State planners have a novel substitution for traffic lights at the heavily traveled intersection of U.S. 29 and Route 216 -- roundabouts -- an idea that has some developers shaking their heads and residents hoping it will slow speeders.
State officials say the roundabouts -- on the east and west sides of U.S. 29 along Route 216 -- are the cheapest way to alleviate congestion in the area. Any traffic going east or west along Route 216 will have to use the traffic circles -- as well as an overpass over U.S. 29.
State Highway Administration officials outlined the plan to solve problems at the heavily traveled interchange at a public meeting Thursday night.
Highway planners are considering several designs for the roundabouts, but they are committed to using the traffic circles to guide vehicles through the area. They expect to pick a final design in the next few weeks.
Other comparable roundabouts in Maryland, according to highway officials, are at Routes 94 and 144 in Lisbon in rural western Howard County and one under construction at the much more urban intersection of Allegheny Avenue and York, Dulaney Valley and Joppa roads in Towson.
Howard County has three other roundabouts under construction: at Route 100 and Snowden River Parkway and two along Route 103 on both sides of Route 100. Anne Arundel, Carroll, Washington and Cecil counties also have roundabouts, as does Washington.
Traffic circles were first widely used in Britain and are popular in Europe. They're gaining popularity in the United States, said Ed Walter, a county traffic engineer.
Usually about 100 to 120 feet in diameter, roundabouts provide for one-way circulation around islands. Entering traffic yields the right of way. Two roundabouts, one on each side of a freeway -- as is proposed for the U.S. 29 intersection -- are called "dumbbells."
Some North Laurel and Scaggsville residents say they hope the proposed dumbbell would slow speeders in the area of U.S. 29 and Route 216.
"We have lots of accidents happening now at that intersection, so anything would help to slow people down from coming zipping through there," said Greg Brown, president of Cherrytree Farm Neighborhood Organization, a nearby community.
But still, Brown questioned if the roundabouts will be adequate.
"When all the buildings are out here, what will we be left with?" he said. "I hope it's a road that can handle all this."
Impact on development
And -- with the final designs of the roundabouts still unclear -- Howard County officials and area developers say they are worried about the impact on nearby development plans, including several mixed-use communities.
"I have a concern that, as the market is changing with more development coming in, how will the interchange or the businesses and the existing community be affected?" said Joe Rutter, Howard planning and zoning director.
Two developments -- a mixed-use community called Cherrytree Park and plans for a new car dealership -- are most immediately affected.
Cherrytree Corp. officials had said they hoped to begin building the community of residences and commercial property by 1999 southeast of the intersection, well before any intersection improvements could be completed.
But in September, the Howard County Zoning Board asked developers to scale down their proposal for 252 housing units on 43 acres. Since then, developers have said they may consider selling the property.
With the news last week of planners' preference for roundabouts, James H. Evans, Cherrytree Corp. vice president, said: "We can't submit any more plans or move forward on anything until we know what the road for the area will be like."
Similarly, officials at Crystal Ford Automotive in Silver Spring -- who had planned to open a $2.5 million dealership near the interchange this fall -- also say they will not build until the intersection plans are final. They are worried that the roundabouts may block direct access from the highway to their dealership, forcing customers to use a service road.
"We're not going to start building anything until we know how people are going to get into our store, whether it's from 216 or 29," said Bob Vogul of Crystal Ford.
Highway planners confident
State highway planners said they cannot provide all the answers now. But they're confident the roundabouts will work, with the circles handling an average of 4,000 cars an hour and accommodating 40,000 vehicles a day projected for the intersection by 2020.
Much of the increased traffic would come from two other planned mixed-use projects.
One, west of U.S. 29 along Route 216, is the Fulton mixed-use area, which has not come before county officials for approval. The other is a Rouse Co. project at Route 216 and Interstate 95, which has been presented to county officials.
Rouse plans to convert 526 acres straddling the interstate north of Route 216 into a Columbia-style village of 1,420 housing units with offices and businesses.
In January, Gov. Parris N. Glendening designated about $2.2 million to upgrade 3 miles of Route 216 between U.S. 29 and Interstate 95 -- aimed at improving traffic flow. That money will fund preliminary engineering studies on the impact of Route 216 improvements on wetlands. The studies will take two to five years.
For now, some planners and residents are concerned that the U.S. 29 and Route 216 interchange -- which appears to be on a faster track than the upgrading project -- will dump additional traffic on side roads that can't handle it.
Said Carl Balser, chief of the county division of transportation planning: "We have to be careful that a brand-spanking new, high-capacity interchange at U.S. 29 and Route 216 is not tying into an old, substandard Route 216."
Pub Date: 2/16/97