Route 31 is subject of traffic study

Teen's death draws attention to need for signal or roundabout

August 19, 2007|By Laura McCandlish | Laura McCandlish,SUN REPORTER

Friends and family wonder whether a roundabout or a traffic signal would have saved Charlie Diegel's life.

A college-bound senior, Diegel, 17, died at the scene when his car struck a dump truck at the Route 31 intersection with Tahoma Farm Road one morning in October 2006. Diegel's visibility was obscured by a school bus as he crossed Route 31 toward Old New Windsor Road, en route to Westminster High School.

Turning onto Route 31 during rush hour can be a dangerous endeavor for the Westminster residents who live in the neighborhoods north of the state road. Statistics show that accidents around the Tahoma Farm intersection have steadily increased in recent years, including three fatal crashes there since 2001.

Though the State Highway Administration had been eyeing this section of Route 31, concerns from residents and Westminster officials in the wake of Diegel's death drew attention to the road.

"That was kind of the catalyst to get the community organized and push for some more traffic controls there to minimize collisions," Westminster Police Chief Jeff Spaulding said.

Options including installing a roundabout or traffic signals along this stretch of Route 31 will be discussed as highway officials unveil a new safety study of the state road at a meeting in Westminster tomorrow night.

Traffic conditions have worsened as city subdivisions have expanded adjacent to the 55-mph road in the past 15 years, residents said. About 8,000 vehicles a day travel this section of Route 31, which forms an often congested four-way intersection with Tahoma Farm Road.

"You have such a continuous flow of traffic that it's difficult to enter a state road from a county road or a municipal one," said Carroll County Commissioner Dean L. Minnich, who lives off of Route 31 in the Wakefield Valley neighborhood. "The same problems exist on 31 that exist on every other artery in Carroll County."

Of the possible options, constructing a roundabout at Route 31 and Tahoma Farm would be the most costly, said John Concannon, the State Highway Administration's assistant engineer in the district that includes Carroll County. But roundabouts are effective, forcing drivers to slow down, he said. And, drivers entering the roundabout would only have to look to their left.

"With roundabouts, you have to look at the overall long-term benefit," said Concannon, who will speak at Monday's meeting. "You almost eliminate 80 to 90 percent of high-speed angle crashes."

Carroll County already has three roundabouts on state roads, and three more are under construction on the nearly $85 million Hampstead Bypass.

Minnich worries that during morning rush hour, cars from Tahoma Farm Road would struggle to enter a proposed traffic circle. At a cost of about $100,000 to $150,000 a piece, installing traffic signals on Route 31 at Tahoma Farm or Long Valley roads or both would be less expensive, Concannon said.

These Route 31 improvements aren't among the county commissioners' priority capital projects, which they and Carroll's state delegation will propose to the Secretary of Transportation John D. Porcari during a Sept. 19 meeting. That's because such safety improvements are funded by the State Highway Administration's separate "system preservation" budget, Concannon said. For this fiscal year, that budget is $452 million, up about $20 million from last year.

Crash data, travel speeds and 13-hour logs of vehicles turning onto Route 31 at Tahoma Farm and Long Valley roads will be reviewed as safety measures are examined during tomorrow's meeting. Other potential Route 31 improvements include upgraded warning signs and flashing lights, Concannon said.

Sometimes Charlie Diegel's mother, Denise Diegel, wishes officials would close that section of Old New Windsor Road across from Tahoma Farm Road, she said. That way drivers would be forced to either turn left or right on Route 31. Regardless of what changes are made, she hopes her son's death wasn't in vain.

"Now that people know what happened [to Charlie] they are much more aware of that intersection," she said.

laura.mccandlish@baltsun.com

The public meeting on the Route 31 traffic study will be tomorrow at 7 p.m. in the Carroll County Office Building, Room 003.

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