Gateway and Boulton signals in Bel Air finally are red, yellow, green

The long debated and much anticipated traffic signal at Boulton Street and Gateway Drive in Bel Air behind the Harford Mall has finally been activated, but town officials acknowledged Tuesday there's more work to be done.

The signal, which is along a heavily traveled mile of Boulton Street between Tollgate Road and Route 24, was installed earlier this spring after years of back and forth between town officials, who questioned the need for it, and residents of the English Country Manor community off of Gateway, who said the need for the light was literally one of life and death because of the dangerous conditions of the intersection, which sits on the north side of Harford Mall and is adjacent to the Bel Air Athletic Club and other commercial developments.

After studying the traffic flows and trying a few stopgap measures, including trying to better time the lights on either side of the intersection at Tollgate and the entrance to Best Buy and other shops in the mall's north annex, town officials finally agreed last year that the Gateway light should be installed.

The town spent $85,000 to install the new signals, which is in addition to other money that was spent on earlier traffic control measures and studies. Unfortunately, as members of the Board of Town Commissioners learned at a work session Tuesday afternoon, more money is needed.

Public Works Director Randy Robertson explained that since the new signal was activated and "operating effectively," in his words, the public works staff decided the light a block east at Best Buy should have cameras installed to better synchronize it with the new light. The Best Buy light has a mechanical timer. Robertson said, however, the two lights won't work as well together because the new light at Gateway is controlled by cameras.

The cost of installing the cameras on the Best Buy light will be $11,418.50, which Town Administrator Chris Schlehr said the commissioners will be asked to approve as an addendum to the original installation contract.

Commissioner David Carey asked Robertson why the need for cameras wasn't considered when the project was first planned, and Robertson replied it was.

"We hoped we could get the mall to install them," he explained. "They said they would."

When the town went to mall management and obtained easements for the signal poles at Gateway and nothing more was said about the other light, Robertson said they just moved forward.

Carey and others at the staff meeting asked if the additional cameras were really needed? Robertson said they would make the two lights "fully automated."

"They will work without it [the camera detection], just not as well," he added.

Mayor Edward Hopkins said he hopes the cameras used to control the Best Buy light will be able to allow more motorists leaving Best Buy to turn left onto Boulton. He said the traffic coming from the "Woolworth's side" of the mall – the main mall building south of Boulton – has the right of way across into Best Buy, and traffic tends to queue up in the Best Buy lot during busy periods like the Christmas shopping season.

Both Robertson and Schlehr said the new detection cameras can be used to control the light, such as giving a delayed green for the traffic exiting Best Buy to turn left.

Robertson, however, added a word of caution, saying no matter what they do, "I don't want you to think on Black Friday or the week before Christmas traffic will just whiz back and forth with no problem."

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