After viewing a 7 1/2 -minute videotape promoting European-style intersections, the county planning commission has asked the State Highway Administration to consider turning one of the county's busiest crossroads into a small traffic circle known as a roundabout.
County highway consultants have predicted that the Route 26-Route 32 intersection in Eldersburg will fail in about four years if nothing is done to improve it.
The range of possibilities for improving it is limited by the commercial development on the four corners of the intersection.
One possibility, which has residents and local officials cringing, would be to rebuild the intersection as a complex system of bridges and underpasses costing $100 million or more.
A roundabout would cost a fraction of that, would be safer and would allow more vehicles to move through the intersection more quickly, said Grant S. Dannelly, a planning commission member from Marriottsville.
"There is no better solution, to date, proposed by anyone else" to alleviate conditions at the congested intersection, Dannelly said.
"So far, nothing is being done" about the intersection, "but this can be done in the short term without waiting any longer," Dannelly said. "Only at peak hours would there be a traffic backlog, and that would be less than the backlog created now while waiting two to three minutes for a red light to change."
A roundabout would be "safer than any other intersection" at the crossroads and would be more economical, costing about $1 million, he said. And a landscaped traffic island in the middle of the roundabout would be "aesthetically more attractive than a multifunction signal light," he said.
Dannelly, after airing the Highway Administration's promotional videotape, proposed the roundabout at a recent joint meeting of the planning commission and the Freedom Area Citizens Advisory Council.
Planning commission Chairman Thomas G. Hiltz of Woodbine wrote to Thomas Hicks, the state highway traffic and safety director, asking him to "undertake a comprehensive review" of the Eldersburg crossroads "as a potential site for a traffic roundabout."
Hiltz asked Hicks to share the roundabout analysis with the planning commission at his "earliest convenience." Hicks told Hiltz that the study would be completed by the middle of next month and that the results would be shared with the planning commission then.
The Highway Administration's tape promoting roundabouts makes many of the points Dannelly does. It shows scene after scene of 40-foot-long trucks, cars and other vehicles moving smoothly through roundabouts in Maryland, Florida, California and Europe.
A narrator tells viewers, "Roundabouts are smaller [than traffic circles] and have to be negotiated at low speeds generally below 25 mph." Accidents are fewer and cause less damage, he says. In Europe, the decline in the number of accidents ranged from 35 percent in England to 78 percent in France, the narrator says.
Roundabouts allow more vehicles to pass through more quickly than do much larger traffic circles or intersections of similar size with traffic signals, the narrator says, because they have wider entries and "fewer conflict points."
Motorists entering a roundabout have to yield to traffic on the left only; in a conventional intersection, they might have to yield to traffic coming from as many as three directions.
"Usually, it is the intersections, not the roads between them, that are the bottlenecks," the narrator says.
A roundabout increases traffic capacity enough to make it unnecessary to widen the roads between the roundabout and nearby intersections, he says.
The five main advantages of roundabouts, the narrator says, are safety, capacity, economy, beauty and the environmental protection resulting from less air pollution because of shorter waits.
They offer "the type of control that should be considered when improvements are warranted," the narrator says.
Pub Date: 6/21/98