In defense of the U.S. 29, I-70 interchange


September 21, 2004|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

RECENTLY, in response to complaints about the left-lane exit from U.S. 29 northbound onto Interstate 70 westbound, I stated that I preferred that exit over the other, cloverleaf-style option.

It's a very unpopular junction, I now know. Doug Dribben was the first - and politest - of many to respond. "Why is cutting across a major thoroughfare - U.S. 29 southbound - so much safer than curling around the cloverleaf? The cloverleaf requires that you slow down, but so does the yield sign at 29. Could you explain your comment in your next column, so we can understand?"

What a good suggestion, Mr. Dribben. And here's my explanation. I find the merge onto I-70 easier from the left exit because the design of the entrance ramp allows for merging on the highway at about the prevailing speed, whereas the cloverleaf side doesn't allow for paced acceleration and only allows a narrow window to merge.

As for cutting across U.S. 29: I don't find it dangerous at all, since, of course, I always wait for it to be safe to cross. I'm not one of those who'll race traffic and hope I get across first. (Neither am I one to wait an hour to be sure there are no cars within sight before crossing.)

He also wondered when I'd last been near that stretch of road during rush hour without encountering a backup. I was at that exit earlier this spring - say, the end of May? That's about how frequently I encounter that particular exit during rush hour. Usually I'm there on the weekends, when there aren't major backups.

"I think that if you traveled that stretch of 29 daily between 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. on workdays, you would understand my concern about it," Mr. Dribben countered. "The huge backups heading north result from both exits. I actually spoke with the state highway people, who admit that that was the result, but Howard County wanted to reduce the right lane backup. I believe that this is an example of the law of unintended consequences - the volume of traffic going from north on 29 to west on 70 hasn't changed, but with the southbound traffic on 29 holding up those who cross 29 as you do, and the constriction of a two-lane bridge on 29 north just south of that exit, you have a complete backup. And God forbid you try it when 70 westbound is backed up due to an accident."

Speaking of that pesky junction ...

Harry Ballantyne also shares concerns about that junction, but also offers another example of why unexpected debris in the roadway is so terribly dangerous. "[Your column] reminded me of an incident I experienced while driving west on I-70 in rush-hour traffic. I believe this happened at the westbound entrance ramp from Route 94, which I think is in the far western part of Howard County. But it probably would be more apt to occur at a place like the new left exit off 29 north onto I-70 west."

He explained that he was driving a small Honda Insight, 2000 model, which, he noted, is a car with very little underbody clearance.

"A car in front of me swerved to avoid what I soon recognized as a big section of truck tire, lying on its side. The truck tire section looked like it was about 12 feet long and 2 feet high (ok, maybe I am exaggerating, but only a little!). The truck tire section was right in front of me; it was too late to slow much from my speed of 65 mph; and I could not swerve to avoid it as the car in front of me had, because there were cars bumper to bumper in the lane to my left, and the entrance ramp was to my right with a car right by me entering I-70. So my only choice was to hit it head on at nearly full speed, my hands gripping the steering wheel as tight as I could to try to prevent the car from going out of control," he recalled.

"I was terrified. Fortunately the car did not waver, and it remained in my control. I did feel the impact of course, and I heard a strange persistent noise as I continued to drive afterward. So when I got to where I could stop safely, I got out and looked under the front of the car. Some panel under the car had been knocked loose, was dragging, and now needs to be repaired. I felt very fortunate that that seemed to be the only damage that resulted. So, I certainly agree that debris on the highway is a very dangerous hazard, and there are many sections of truck tires on the highways. I agree that the new exit off 29 north to I-70 west is hazardous, too."

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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