Exit from U.S. 29 to I-70 gets bad reviews


September 28, 2004|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

FOR SEVERAL weeks, the left-hand exit from U.S. 29 northbound to Interstate 70 west has been rotating our rotors. I haven't received a single positive comment about that relatively new exit, and I'm beginning to wonder if I'm the only one who likes it. But based on what you are saying, my opinions are changing.

Here is what James Price had to say this past week about the exit:

"As someone who travels U.S. 29 each day to and from work, let me tell you why this interchange is so dangerous," he said. "Prior to the construction of the left exit, only the right lane backed up. Now both lanes back up, and when I-70 is congested, U.S. 29 north backs up to U.S. 40, thus blocking access to I-70 east also."

One of the primary problems is last-minute lane switchers, he said. "Even when the backups are only a few cars, some drivers decide it's faster to jump from either the right or left exit to the other in order to save 10 seconds," Mr. Price said. "You don't know how many times drivers heading north on U.S. 29 are forced to slam on their brakes to avoid someone going from a complete stop in one exit to cross to the other."

Thus, vehicles attempting to enter U.S. 29 north from the eastbound I-70 exit find it difficult to get off the exit because of the traffic trying to get on the ramp to westbound I-70.

He also believes that drivers racing to cross the southbound lanes of U.S. 29 to get to the exit explains why drivers on U.S. 29 southbound are sometimes forced to slam on their brakes to avoid accidents. "As a resident whose back yard faces this safety hazard, I can tell you that there are many near misses at this interchange, and not only during rush hours," Mr. Price said. "This problem seems to get worse as time goes on."

I also heard from John Benson, who commutes daily through this stretch. Mr. Benson is convinced that the county "did not do its homework before planning and funding the left exit and the state did not care one way or the other about the result." He wondered what is necessary to undo the decision. "Will it take a fatality to return to the cloverleaf-only exit?"

"Seems to me that [there are] two options," he said. He believes these options include closing the offending exit permanently, or at least during evening rush hours.

I'd hate to see the left-hand exit taken away from us, but I liked Mr. Benson's second suggestion; it might offer a partial solution until a better design is developed.

Mr. Benson had one final comment. Last week, I stated my preferences for the left-hand exit, since in nonrush-hour traffic, I believe it provides a safer merging option onto I-70. "Regarding the merge speed on to I-70 west from the cloverleaf versus entrance ramp, it seems to me that the typical rush hour backup on I-70 would result in the through traffic moving at about the same speed as the cars trying to merge from the cloverleaf making any speed differences negligible," he said. "Thus the entrance ramp is not an advantage or even appropriate during the evening rush hour. The entrance ramp could remain open to northbound U.S. 29 traffic during all other times when it will allow vehicles to merge at the prevailing [higher] speeds."

Stop bar on Ten Oaks Road seen as problem by one driver

In another county versus state question, David Lawrence asked about a recently repaved portion of Ten Oaks Road near Route 108.

"The problem is that the white line on Ten Oaks indicating where to stop at the 108 light is the same for both lanes," he said. "Previously the line on the left lane was about 6 feet further back than the right. This was because Ten Oaks meets 108 at an acute angle. When long trucks turn left on to Ten Oaks, they need extra space to make the turn. While 18-wheelers are making that turn less frequently now that the Toyota dealership has moved, there are still large construction vehicles using the intersection."

I made the classic mistake, assuming that the markings in that intersection are county-maintained. I contacted Mark DeLuca, chief of traffic engineering for Howard County, who informed me that it is a state intersection. However, he did indicate that the stop bar at Route 108 and Ten Oaks Road was replaced about the same time of the repaving. "The stop bar was placed as it was shown on the approved traffic signal plan for the intersection and by aerial photography taken in 2002," he said.

I've forwarded these concerns to the State Highway Administration.

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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