County names 10 most dangerous intersections

Ridge Road at U.S. 40 tops the list again with 51 crashes

improvements planned at site

July 10, 2005|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,SUN STAFF

The intersection of Ridge Road and U.S. 40 in Ellicott City offers all of the suburban staples that clog roads -- a Wal-Mart, a Super Fresh, townhouses, a strip mall, unremarkable office buildings and an Asian food market.

Combine them with neighboring and rather confusing ramps onto U.S. 29, one of the county's most-traveled arteries, and the result is crashes -- a lot of them.

For the second year in a row, U.S. 40 and Ridge Road has lived up to its reputation as the site of more crashes than any other intersection in Howard County, tallying 51 last year, according to police data.

That is down six from the year before, but still 15 more than its closest competitor, U.S. 40 and Rogers Avenue, a block down the road.

If there is any good news in this, it is that Howard County police will install a red-light camera at U.S. 40 and Ridge Road this year after a long wait for permission from state officials, who maintain the crossing.

And in even better news for drivers secretly wishing that the crossing would implode, county and state officials are in the very early stages of planning its redesign.

When asked why it has taken so long to move forward with drastic changes, state and local officials said that the intersection's problems cannot be solved unless the web of ramps connecting U.S. 29 to U.S. 40 are also altered, a project that requires a lot of money and time -- and that, until now, has not been a top priority.

The county listed nine other projects, including the widening of Route 32, as more urgent needs last year, said David Buck, a spokesman for the State Highway Administration.

"There are also so many businesses right on top of Ridge Road and 40 that we're somewhat limited in the things we can do," he said.

Every year, local officials use crash statistics to make critical decisions -- from adding a red-light camera to installing larger signs -- about improving safety at intersections.

What they are looking to prevent are the most dangerous types of crashes, called "angled collisions." That's when the side doors, the least-protected part of a vehicle, are struck. Manipulating traffic patterns by lengthening signals, repositioning lights, installing roundabouts or adding turn lanes can reduce the frequency of these crashes.

By comparison, a redesign or a $75 fine for running a red light can do little to prevent distracted drivers from hitting other vehicles in the rear.

"The roads themselves aren't always dangerous, but the people driving on them are," said John Concannon, a traffic engineer for the highway administration.

Here is a list of some of the improvements scheduled or implemented at last year's high-crash intersections:

No. 2: U.S. 40 at Rogers Avenue.

This intersection will be part of the U.S. 40/Ridge Road redesign plan, Buck said.

Red-light cameras posted in both directions on U.S. 40 have cut eastbound angled collisions almost in half and reduced them by almost 30 percent traveling westbound. Crashes overall, however, decreased only slightly since the cameras' installation in the late 1990s.

"The numbers may not look dramatic, but considering that traffic passing through this intersection has increased, the reductions are very significant," said police Capt. Glenn Hansen, who oversees the county's automated enforcement bureau.

No. 3: Little Patuxent Parkway at Governor Warfield Parkway.

Crashes in the three directions with red-light cameras here have drastically fallen since police activated the cameras in 1998. Angled collisions in each direction have dropped between 44 percent and 58 percent.

No. 4: U.S. 1 at Route 175.

This intersection is part of a $1.2 million, 18-month planning study for Howard County's U.S. 1 corridor. Other intersections that might be improved include U.S. 1 at Guilford Road and at Corridor Road.

"The study is going to come up with a blueprint of what U.S. 1 could look like once the area is developed and how the county and state should proceed with the road improvements that will be necessary to accommodate the new growth," Buck said.

No. 5: U.S. 1 at Whiskey Bottom Road.

The state recently flattened a hill and straightened a curve here to improve visibility and reduce crashes at this intersection.

No. 6: U.S. 40 at North Chatham Road.

In the one direction with a red-light camera at this intersection, angled collisions have dropped by more than half in the past 62 months, and total crashes have decreased by 19 percent.

No. 7: Little Patuxent Parkway at Harpers Farm Road.

The county is planning to overhaul this intersection after traffic engineers videotaped it and discovered that most of the crashes were being caused by drivers turning left onto Harpers Farm Road from Little Patuxent Parkway.

By the end of the year, the left-turn signal should be better positioned, and other improvements will be made, said Mark De Luca, chief of the county's traffic engineering division.

The red-light camera here was turned off in January 2002 after crashes dropped to zero. Police, however, may reactivate it after improvements are finished, Hansen said.

No. 8: U.S. 1 at Montgomery Road.

State traffic engineers added a turn lane from southbound U.S. 1 to Montgomery Road last year, Buck said.

No. 9: Broken Land Parkway at Stevens Forest Road.

Total crashes on southbound Broken Land Parkway are down by 20 percent during the past 69 months, and angled collisions are down by 44 percent. Police turned off another camera at this site in January 2002.

No. 10: Broken Land Parkway and Snowden River Parkway.

Red-light cameras have reduced angled crashes in both directions on Broken Land Parkway by more than 60 percent.

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