Five intersections in Towson area earn failing grades in annual county survey

Problems are longstanding, but no solutions in sight

  • Enlarge) The intersection of Falls Road at Joppa Road is one of five intersections in greater Towson -- and one of seven overall in the county -- that has received an "F" rating in the county's evaluation. The intersection has held that distinction since 2003. (Photo by Brendan Cavanaugh)
Enlarge) The intersection of Falls Road at Joppa Road is one… (Photo by Brendan Cavanaugh )
February 16, 2011|By Steve Schuster sschuster@patuxent.com

TOWSON — Five of the seven county intersections considered failing during rush hour are in the Towson area, but county officials say commuters used to congestion at those intersections shouldn't expect relief anytime soon.

Last month, a memo from county traffic and public works officials offered a 2011 update on the list of F-rated intersections in the county -- and included familiar sites in the Towson area.

The seven are:

* York Road and Burke Avenue, Towson.

* Falls Road and Seminary Avenue, Towson.

* Falls Road and Greenspring Valley Road, Towson.

* Falls Road and Joppa Road, Towson.

* Loch Raven Boulevard and Joppa Road, Loch Raven.

* Harford Road and Putty Hill Avenue, Parkville.

* Frederick Road and Bloomsbury Avenue/Ingleside Avenue, Catonsville.

Of the local intersections, the three intersections on Falls Road have been rated at an F grade since 2003.

The intersection at Loch Raven and Joppa Road has been rated an "F" since 1998 and the York/Burke intersection has been at either E or F since 2001.

Intersections are graded on a scale of A through F based on a percentage of instances when all the vehicles waiting at a red light get through -- or don't -- when the light turns green. Counts are taken during morning and afternoon rush hours.

An F rating means that on at least one side of the intersection, cars waiting in line can't make it through a green light before it turns red again between 86 percent to 100 percent of the time.

The county's Bureau of Traffic Engineering and Transportation Planning reviews traffic congestion patterns at all intersections receiving a grade of C or better every three to four years.

Intersections receiving a grade of D or worse, however, are reviewed annually.

But of the county's seven F intersections, only one is scheduled for improvements that might ease congestion or increase traffic capacity.

The intersection of Harford Road and Putty Hill Avenue is slated for a $1 million widening that will add a turning lane from Putty Hill Avenue onto Harford Road from both west and eastbound directions, according to Stephen Weber, chief of traffic engineering in the county's Department of Public Works.

That project, which has already received funding approval, is slated to start early 2012.

There are no plans in the works for the other F-rated intersections. Weber also said the county has tweaked the timing of the lights as much as possible to try and ease rush hour flow.

Fifth District Councilman David Marks, who represents Towson, Perry Hall and Loch Raven, said he's concerned about the congestion and safety related to the F-rated intersections.

"These intersections tend to be less safe, and I think congestion has a crippling effect on the local economy," said Marks, who before joining the council had more than a decade of experience in transportation agencies, including stints with the Federal Highway Administration, the Maryland Department of Transportation, the office of the U.S. Secretary of Transportation and others.

"I think these (failed intersection projects) are very important, but we just have limited money right now," he said.

Trish Mayhugh, president of the Riderwood Hills Community Association, said failing intersections concern her because of their impact on community life.

"These are intersections that you try to avoid at rush hour," Mayhugh said. "It will back up for blocks and blocks."

"What you have is a wide boulevard, a Towson bypass coming to grips with the old sections of Towson," Mayhugh said.

"I can't see them being able to do much about it," she said. "Burke and York can't be widened."

Traffic flows, money doesn't

Weber said there is a huge "unmet need of state road projects" in the county, but "there is nowhere near the amount of money needed."

Weber said some congestion stems from Beltway traffic spilling onto county roads in the Towson area. For instance, three failing intersections in Towson are on Falls Road at the intersections of Joppa Road, Seminary Avenue and Greenspring Valley Road -- all within a mile stretch just north of the Beltway.

He said Beltway expansion could relieve some of that, but plans have been stalled for decades.

"I remember sitting in state meetings back in the 1980s for the preliminary expansion design plans for the Baltimore Beltway," he said.

Charlie Gischlar, a spokesman for the State Highway Administration, said several bridges over the Beltway have already been replaced -- including York Road, Dulaney Valley Road and others. The $38 million Charles Street bridge replacement project is nearing completion.

Gischlar said bridges needed to be replaced due to age -- but the state also widened the bridges in the event funds become available for a Beltway expansion.

Marks suggested the county should develop a strategy for addressing the intersections once the fiscal situation improves.

"We have got to be developing benchmarks now so when the economy improves ... we are pouring that money in schools and roads," he said.

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