Eighth-graders at Mount View Middle School are learning that if they don't like waiting for their school bus to cross Route 32 in Sykesville, they don't have to put up with it.
More than 100 students are writing letters to the State Highway Administration, most of them lobbying for a traffic light at the intersection of routes 32 and 99.
"The main complaint is that it's definitely a safety hazard, coming out from Route 99 onto 32, said Thomas M. Saunders, a Mount View social studies teacher and leader of the eighth-grade teaching team. "To get a break in that traffic, you sit there for a long time, especially during rush hour."
"We make a left turn, and usually it takes about 4 minutes," said Caitlin E. Ring, 13, who lives near West Friendship. "We're kind of, like, waiting for an accident to happen."
One bus has been re-routed to avoid crossing the intersection, which adds more time to its trip, said Principal Marion J. Payne.
Establishing a cause and effect relationship between the letter-writing campaign and action on the intersection will be difficult, however.
The State Highway Administration is already conducting the second study this year to determine whether the intersection needs a traffic light.
The chief of the SHA's District 7 office in Frederick should expect to hear from Mr. Saunders' students soon.
By the end of this week, they will be sending more than 100 letters about the intersection and how it makes their bus trips longer.
Most of the letters will advocate installing a light, while a few students will mail dissenting opinions, Mr. Saunders said.
Concern about the intersection and the opening of the school in August prompted the new study, said Gene Straub, assistant district engineer for traffic at SHA's Frederick office.
"There's been quite a few letters and calls about it," Mr. Straub said.
-! If traffic conditions haven't
changed significantly since the last study, however, it is unlikely that a light would be installed. That study, done in the spring, came far short of the state standard of 52 cars per hour for eight hours approaching the intersection on Route 99. The worst traffic counted was between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m., with 83 trips on Route 99 approaching the eastbound stop sign.
"That was really the only hour that met the warrants," Mr. Straub said, adding that one other hour was in the 40 cars-per-hour range and the rest of the day was in the 20s.
The new study should be completed by the end of this month, Mr. Straub said.
If the state study comes up short of justifying a traffic light, county officials have asked that the state consider installing a roundabout, a modern version of the traffic circle. Although initially frowned upon by many Lisbon residents, the roundabout at routes 94 and 144 has been so successful at slowing speeders and easing traffic jams that county officials are asking for more.
Without enough traffic to warrant a light, says Ed Walter, chief of the county's traffic engineering division, the state should consider a roundabout.
"We passed along a suggestion from a couple of people that suggested a roundabout at that location," Mr. Walter said.
One of those people was County Councilman Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, who represents West County. He has said he was impressed with how well the roundabout worked in Lisbon, and wrote a letter to the county Public Works Department asking that a roundabout or traffic signal be considered.
"I think it might be good there, myself. I think it would serve to slow traffic down," Mr. Walter said. Slower traffic would be desirable because Route 32 turns into a divided highway just south of the Route 99 intersection.
Mr. Walter said that configuration tends to make traffic go faster.
"There's a lot of traffic there. . . . It's frequently difficult to get across it; you start taking chances," Mr. Walter said.
The heavy traffic on Route 32 may be precisely why state engineers would decide against a roundabout at the interchange, although it has not been ruled out or studied yet.
Generally, roundabouts are considered to be beneficial at intersections with slower traffic, more balanced traffic volume and a higher percentage of left-turning or straight-across traffic than the 32-99 interchange.
Route 32 has a speed limit of 55 mph at the interchange, while Route 94 in Lisbon had a speed limit of 45 mph. While traffic volumes were nearly equal in Lisbon, there are about 13,000 trips per day on Route 32, compared with about 1,500 trips on Route 99.