Residents seek fix for problem intersection; 'Misfunction junction'causing stress, anxiety among homeowners


Traffic engineers have their own term for an intersection with a built-in problem: a "misfunction junction."

The residents of four homes on Hampshire Road face such an intersection every day at the end of their street: a traffic signal that serves the other three directions of traffic but turns a blind eye to them.

The signal was not meant for their road, but for the entrance to the Black & Decker Corp. plant on Route 30 just south of Hampstead, and it is about 30 feet off center from Hampshire Road.

Instead of looking for a green light, Joseph Armentrout watches for a chance to dart out between cars into traffic.

"You gotta pretty much just take it," said Armentrout, who has learned to watch for just the right moment to drive out, sneaking between green lights.

He and his neighbors guess it can only get worse once Sweetheart Cup Co. builds a new distribution center on the land north of the Black & Decker plant. Sweetheart is expected to add 80 to 125 tractor-trailers a day to the already congested Route 30, although those trucks are supposed to be on the road during off-peak hours.

The Hampshire Road residents vary in their reaction. The Armentrouts accept the situation. But Herbert Hewlett, who lives next door, said he is mad enough to move out of state.

"I've waited as long as 20 minutes to get out of my road," Hewlett said.

Hewlett won't accept the argument that a private road for four homes doesn't warrant a light.

"I pay state taxes. I pay a lot of taxes," Hewlett said. "Shopping centers are private roads, and they get lights."

By next summer, he said, he'll be among the growing number of Pennsylvania residents who drive on Maryland highways to get to work. He's planning to buy a house near Gettysburg.

"And then Maryland won't get any of my tax dollars," he said.

Mailbox danger

Joe Armentrout knew what he was getting into when he and his wife bought the house two years ago, and they say the good outweighs the bad. They like their small road: there is little traffic -- once you're on it -- and their daughter can ride her bike safely. But Charlotte Armentrout won't let her daughter go out to get the mail from their box on Route 30, where 700 cars per hour drive by during the peak commuter rush hours and even on Saturdays.

Hewlett said all the state needs to do is turn the light slightly and install a signal that would turn green for the Hampshire Road residents when they need to pull out. Maybe, he said, Sweetheart Cup would be willing to pay for it.

State and county officials are still mum on how much state or county money is going into the deal. Jack Lyburn, economic development director for Carroll County, said he cannot comment on packages until they are complete and go before the state Legislative Policy Committee.

But one thing is for sure: The state is not going to put in a light for four homes, said David Buck, a spokesman for the State Highway Administration. In fact, he said, the state didn't even put in the one that's there. Black & Decker paid to have it installed, he said, some- time before 1970.

Hewlett, Armentrout and their neighbors look for the moment when the traffic on Route 30 has a red light, before the Black & Decker traffic enters the intersection. If the Black & Decker traffic is only a few cars, the Hampshire Road residents have a chance to pull out before Route 30 gets a green light.

It doesn't always work, said R. Davidson Basler, the Armentrout's next-door neighbor. Sometimes the southbound traffic on Route 30 pulls up so close to the light to stop that there isn't room to pull out, said Basler, a retired milk truck driver. So they wait for another light cycle.

"Some people are very kind and will let you out, and some are not so kind," said his wife, Loretta, a teacher.

A skill to master

Hampshire Road is about 30 feet north of the entrance to Black & Decker. It's close enough to almost pass for an intersection, but off center enough to throw off a driver. And while the light can still help Hampshire Road residents get in or out of their street, it is only after they have learned the art of darting out at just the right moment.

"We have that skill mastered, and we haven't been hit, which is great," said Loretta Basler. But her daughter's car was once rear-ended on Route 30, while waiting to turn left onto Hampshire Road.

While 80 to 125 more trucks at off-peak hours might seem like a drop in the bucket, the fact that they're tractor-trailers makes them more disruptive than as many cars.

The effect of a tractor-trailer is comparable to about two or more passenger cars, said Tom Hicks, director of traffic safety at the State Highway Administration.

Ken Decker, town manager for Hampstead who worked as a traffic expert in Spokane, Wash., said tractor-trailers are more disruptive because of their size, their slower acceleration rate and their inability to veer around a car in front of them that has stopped to make a left-hand turn. While such a move isn't legal, a lot of automobile drivers do it to keep traffic moving. But a truck cannot, Decker said, and a truck is so long that it prevents cars behind it from steering around on the shoulder.

Decker, who was the coordinator for the Congestion Monitoring System in Spokane for two years, said the effect of trucks is magnified when there are stoplights.

"They take a little while to get going, and they take a little while to stop," he said. "They have more of a buffer around them. People don't want to get as close to them, and they don't want them tailgating them."

Pub Date: 10/18/99

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