Patches not properly refilled on roads is a driving concern


February 11, 2003|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

WE'VE ALL encountered those little extra dips and bumps in the road, where the new black asphalt tells the story of recent utility work in the road and a hasty patch-up. It's those dips and bumps that help keep car mechanics in the money. I recently heard from Marian Hein about bad patch jobs.

"One of my pet peeves is when contractors must dig up a public road to hook up to utilities and fill the trench back up only 90 percent less," Hein said. "Then the driving public has to put on the brakes to avoid putting their cars out of alignment."

"Why aren't those responsible made to fill the trench properly?" she asks, noting such a bad patch job on Chatham Road between Frederick Road and U.S. 40 in Ellicott City.

Jim Miller of the Bureau of Utilities of the Howard County Department of Public Works is responsible for giving permits to utility companies such as Baltimore Gas and Electric, Verizon and Comcast to work on county property.

Miller said this time of year is difficult for utility companies to properly pave an area after construction. Instead, they do a temporary repair to hold during winter, and complete the permanent repair as soon as weather permits.

"Any time poor repair work is brought to our attention, we contact the utility company immediately to correct the problem," he said. "However, we don't have much authority other than revoking future permits."

So, what should you do when you encounter bad patch-ups? The best bet is to call JoAnn Maxfield, customer service representative for the Department of Public Works.

"The easiest thing is to [contact] me, since construction contractors can come from many places depending upon whether it's a county, developer or utility company doing the work," she said. "I will look up the location and find out who is responsible, then send the request to the appropriate person."

Maxfield can be contacted at, or 410- 313-3440.

Worst place to drive

Ken Johnston complained recently about the intersection of Vollmerhausen Road and Guilford Road.

"Please try driving down the hill on Vollmerhausen only to attempt to turn left onto Guilford Road during afternoon rush hour," he said. "As you wait at the stop sign for several minutes you need to swivel your head rapidly to wait for that brief opening - you can't see the vehicles coming east on Guilford until the last moment. You need to rapidly accelerate as you make the left and hope your car doesn't hesitate or stall.

"There still is no traffic light or speed bumps on Guilford in spite of the numerous accidents I have witnessed. As you travel west on Guilford Road and attempt to make the left onto Vollmerhausen Road you risk being rear-ended by the impatient drivers who think they have room to pass on the right. I have seen several accidents due to that also. Do you know why they have not addressed this yet?"

I went straight to Bill Malone, chief of the traffic engineering division in the Department of Public Works. "We did ... review this intersection in March 2002," Malone said.

During the review, the division obtained traffic counts for 13 continuous hours (7 a.m. to 8 p.m.) on a typical weekday to capture the volume on each leg of the intersection. On-site observations were conducted at various times, including the morning and evening peak periods. The surveyors also analyzed accident patterns and measured the actual delay experienced by motorists.

"Our study indicated that the intersection was operating acceptably," Malone said. He added that, although an increase in traffic volume has been noted over the years, "the volume is still below that needed to allow a traffic signal."

The review indicated that delays for vehicles turning left from Vollmerhausen Road to Guilford Road averaged 40 seconds during the evening rush hour; vehicles turning right from Vollmerhausen Road onto Guilford Road toward U.S. 1 experienced much less delay.

The county's review of reported accidents "indicated an admirable safety record."

But I wonder how many accidents go unreported?

"Overall, our latest intersection study concluded that the intersection [is] operating safely and efficiently," Malone said. "Because of the increasing traffic volume, we will continue to monitor the intersection and will formally update our study early next year."

Despite this official stamp of safety, Mr. Johnston nominates this intersection as one of the area's worst places to drive

"I drive to Pentagon City and back every day and making that left on Guilford is worse than anything during my daily commute through D.C.," he said.

Which gave me an idea: I'm compiling my almost annual 10 worst places to drive in Maryland. What places do you nominate for this dubious honor?

What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at or send faxes to 410-715-2816. Technophobes can mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 5570 Sterrett Place, Suite 300, Columbia 21044.

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