done at the intersection but adding that they need more information.

Mr. Harrison said he wants opinions on the concept. The state has done no planning, and there's no money to pay for the work, he said.

But if people like the idea and money is appropriated, the oval could make an attractive, grassy gateway to Towson, he said.

State Sen. F. Vernon Boozer of Towson said the roundabout "makes a lot of sense."

"It's much safer than a traffic light," he said.

Del. Martha S. Klima, who also represents Towson, said she likes the oval idea. Ms. Klima said money could be found for the project, which she estimated would cost less than $1 million.

Opinions at the scene varied.

"I think it's a great idea!" said attorney Neil Kurlander.

A 77-year-old man who would not give his name said he's been coming to central Towson more than 50 years and can't see any workable solution.

Officials have fouled up the intersection "so completely, it doesn't matter any more," he said.

Linda Wagner, 27, who works in a bank at the corner, said the roundabout might help traffic, but she worried about how some of Towson's growing corps of elderly drivers would handle something new.

Most people seemed to take the view of John Hueper, 54.

"It will be a lot easier than the mess we have now," he said.

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