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Route 3/301 exit marker on Beltway was sign of richer road era


Whatever happened to Route 3 and Route 301?

Aron Raskas remembers a time when the dual-name highway had its own exit on the Beltway. Seems like in those halcyon days America could afford highway signs that advertised not one, but two major thoroughfares.

Today, the same exit is "no longer marked like that," says Mr. Raskas, a city lawyer. "It just says I-97/Annapolis."

Naturally, Mr. Raskas is aware that the highway was upgraded and renamed to Interstate 97 a couple of years back. But isn't I-97 still the easiest way to get to either Route 3 or Route 301? He thinks they deserve the advertising.

For an answer, we turned to Larry Elliott, the State Highway Administration's assistant district engineer for traffic in Anne Arundel County and Southern Maryland. He says there's a logical rationale for the change.

First, a short history lesson: I-97 follows the path of what used to be called Route 3 and even before then, Route 301.

Today, Route 3 has been reduced to a veritable miniroad, running only between Route 32 and U.S. 50 in Crofton. Route 301 doesn't even go near Baltimore. It runs between the Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland.

But people's habits die hard. For a long time, Route 3 was advertised as Route 3/301 because a lot of people remembered the road as Route 301 (not just because it was the best way to get to Route 301). More recently, I-97 was billed as I-97/Route 3 for much the same reason.

A little more than a year ago, the Route 3 designation was dropped from the overhead exit sign on the Beltway. There are still two supplemental signs on I-695 advertising Route 301, but they're a mile or more before the exit.

The SHA could post more signs, but engineers fear information overload. The trend these days is to avoid confusing drivers with a lot of verbiage.

"If you're traveling at high speed, you never get past a third line of copy on a sign," Mr. Elliott says. "With too much information, you either miss it or you slow down suddenly -- which can be dangerous." Michael Sarbanes wants to draw the line(s) when he comes to 25th Street and Maryland Avenue.

Actually, he'd be perfectly satisfied if someone else drew them.

Mr. Sarbanes, who professes to be a lawyer, although no other character flaw was readily apparent from his recent letter, has witnessed numerous accidents at that intersection. He can see them from his office window.

The culprit? He thinks it's the lack of painted lines to indicate where cars are supposed to stop at the red light.

"This is in contrast to virtually every other major intersection on 25th Street or Maryland Avenue," Mr. Sarbanes writes. "As a result, cars on 25th Street proceed somewhat into the intersection before they stop. Cars turning left off Maryland Avenue sweep into them as they turn."

We forwarded his concern to the city's Public Works Department and by the time you finish reading this column, a work crew will be painting the lines (unless, of course, you rise before noon in which case, the guys probably still are sipping coffee and discussing the Orioles bullpen woes).

Vanessa Pyatt, a spokeswoman for the department, says the lack of lines was a simple oversight. The old ones probably wore out, or were wiped out by resurfacing. The new ones will be added today, maybe even with a crosswalk.

"It's standard procedure to have a stop line where there's a stop sign or traffic signal," she says. "I wish we had the time to survey each and every intersection for this kind of problem, but that's not possible."

Thanks to Mr. Sarbanes, we have at least one properly marked.

Right turn on red except when confused

Intrepid Commuter can never remember which is the better hand of poker, a flush or a full house.

This often leads to embarrassing midgame questions that generally discourage betting by opponents holding lesser hands. Not that we play for money. That would be wrong.

But we were reminded of those trying moments by a letter from a Bel Air resident who drives regularly through the intersection of Route 22 and Thomas Run Road, home of Harford Community College.

When turning right onto Route 22 from the direction of the college, she confronts a yield sign. The intersection is also controlled by a traffic light. So which holds sway?

"The sign causes total confusion, as sometimes drivers will not stop for the red light and think the yield sign supersedes the traffic signal," the reader writes. "I believe the yield sign only creates confusion."

While we don't wish to embarrass our reader, she's quite wrong. In this instance, the yield sign wins out.

For those unfamiliar with the turn, it's what the State Highway Administration refers to as a channelized right turn lane. In other words, it veers off to the right from the rest of the traffic.

Usually, such lanes are marked by concrete islands. This one is marked only by lines in the pavement.

At our request, SHA officials have agreed to study the intersection to see if it's causing confusion. There are only a handful of intersections around the state with a similarly marked channelized lane, says Chuck Brown, an SHA spokesman.

Incidentally, the SHA is adding a crosswalk to the same intersection this month and a pedestrian crossing signal in the next 60 days. The new fast-food restaurant across the street has been getting a lot of customers on foot.

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