For Len Marsh, the start of a new traffic pattern on Mountain Road yesterday meant that he was eating pancakes at Cookie's Kitchen four minutes earlier than usual.
"It's a blessing," Marsh said of the new project to ease traffic congestion by converting the center lane of the heavily traveled three-lane road in Pasadena into a reversible lane during rush hours. At 6: 30 a.m. yesterday, westbound motorists on Mountain Road were able to travel in two lanes from South Carolina Avenue to Route 100.
Sitting on a stool at Cookie's, Marsh said his regular eight-minute trip from his home off of Dock Road to the restaurant was cut in half.
"It cut three to four minutes off my time," Marsh said. "Traffic was flowing; I didn't see any backups."
Eliminating backups -- some as long as three miles -- was what state transportation officials had in mind when they designed the reversible lane system, similar to one on the Bay Bridge.
The state and Anne Arundel County shared the $1 million cost of the project, with the county contributing $385,000, according to a State Highway Administration spokeswoman. Expenses included 12 new signal lights, ground signs and painting new road stripes.
"The reason why we picked this system is that traffic is so directional -- people go west to commute," said Eric Tabacek, an highway administration division chief. "We can use the three lanes more efficiently by having two in one direction and one in the other."
During the evening rush hour, from 3: 30 to 7, the reversible lane will be used by eastbound traffic. At other times it will continue to be a two-way turn lane.
State and county officials have argued for years over how to handle the traffic problems of Mountain Road, where development has boomed in the past two decades.
Anne Arundel's state delegation has favored widening the road, the past county executive supported a bypass and some community residents -- fearing more development -- wanted no road improvements at all.
"It's always been an issue that residents of the peninsula have been divided on," said Del. John R. Leopold.
Elected officials and transportation planners are hoping that the reversible lane system may be an answer.
"It's not a perfect solution, it doesn't come without concerns," said state Sen. Philip C. Jimeno. "But if you don't have a lot of money for road construction, you have to figure out a way to move traffic.
"We're hoping that this short-term solution will be a long-term solution."
Yesterday morning, state transportation officials and some members of the county's legislative delegation stood at the side of Mountain Road, watching nervously as motorists inaugurated the reversible lane system.
Over the past few weeks, the highway administration distributed fliers to residents about the new traffic patterns. Electronic signs advised drivers to "stay alert." State troopers were posted at each end of the reversible lane section, and another trooper patrolled the stretch. Still, the traffic engineers, who had spent months on the project, were anxious.
"We want to make sure everything runs smoothly through here and Whoa, this guy put his blinker on; I thought he was going to turn," said highway administration project engineer Bob Ziemski as he observed traffic.
Except for a few confused eastbound drivers who entered the center lane to make left-hand turns, the reversible lane's morning debut went smoothly.
During the early part of the morning rush hour, drivers were slow to venture into the reversible lane. But a few bold drivers moved over, and others soon followed.
"Once you see one person in it, a couple of people will follow," said Tabacek. "It's like follow the leader, or lemmings, if you will."
When a driver in the reversible lane honked and gave the thumbs-up sign, highway administration officials cheered.
Del. Joan Cadden said many residents had told her they were worried about making a left turn against two lanes of traffic.
"But it seems to be working," Cadden said, as she watched drivers safely make left turns.
County police also reported a smooth evening rush.
Although state transportation officials and politicians seemed pleased with the new traffic pattern, residents were reserving judgment.
"Well, let's wait and see what happens, and how many accidents occur," said Mel Bristow, who lives on Forest Drive. "If you've got your blinker on [to make a left turn], you're going to tie traffic up."
Many residents, including Fred Wagner, didn't know that left turns are permissible in the reversible lane system. Wagner said he took the long way to his home on Fairwood Drive yesterday morning because of confusion.
"A lot of people are under the impression that you can't make a left-hand turn," said Denise Parlaman, who works in a Royal Farms store on the reversible lane stretch of Mountain Road, and had a good view of the morning traffic.
"There's no line," Parlaman said at 8: 45 a.m. "Normally, it would be a solid line. Traffic's cruising along. There's no doubt about it."
Many residents said they wonder how school buses and the additional traffic associated with schools will affect the new reversible lane system.
"So far, it seems to be OK," said Nancy King of Sillery Bay. "The determining factor will be when school starts."
Pub Date: 7/13/99