Several options under study at Columbia intersection

TRAFFIC TALK

January 06, 2004|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

BRUCE PENN works in an office on Stanford Boulevard in Columbia. The street empties onto McGaw Road, between Dobbin Road and Snowden River Parkway. He sent an e-mail about this intersection: "[There are] three lanes at the stop sign, although the rest of this short road is only two lanes. The right lane must turn right, but the middle and left lanes can both turn left," he said.

"At 5 [p.m.] to 6 p.m., there are many vehicles leaving this area, and when there are two cars at a time turning left, the far left lane can't see to the right, especially if the middle lane is a truck or van. It definitely is a safety problem if you are turning left with another car to your right turning left at the same time, as happens to me frequently. Courtesy would suggest that drivers turning left use the left lane, and middle lane drivers not block their vision to the right by either not pulling up so far, or heaven forbid, not use the center lane to turn left, but courtesy is always only a suggestion."

To solve this problem, he recommended that the county paint big arrows in each lane, designating the right lane as right turn only, the left lane as left turn only, and the middle lane for going straight across.

According to Mark DeLuca, chief of the Howard County Department of Public Works' Traffic Engineering Division, his department has received several inquiries about the intersection recently. As a result, a traffic-volume and lane-usage study was conducted.

"When initially designed, the planners probably estimated greater traffic volumes from Stanford Boulevard onto McGaw Road. As a result, they designed the lane configuration as a dedicated left-turn lane, a center through lane with an optional left turn, and a right-turn lane ultimately controlled by a traffic signal. The signal and lane markings were to be installed once the growing traffic volume met design warrants for these devices," DeLuca said. "However, to date, the anticipated volume has not materialized. We have identified several workable solutions and are still considering all options, with your reader's suggestion being one."

Knowing the signs

Susan Butler recently sent an e-mail about signs on eastbound Interstate 70 that provide time estimates for reaching the Baltimore Beltway, noting that the sign after U.S. 29 usually states "under 4 min. to 695." In general, she likes these signs.

But, she said, "Although it is nice to know how long it will take to get to [Interstate] 695, the sign is placed at a location where I have no alternative to avoid the delay because there are no exits between the sign and the Beltway. Most mornings, I drive from 29 North to 70 East to the inner loop of the Beltway. I listen to traffic reports on two radio stations and make an educated guess as to which of two alternate routes will be the best choice if the main route is having problems. Sometimes, 70 eastbound is not mentioned in the traffic reports and I only find out about a backup when I am in it. Moving the sign prior to the [exit] ramp for I-70 [from U.S. 29] would give me the opportunity to act on the information the sign is giving me."

Unfortunately, according to David Buck, media relations manager for State Highway Administration's Office of Communications, Ms. Butler was not the prime audience for these signs. Three signs were placed by SHA along eastbound I-70: just east of Route 32, about 12 miles from the Beltway; 4 miles after that, just before U.S. 29; and just past the ramps from U.S. 29, about 4 miles from the Beltway. The signs, which were part of a federal grant, were removed last month. There were speed detectors on the signs, as well as two other sensors nearer the Beltway that provide the information to the signs.

I-70 was chosen as a test site, Buck said, because 98 percent of drivers on that stretch of I-70 exit at the Beltway.

"The last sign isn't intended to give detours, just inform about the time to the Beltway," Buck said. But if the sign just after Route 32 indicates an extensive backup, "it can provide drivers an opportunity to detour," he said. For the most part, he said, it helps for drivers to know if a backup is ahead of them. Sometimes, knowing that can calm a driver down, he said.

SHA is contemplating the feasibility of using this technology, although Buck noted that no additional funds exist for the signs. A report due in March will evaluate the signs' effectiveness and indicate whether they are worth using again, although anecdotally, it looks hopeful. "We received positive feedback via e-mail and in response to several broadcast stories," Buck said. "Most drivers agree [the signs] were very helpful."

What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at elison@us.net, 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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