First day's rush hour confusing

But no crashes occur at Route 175 bypass

March 02, 2000|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Gloria Melillo drove safely to work through the new traffic pattern at Snowden River Parkway and Route 175 yesterday, but for a few stressful moments she lost her bearings.

"Oh, my God, what a nightmare," she said later about the first rush hour with the new, temporary lanes and traffic lights, part of a $16 million project to eliminate traffic lights on Route 175 and rebuild the intersection.

The new configuration is a step toward eliminating traffic lights on Route 175, a strategic artery linking Columbia with Interstate 95.

Eventually, Snowden River Parkway -- which links east Columbia with Route 100 -- will run under a new Route 175 bridge. But until that is completed late this year, motorists will have to endure the construction-related traffic lights and temporary lanes.

Yesterday's rush hour was the first for commuters, including Melillo. She came off Route 100 from her home in Ferndale, Anne Arundel County, and headed south on Snowden River Parkway through one of Howard County's busiest and most congested intersections.

But instead of going straight south as usual, she saw an electronic sign flashing "STAY ALERT -- NEW TRAFFIC PATTERNS AHEAD," and another imposing a reduced 40-mph speed limit. Then, as she entered the packed intersection, the road veered to the right and back again.

Suddenly, a new highway appeared before her, veering away to her left.

"You get in there, and it's `Where am I going?' " she said. "I wasn't sure. Was that 175?"

Finally, she spotted a landmark: the pale blue, 200-foot-tall water tower rising like an alien spaceship on stilts behind Apple Ford, where Melillo works. Once she found that, she felt better and got to work without any trouble.

State highway engineers and construction workers said that despite some confusion among motorists, the construction lane and light changes seemed to work fine after they were imposed at 9 p.m. Tuesday.

"The whole thing was very smooth," said Merat Tubesh, an engineer with E.B.A. Engineering of Baltimore, a firm contracted to handle quality control on the job.

State Highway Administration engineers were at the site most of the night, Tubesh said, trying to make sure things went smoothly.

By 8 a.m., Joe Schlerf of the Six M Co., which is building the Route 175 bridge, had cranked up his huge yellow crane for a quick trip to the excavation area from the construction headquarters in the state's Park and Ride lot.

Other huge machines already were at work, chopping up the old road surface and loading it into dump trucks with a fast-moving conveyor belt, as more heavy equipment arrived at the site.

County police said no accidents occurred the first day of the new traffic configuration, although a tractor-trailer broke down on Snowden River Parkway about 9: 45 a.m., blocking traffic in two lanes until it could be towed.

But morning rush hour traffic was backed up in both directions on Snowden River Parkway because of the two new traffic signals placed close together on the west side of the intersection. Each signal controls one side of Route 175, stopping traffic both eastbound and westbound to let Snowden travelers pass.

Matt Perlman, 29, of Gaithersburg, went through the intersection on his way to meet a co-worker for the drive into Baltimore.

"It was a little confusing," he said, adding that he "had no clue" the changes were coming. Still, he had no trouble negotiating the sometimes uneven sections of patched-together intersection.

One man was embarrassed to find himself in the Park and Ride lot instead of on Route 175, as he had planned. Several other cars entered and quickly left the lot as motorists tried to figure out the new lanes.

"How do I get out of here?" he asked a passer-by, explaining that he had come north on Snowden River, but couldn't figure out how to turn west on 175.

Instead, he had crossed the intersection and turned left though the orange and white traffic control barrels, which landed him in the commuter lot.

Asked his name, the man laughed long and loudly, saying "Don't do that to me; no, don't do that to me," as he drove off to try again.

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