Finally, seeing the light on congested Route 216


October 21, 2003|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

EVERY ONCE in a while something like this happens: Someone notices a problem and asks me whom to contact. I tell them, they follow through and, voila, the problem is solved.

Several weeks after school began, I received quite a few e-mails about a traffic light on Route 216 at the road leading to the school complex that houses Reservoir High School, Lime Kiln Middle School and Fulton Elementary School. Only one entrance exists for all three schools.

Dot Brownlie made contacting me the first stop on her way to becoming an activist. "I am ... extremely concerned that the traffic light at the school exit is turned off at about 4 p.m. and the students and parents must turn onto a 50-mph highway during rush hour using a blinking red light. Yesterday, there were three high school sports events and after-school programs that all ended at about 5:30 to 6 p.m. It took over 15 minutes to exit the driveway and many close calls trying to turn left. We are a student body of only 9th, 10th, and 11th grades and so all of our student drivers have just received their licenses. Most of our students live to the east of the school and so they must make the dangerous left turn," she explained.

"Must we wait for someone to be critically injured or killed before the State Highway Administration makes the light function at all times?" she wondered. "[We have] contacted the SHA and they claim they are reviewing the situation. Meanwhile, we await a tragedy."

Nancy Huggins also e-mailed about her concerns. "I was at a JV football game [recently]. When that game let out, everyone was trying to leave. So were all the people leaving the games, parents picking up kids from all the sports practices and the kids who were driving themselves home. This was approximately 6 p.m. And, I noticed that the elementary school was having Back-to-School night that night at 6:30 p.m.," she said.

"After waiting in the line at the light for about 20 minutes, when I finally got to make a left onto Route 216, some kid in a car with several others kids in the car did not want to wait, so he made a right turn only to make the first left into a driveway (not 50 feet down 216) and turn around to head the same way I was going to go. I think this is really unsafe," she said.

I forwarded their concerns to the SHA and provided Ms. Brownlie and Ms. Huggins some contact information. On Oct. 10, Kellie Boulware, a spokeswoman in SHA's Office of Communications, responded to their concerns.

"SHA's Traffic Division is currently reviewing this location as well as all other signalized school entrances along the SHA system in Howard County. The traffic engineering study includes determining if the current hours of operation at each location are still valid or may need adjustment based upon revised arrival/dismissal times at each location and if corresponding traffic volumes on the major street justify extended use of the signal," she said.

According to Ms. Boulware, the review will also examine the timing of before- and after-school activities and events at each location and how traffic flow along the intersecting major street affects traffic from the minor street at those times. "The evaluation will be completed at the end of October. If [your readers] have any concerns they would like to share, they may contact our District 7 Office at 301-624-8100," she said.

As I usually try to do, I forwarded the official response to everyone who had originally contacted me about the intersection.

Several days later, I heard again from Ms. Brownlie: "I received a letter from the SHA on Saturday, Oct. 11 stating that the light would be turned on starting Monday, Oct. 13," she explained. "I passed there, and in fact it is working, finally. Thanks for all your help. I have also sent many e-mails, talked to George Miller at the SHA, and sent letters. ... What a bureaucratic mess!" George Miller is a traffic engineer at SHA's District 7 Office, which covers Howard County.

Although I appreciate your thanks, I didn't do anything. Thanks should go to SHA and to yourself and your fellow parent activists. To SHA because the folks there fielded your concerns, started the evaluation and came up with what everyone agrees is the right answer: keeping the light functional at all times. To you and other parents for deciding that something needed to be done about the situation and not letting up until that something got done.

Nothing warms the heart like a happy ending.

What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at, send faxes to 410-715-2816 or mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 30 Corporate Center, 10440 Little Patuxent Parkway, Suite 820, Columbia, 21044. Please include your full name and contact information or your comments will not be published or receive a response.

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