Worries over Route 216 grab attention of state


January 08, 2002|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

SINCE THE Traffic Talk column began, I've received the most inquiries about Route 216 and U.S. 29 - and the most complaints about the junction of Route 32 and Broken Land Parkway. More on the latter in forthcoming columns. Keep your questions coming!

Valerie Fraser of Scaggsville, just around the corner from the "T" intersection of Route 216 and Leishear Road, has several questions about Route 216. "My daughter's music tutor and his son were involved in a head-on accident there one morning about a year ago. We noted in December that, yet again, the guardrails were damaged - but this time there had been a fatality. There have been frequent accidents at this intersection, as indicated by the broken guardrails. I am very curious to know how many accidents a year happen there," she says.

The State Highway Administration, which is responsible for that intersection, is taking Fraser's safety concerns seriously. The December accident is the first fatality at that intersection in five years, although 24 accidents were reported there from 1996 through 2000, according to SHA spokeswoman Lora Rakowski.

She notes that the SHA will be conducting an investigation and evaluation of the intersection. "Safety is our top priority," Rakowski says.

"At night, this intersection is given only a flashing traffic light instead of the standard operating traffic light during the day, presumably because of the lighter traffic," Fraser says.

There are no caution signs indicating the T configuration as you approach the intersection from westbound 216. And other than the guardrail, which showed signs of being repaired recently, there are no significant retaining walls beyond the intersection. A single sign indicates the choice of 216 or Leishear Road, which Fraser believes "is probably just marginally adequate."

Rakowski says the intersection has signal patterns similar to all T intersections throughout the state and there is a sign on the signal head and a directional sign adjacent to the roadway, as well as a guardrail with reflective red diamonds.

It is worth noting that you can't force drivers to read the signs, which seemed pretty clear when I drove by them just before this column's publication. Also, no amount of signage can compensate for dumb driving - whether a motorist is more concerned about a cell-phone conversation than the road, is going too fast or is drunk. It is also worth mentioning that a police report noted that the driver in last month's fatal crash was intoxicated; the crash was attributed to excessive speed and driver error.

Fraser, in addition to several other readers who contacted Traffic Talk, is looking forward to the planned extension of Route 216 to U.S. 29. Meanwhile, Fraser worries "there will still be a high volume of traffic passing through there for many more months. I have always felt that rumble strips or at least signage should be in place to slow traffic entering the intersection [and] might save lives."

Yes, it looks as if the situation won't change until construction, which is slated to begin next fall, wraps up in 2004. According to Rakowski, Route 216 will be significantly widened throughout the project. The area between east of U.S. 29 and west of Leishear Road will be striped and used as a four-lane roadway; the stretch between Leishear Road and Interstate 95 will be striped and used as a six-lane roadway. The notorious T-intersection of Route 216 and Leishear Road will disappear; instead, Route 216 will continue straight through the T, running along the outskirts of Hammond Park, to connect to U.S. 29.

The decision to use the portion of the roadway closest to U.S. 29 as four lanes represents a compromise presented by a resident at a public meeting, Rakowski says, and reinforces the importance of residents attending public meetings and voicing concerns and opinions. The decision was based on projected traffic volume, the need for construction versus disrupting traffic and communities, and the need to provide sound barriers to adjacent communities.

Rakowski urges Maryland motorists concerned about safety issues to contact SHA at 800-323-6742.

What's your driving dilemma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at elison @us.net. Technophobes can mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 5570 Sterrett Place, Suite 300, Columbia 21044, or fax 410-715-2816.

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