Traffic signal loss is feared

U.S. 29

Red light needed at Rivers Edge, say some in development

Howard County

November 02, 2001|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Thanks to new interchanges and added lanes, sailing south on U.S. 29 through Howard County is fast becoming a California freeway-style experience - except for one thing.

There's no plan for how to eliminate the traffic light at Rivers Edge - a large community squeezed between the Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Lab on the south and Route 32 on the north. Other than Rivers Edge Road, there is no way in or out of the several-hundred-home development, parts of which are more than 30 years old.

Vehicles leaving the community can turn right to go south on U.S. 29, but need the red light to stop southbound vehicles so they can cross to go north, where they merge with traffic. Coming north from Montgomery County, residents again use the light to turn left into the development by crossing the southbound lanes.

"It's a very dangerous light, because people coming south come over the hill at speed. They don't slow down a lot," said Charles Ryan, 43, who lives with his wife and three children in Rivers Edge.

Not everyone agrees.

Rivers Edge has no active community association, but Steven Weber, a 27-year resident who helped get the traffic light installed years ago, said it works fine.

"I have no problems with the light the way it is now," he said, acknowledging that it can be "tricky and potentially dangerous" at times for those not paying attention.

His wife, Nancy, fears that the state will simply remove the traffic light, forcing residents who want to go north from Rivers Edge first to go south to Johns Hopkins Road - about one mile - to turn north on U.S. 29.

"It would be major aggravation," she said.

County transportation planner Carl S. Balser doubts that the light will be removed, however, because doing so would add congestion to the interchanges, which state engineers don't want.

County officials said accidents at the light are infrequent - 25 (mainly rear-enders) in the past two years. But in August, southbound drivers racked up 539 red-light-camera violations - an improvement over the first month the camera was installed in 1998, when 757 violations were photographed.

State traffic counts show 58,250 vehicles per day at River's Edge last year - more than 5,400 vehicles an hour during the afternoon's peak rush.

In a year, when the new interchange at Johns Hopkins Road is due for completion, the southbound-only light at Rivers Edge Road that controls all access to the homes there will be the only red light left.

Then, Ryan fears, speeding will increase - just as his 15-year old son begins learning to drive.

County Executive James N. Robey asked state transportation officials in July to replace the light at Rivers Edge Road with another interchange, but there is no room for one, said James M. Irvin, county director of public works.

The most likely - but expensive - solution, he said, would be to tunnel under the highway, allowing residents to come out on the east side, where they can connect with local collector roads.

The topic might be discussed Thursday: The public is invited to hear and speak to state transportation officials scheduled to appear at a 7 p.m. meeting in the George Howard building in Ellicott City.

Other improvements to U.S. 29 are in the works. The road is due to be widened further between Route 100 and Interstate 70 in Ellicott City, where congestion forms each rush hour, and a third lane is due for the northbound side of the highway as it moves through Columbia, Irvin said.

In addition, the state is planning major new interchanges in Montgomery County that will eliminate traffic lights there, too, in a few years. Three interchanges are funded, said Melinda Peters, a transportation engineer. Work is to begin at Randolph Road next month, Route 198 during the summer, and at Briggs Chaney Road in the fall 2003. Five others are planned but have not been funded.

State officials said there is no money now for anything major at Rivers Edge, although the state will act eventually. "It's a real lean year for us, but it's certainly on our radar screen," said Valerie Burnette Edgar, a spokeswoman.

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