Center lanes that reverse being studied Direction changes would depend on volume of cars

Cheaper than a new road

Benfield Road in Severna Park is considered

November 23, 1995|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

The cost and controversy that accompany the widening of major thoroughfares could be bypassed if county officials adopt a plan to create reversible center lanes.

Officials are considering Benfield Road in Severna Park for what would be the county's first experiment with making center lanes one-way in the morning and the other way in the evening. They are about to begin a study of its intersections and driver line-of-sight.

"If it works, it may be a viable option for Forest Drive and even for Mountain Road," said County Executive John G. Gary.

As the main roads linking the three peninsulas with the rest of the county, Benfield Road, Forest Drive and Mountain Road come to a crawl during rush hours.

Proposals to widen them or build parallel access roads have been controversial, and construction costs high.

Mr. Gary said he is considering the reversible lane because "the infrastructure just can't keep pace" with residential and commercial growth, and because of shrinking budgets.

"When everybody decides to go to work in the morning at the same time and go home at the same time, I can't build a road big enough," he said.

Reversible lanes are used in many cities, including Washington and Baltimore, to accommodate peak directional traffic flows. On Benfield Road, for example, most commuters are westbound in the morning and eastbound in the evening.

Still, making a center lane reversible is much more involved than buying paint and restriping the road.

"It's not going to be cheap," Mr. Gary said. New signs may be needed at many or all intersections, he said.

"We may have to resignalize every intersection," Mr. Gary said. "I have no idea what it will cost."

Nor does he know how drivers on Benfield Road will adjust to losing a left-turn lane and gaining a through-lane.

"If they have it in Washington where there are all these foreigners driving and they can figure it out, I think people could figure it out here," Mr. Gary said.

Rick Zablocki, president of the Greater Severna Park Council, said he wanted to know how it would affect the community, not just through traffic.

"We have so many driveways on Benfield -- it is hard to tell what the impact will be," said Rick Zablocki, president of the Greater Severna Park Council. "What are going to be the pluses and what will be the minuses?"

Mr. Gary won the support of area voters during last year's election when he pledged to complete East-West Boulevard and take some of the burden off Benfield.

John Brusnighan, director of public works for the county, said there is no timetable for completing studies of Benfield Road, making a decision and then experimenting with the reversible lane.

Two busy roads inside the Capital Beltway in Montgomery County have had reversible center lanes for more than five years. The State Highway Administration and county traffic managers say they work fine.

"It has a big return for dollars invested," said Gene Donaldson, chief of transportation system management in the Montgomery County Department of Transportation. "You're basically adding a lane to the roadway. It's an excellent tool for getting more road space out of a section of roadway."

Constructing one mile of a lane costs about $1 million, said Gene Donaldson, chief of transportation system management in Montgomery County. In contrast, adding signs and computerized signals to make an existing lane reversible costs some $300,000.

Mr. Gary said he took the idea from the west-bound span of the Bay Bridge, which was built in 1973 with two reversible lanes to accommodate beach traffic and to route traffic when there are accidents. But bridge officials leave nothing for drivers to figure out. Overhead lights indicate which lanes are open, motorists are routed with cones and barrels and there are no intersections on the four-mile span.

In Montgomery County, overhead signals on the reversible lanes of Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road show either a red X or green arrow. Signs tell drivers what hours the lanes go in which direction. The lights flash around the time of the switch-over.

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