Route 22 needs small-scale improvements to help with traffic flow, even though eventually it will need to be a four-lane or even six-lane highway – and a Churchville bypass, Harford County Planning and Zoning Director Pete Gutwald told the Harford County Council Tuesday.
Long the bane of drivers traveling between Bel Air, Harford Community College, Churchville and Aberdeen, permanent solutions for the highway's near gridlock conditions on many weekdays have been elusive.
"You may see some things in this study that may seem to you a little absurd but it is not out of the realm of things that have been done in other jurisdictions," Gutwald said as he presented findings of the Route 22 Multimodal Corridor Study during Tuesday's council meeting in Bel Air. Gutwald said he is also presenting the study to groups and organizations around the region, including the State Highway Administration.
His department, along with the public works department, commissioned a "road safety audit" to look at alternatives to traditional road improvements, Gutwald explained.
He said he told the contractor: "Don't do some traffic counts, some traffic projections and tell me I need a four-lane roadway."
Part of the audit included attempts to figure out where the traffic on Route 22 is actually going.
"When we first approached this project, we thought it was a Bel-Air-to-Aberdeen and Aberdeen-to-Bel-Air kind of issue," he said, explaining that was not the case when they looked at the morning and evening peak periods.
Only 20 percent of the traffic that left the Route 543 area reached Aberdeen Proving Ground and, during the evening rush, only 10 percent of the traffic was going from APG to Bel Air.
One proposal was looking at Harford Community College, which was "obviously a bottleneck" at certain points of the day, Gutwald said.
The county could look at the college's class schedules and consider ways to adjust traffic flow based on peak class hours, he said.
Transit is not a realistic option for most drivers in the area, he said.
"There's not necessarily a critical mass there," he said about mass transit.
The county can, however, focus on education and awareness about transit, which Harford Transit, the county-run bus service, is already doing, Gutwald said.
Other short-term improvements that could happen by 2020 include "small geometric improvements" like making the existing road safer.
A high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane starting east of North Post Road was one such proposal, Gutwald said.
It would make one lane an HOV lane in the morning only for drivers going into APG, he said.
The county could also work with businesses and property owners along Route 22 to reduce the accidents that keep occurring.
Some improvements will take more work and are on the schedule for 2020 to 2030.
"Route 155 and 136 is a very interesting intersection, to say the least," Gutwald said, explaining the intersection in Churchville will "definitely" fail in the future, as a 40 percent increase is predicted in that section.
"It was boggling a lot of us to look at some of the projections in the future," he said.
The county is proposing "basically a Churchville bypass," and Gutwald presented several variations on how that could look, including eliminating left-hand turns so drivers have to use roundabouts to "turn left."
"Ultimately, we realize there's going to be continuation of four-lane highway or even six-lane highway," he said.
Gutwald will make the same presentation in Aberdeen on Nov. 19, at a joint meeting of the city's planning board and city council.
He said the Havre de Grace City Council was not interested in receiving the presentation.
Council president Billy Boniface said low-cost solutions are definitely needed, and tied the roadway into the discussion of traffic on Route 924, where the proposed Bel Air – Plumtree Walmart is going.
"It seems like every time you go there [on Route 22], there's another accident in that intersection and what do we do? We just keep adding more developments to the intersection without any major improvements," Boniface said. "We have to look at, this is a major problem for public safety in this area."
"It's going to need a lot of work to get done so everyone has to work together in a respectful manner," he said. "I suggest working together instead of separately."
The State Highway Administration recently made improvements to the Thomas Run Road intersection by HCC and is planning to widen and improve most of the Route 22 intersections in the Aberdeen area, as part of BRAC funding.
The project work has drawn fire from some Aberdeen residents who stand to lose their homes.
Boniface also noted the "talk in the press about the current Walmart" but said once again the issue is much larger than Walmart.
He said he had dinner with his in-laws in that area this evening "where there are signs up and down the road, illegally I think, Mr. [Councilman Jim ] McMahan, according to your rules."
Boniface was referring to McMahan's recent legislation to force the removal of temporary roadway signs.
"This has nothing to do with Walmart. This has to do with what is proposed there in that traffic system and what it will put on a road system that is failing without any significant road improvements planned," Boniface said.
Boniface encouraged those in the audience to work with the county executive on the Walmart controversy.
"The county executive has about 100 times the resources that this council has to look at these problems and come up with solutions," he said.
"I hear quite often, 'It's the law; they're permitted to have it.' Well, then there's something wrong with the law and we've gotta fix the law," he said.