Effort to end traffic clog; New road, turn lane proposed to ease jam at Ridge, U.S. 40; 'A long line of people'; Problem grew worse when supermarket opened last year


In an effort to reduce the heavy and sometimes dangerous traffic congestion at Ridge Road and U.S. 40 in Ellicott City, Howard County and state highway officials are completing plans to add a road and a second turn lane on Ridge Road.

Officials say the traffic problem grew worse when a Super Fresh opened Dec. 3 on Ridge Road. There were already townhomes, a Wal-Mart and an office building along the road. With the addition of food shoppers, the line of motorists trying to make a right turn from Ridge Road onto westbound U.S. 40 sometimes grows maddeningly long.

There is only one right-turn lane, and drivers are not permitted to go right on a red light onto busy U.S. 40. Another problem: The stoplight allows Ridge Road traffic a scant nine seconds.

Many motorists need to turn right because the entrance to U.S. 29 is just west of the U.S. 40-Ridge Road intersection.

"What generally happens is there is a long line of people waiting to turn," said John Concannon, assistant district traffic engineer at the State

Highway Administration. "The growth of that total immediate area has placed the burden on that intersection."

Customers and county officials say the intersection has become dangerous, prompting Super Fresh to hire off-duty Howard County police officers -- at a cost of about $1,500 a week -- to direct traffic during the weekend, said Sgt. Morris Carroll, a police spokesman.

Since Super Fresh opened, there have been seven accidents at or related to the intersection, Carroll said.

"It was terrible the first time I came here," said Hilda Randall, 63, of Silver Spring. "I was confused."

Super Fresh stores are visited, on average, by about 10,000 customers a week, according to a company spokesman, who declined to specify numbers for the Ellicott City store.

County officials and Super Fresh are to blame for failing to fully anticipate the traffic, says Joseph W. Rutter Jr., county planning and zoning director.

Before a store is built, its developer studies the impact the business would have on traffic, then makes the appropriate changes. But Mangione Family Enterprises, which studied the traffic impact for Super Fresh, made minimal changes, Rutter said.

"The burden lies on the developer. They have to bring [the road] up to a certain level," said Rutter. "In this case, it barely met the minimum level of capacity."

As Super Fresh drew new customers to Ridge Road, more people learned about Wal-Mart, which is new and not easily seen, Rutter said.

"We knew this [traffic capacity plan] was right on the edge," he said. "What I did not foresee was the apparent pickup of traffic at the Wal-Mart."

County and state officials are planning to add a second right-turn-only lane on Ridge Road this year. Metro Food Market -- which is scheduled to build and open a store behind Super Fresh -- will pay for the lane.

Adding the traffic lane -- and making the necessary signal modifications -- will cost Metro Food Market about $30,000, said Charles Dammer, chief of the development engineering division for county planning and zoning. Metro will also pay for construction of a new road, Executive Drive, which will run behind Super Fresh, and connect at Ridge Road on one side, with U.S. 40 on the other. Officials said they didn't know what Executive Drive will cost.

"This is hopefully the last piece of the changes," Dammer said.

Some Super Fresh shoppers, like Sandy Smith of Ellicott City, are changing the times they shop to avoid long lines.

"I wouldn't mess around with it if it weren't for the sales," said Smith, 33.

Pub Date: 2/17/99

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