No center line, confusing signs disturb drivers in Loch Raven Reservoir area

THE INTREPID COMMUTER

January 16, 1995

Recently, the Loch Raven Reservoir area twice came to Intrepid's attention, and not simply for its ghostly beauty. Rather, readers have worried about a couple of hazards that might turn them into ghosts.

Eleanor P. Engers of Phoenix writes of her fears over the absence of a center line on Cooper Road between Paper Mill and Stockton roads. "At one time we had a line," Mrs. Engers says in her letter, "but when Cooper Road was resurfaced, it was never put back. This Cooper Road has blind curves. . . . Many times vehicles come down the middle of the road. Now with new housing on Cooper, we also have construction trucks, etc."

Mrs. Engers is quite right. Cooper Road, which opens with four quick curves off Paper Mill Road, once did have a center line that did not reappear after resurfacing three or four years ago.

Why?

Budget cuts in Baltimore County.

"This center line had been dropped from our inventory a few years ago when the budget for center line striping was significantly reduced," Stephen E. Weber, chief of the county's division of traffic engineering, writes in a reply to Mrs. Engers.

There's good news, though. The money has been restored for this year, and, Mr. Weber continues, "we do have Cooper Road scheduled for center line striping in 1995."

By the way, Mr. Weber says the cost of putting down a center line is about $220 per mile. The Cooper Road stretch is about 1.17 miles, so the stripe should cost $255.

Not more than two miles away, two signs on Paper Mill Road strike Dr. William J. Vitale of Hunt Valley as mystifyingly -- and dangerous.

"While driving east on Paper Mill Road about one-quarter mile before the Loch Raven Bridge, you will notice a 20 mph sign just before a rather gentle curve," Dr. Vitale writes. "Then, immediately before entering a very sharp curve leading into the narrow and slippery bridge, a second sign suggests that one actually speed up to 30 mph. Something is seriously amiss!"

Something is amiss, but not everything, replies the State Highway Administration's Darrell Wiles, district engineer for traffic in Baltimore and Harford counties. There is some sense behind the two signs.

Mr. Wiles says if you look closely at the first sign -- the 20 mph sign -- you will notice that it is not warning you about the curve but about slippery conditions during inclement weather. (The sign shows a car with skid marks from its rear tires, but no written explanation.) The sign is advisory, warning you that in wet weather, you should slow down as you approach the bridge. In dry weather, you're fine continuing at the posted 40 mph.

The next sign -- the 30 mph sign -- is warning you about a curve and telling you the safe speed to negotiate that patch of road. In dry weather, you might be going 40 mph when you pass the second sign, and it informs you to slow down. In wet weather, because of the first sign, you should already be going slowly enough to drive the curve safely.

So, Mr. Wiles says, the signs are absolutely logical. They are also, he allows, absolutely confusing.

"In response to this inquiry," says Mr. Wiles, "we really need to go back and find a way to combine the signs in a way that would be perceived as more consistent. Something special is needed. We'll redo our whole approach to get both messages in."

Attention shoppers: JFX special

Sharp-eyed reader Jacqueline Simpson of Delta, Pa., saw something weird during her trips up and down the Jones Falls Expressway.

"Traveling on I-83 from around Hunt Valley to the Pennsylvania line," Ms. Simpson writes, "I've noticed in several places lines in the highway that look like bar codes. Could you tell me what these are for?"

Never fear, faithful readers. Our Intrepidness is here to assure you that your cherished JFX is not up for sale.

Travelers occasionally will notice strange lines on their highways and byways. Some are the markings between which the state police measure the speed of cars. The ones Ms. Simpson saw, apparently between Mount Carmel and Middletown roads, are tests to see how different painting materials hold up under highway conditions.

Light Rail adds parking

The Mass Transit Administration will open a 37-space parking lot on Friday for Light Rail riders at the North Avenue stop.

The lot, which is paved, has lighting and will be occasionally patrolled by MTA security. It is located at the North Avenue Bridge and will be accessible to the handicapped. Best of all, it's free.

Anthony Brown, a spokesman, says MTA will add about 150 spaces at the North Linthicum station this year and has budgeted funds to add 90 spaces at the Falls Road stop.

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