State plans to install Route 26 signal system Seven lights involved in south Carroll County

other proposals rejected

July 28, 1998|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The only improvement the State Highway Administration is offering for clogged major arteries in south Carroll County is synchronized signals along Route 26.

Although other improvements have been discussed, including a traffic roundabout at the intersection of Routes 26 and 32, state highway officials said no others are planned.

"The signals would operate in conjunction with one another, so traffic would not have to stop and start so frequently," said Jeff Smith, assistant chief for regional planning.

A computer would time the seven signals from Johnsville Road to Monroe Avenue, giving motorists a series of green lights, state highway officials said.

"The signals actually talk to each other and reduce the delays for everyone," said Eric Tabacek, state highway division chief for traffic development. "Timing changes throughout the day depending on how traffic progresses. It favors the arterial, but heavy side streets get more time, too."

Traffic might flow better on Route 26, but Route 32, where much commercial development has occurred, will remain congested, said Kenneth Plante, a member of the Freedom Advisory Council, a citizens group.

"Synchronizing is a Band-Aid solution at best, when what we need is a major overhaul," Plante said. "Timing the lights may help give a smooth flow east and west on Route 26, but it won't help Route 32 at all."

The highway administration plans to install the $225,000 computer-controlled signal system along Route 26 next spring.

Emulates Route 140 system

The plan would emulate one in place along Route 140, where timed signals on the highway through Westminster have worked well, said Thomas Hicks, state director of the office of traffic and safety. Traffic moving at the posted 45 mph should meet mostly green lights.

"That is the best synchronized system we have," Hicks said of the Route 140 corridor.

However, the bottleneck at Route 32 and Route 26, the crossroads of Carroll's fastest-growth area, probably will continue.

In the county's most populated area with 28,000 residents, growth is a constant. Traffic is increasing by 2 percent annually, and a county-commissioned study predicted most major intersections there would fail within a few years unless major improvements are made.

"Synchronizing the signals should help, but it is probably not the solution to traffic problems in south Carroll," said Steve Horn, county bureau chief of planning.

Widening the highways is a possible solution, but one limited by commercial development on all corners of the intersection. Recently, county planners suggested a roundabout, a traffic circle around the intersection estimated to cost about $1 million.

After a monthlong study, state officials rejected the suggestion. The intersection would need at least a three-lane roundabout -- the first of that size in the state.

"Two lanes would not work now, and three lanes would fail in three years," said Hicks. "There would be extensive queues -- as long as 1,100 feet -- on Route 26."

A roundabout is an unfamiliar concept that probably would confuse more motorists than it would help, said Plante.

Hicks said, "The roundabout would also foul up the synchronization."

Thomas G. Hiltz, chairman of the county Planning and Zoning Commission, has invited state officials to meet with the panel as it reworks the blueprint for growth in south Carroll.

"Traffic is the biggest issue in south Carroll and one of the worst," Hiltz said. "It won't get better without action."

Costly options

Every option under review is costly. The county and the state have refused to bear those costs.

"Neither the county nor the state wants to maintain these roads, and the residents here are stuck with the problem," said Plante. "We have to widen that intersection and add lanes in all directions."

Increasing demand on the two state highways that cross through the area is coming from local and through traffic.

About $17 million in connector and service roads have been in the plans for 22 years and would give local traffic other options than using the main thoroughfares. But the roads are not built.

The county has not abandoned those projects, but has not funded them.

Pub Date: 7/28/98

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