A road by any other name -- please


We dedicate today's column to the residents of Columbia, the men, women and children who must live each day in full knowledge that they possess the most ridiculous street names in the state of Maryland.

Can you imagine applying for a loan to buy property on Woven Moonbeam? Signing a check that listed your address as Triple Feather? Writing a resume with the street name April Day Garth at the top?

What about summoning police or firefighters to an emergency on Satan Wood Drive or The Bridle Path? Would the authorities actually show up or just roll on the floor laughing?

Intrepid Commuter sympathizes with the plight of these unfortunate Howard County denizens. No group of people, no matter how affluent or liberal-leaning, should be burdened with such silliness.

Thus, it brings us some joy to share two stories today regarding traffic movement in Howard County. Both have happy endings.

The first comes from Theresa Williamson, who works and lives in Columbia. Each day, she must make a left turn from eastbound Route 175 to northbound 108 to get home, and it's become a problem (the turn, that is, not the home).

It's a combination of factors: A. Many cars trying to turn left. B. A left-turn lane that is quite short. C. A very brief left-turn arrow.

As a result, cars back up into the left lane of 175, and it may take three cycles of the light to get past the intersection, Mrs. Williamson tells us.

"We have to drive like elephants in the circus, nose to tail, nose to tail, because if you get a three-car gap in the line, that's three cars that won't make the light," she says.

As it turns out, State Highway Administration employees have been studying the predicament. And they're making changes primarily because of complaints from people like Mrs. Williamson.

They've increased the duration of the left-turn arrow between 4:45 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. The arrow will remain green for 25 seconds instead of 15. Also, they have decided to expand the left-turn lane from one lane to two -- a project that should be completed by June.

But perhaps most important, they are testing a computer system that will control five traffic lights on Route 175 from Route 108 to Thunder Hill Road. The computer, which is at Snowden River Parkway and Route 175, will control the timing of the signals based on traffic volume.

That means that if a lot of cars are trying to make that left turn, the left arrow may last a bit longer to accommodate them.

Our second Howard County inquiry comes from Jim in Ellicott City, a SunDial caller, who wanted to know more about the timetable on the interchange being built to replace the congested intersection of U.S. 29 and Route 103.

But wait, that's not his question.

Rather than take up the valuable time of the Intrepid Commuter, he tried calling the State Highway Administration directly using the toll-free number he saw posted at the intersection. But the call wouldn't go through from his office in Virginia, and when he tried from home in the evenings, there was no answer.

So here's his query: "Why does the SHA post an 800 number and nobody answers the phone and it's not accessible from D.C. or Northern Virginia?"

Chuck Brown of the SHA's public affairs office confirms that the agency's (800) 323-MSHA number is accessible only from telephones in Maryland on weekdays from 8 a.m to 5 p.m.

The limited calling area was chosen to control costs. But the agency soon plans to get a nationwide number because it appears one would not cost much more, Mr. Brown says.

Tales of Commuter Woe Aren't Woeful Enough

While hesitating to criticize our readers, the Intrepid One has so far been unimpressed with your commuting horror stories.

Two weeks ago, we asked you to send in examples of the worst commutes in Maryland. We wanted details of the longest, most arduous trips you face each day for the sake of a paycheck. Well, perhaps we should have warned you that the Intrepid Commuter's own 80-mile-plus commute crosses three counties, a major city, and four miles over the nation's largest estuary. We don't want to hear from people who have it much easier. The comparison is too depressing.

There's still time to write. Remember, distance is not the only factor. If you transfer between three bus lines, for instance, that may be just as horrific as driving two hours.

As usual, we prefer to receive letters; legible ones are the very best. We plan to summarize our findings in a forthcoming column.

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