The State Highway Administration's experimental "roundabout" in Lisbon is working so well that a committee of Lisbon-area residents voted last night to make the temporary traffic circle a permanent fixture.
Just to be sure, however, the administration will schedule another meeting to gauge residents' reaction to the traffic circle before going ahead with the project at the intersection of Routes 94 and 144. Officials say the circle will reduce frequent broadside collisions at the intersection.
The committee voted 7-1 to make the roundabout permanent.
Committee members said the key to their approval was that despite some motorists' failure to yield properly, nearly all vehicles are going through the intersection more slowly.
"The traffic slows down and that makes it safer and that makes it a success," said Gene W. Mullinix, who owns a local agricultural business.
"I've only had about three or four calls that object to it," said Howard County Councilman Charles C. Feaga, a Republican who represents the western county.
Dale Ashwell of Ashwell's Bus Service said he drove one of his school buses around the circle three times in a row, and neither he nor any of his drivers have had any trouble negotiating it.
The circle, which was installed April 12, works something like a revolving door.
Approaching vehicles yield to traffic already in the roundabout and then proceed.
The one member of the committee to vote against the permanent structure was Lynne Gaither-Miller, who lives on Route 144 just west of the roundabout.
She said she is often forced to wait for other motorists who speed through the circle and don't appear willing to yield right-of-way. Ms. Gaither-Miller said some of the speeders almost hit her car.
"If I had not been cautious and slammed on my brakes, I'd be dead right now," she said. "They were blasting through."
She said she sees no improvement over the previous traffic configuration, and like other Lisbon residents, resents the fact that the SHA did not offer an alternative to the roundabout.
Mr. Mullinix acknowledged that "there's always going to be an idiot" but because of the circle, "everybody's watching each other" and thereby avoiding accidents.
"The initial observations that we've had showed that it operated very well," said Gene Straub, SHA assistant district engineer for traffic.
Although there have been no accidents reported to SHA by county police, residents at the meeting reported a "fender bender" Friday night caused by a motorist who apparently failed to yield to someone already in the circle.
This appears to be the only major trouble with the device, Mr. Straub said, noting that about 15 percent of motorists observed using the roundabout failed to yield.
Committee members agreed to request more police patrols at the roundabout to ticket motorists who fail to yield.
Traffic engineers have touted roundabouts as an ideal way to provide relief for congested intersections in the future. Europeans have found them safer and more efficient than intersections controlled by traffic lights.
The Lisbon intersection has been diagnosed as having a high accident rate, with 40 collisions in five years, even though Routes 144 and 94 are traveled lightly there.
It is currently controlled with a stop sign and flashing yellow and red lights.