State rejects traffic light for South High

November 24, 1996


Staff Writer

Despite pleas from parents, school officials and politicians to install a traffic light at South Potomac Street and the entrance to South Hagerstown High School, state highway officials have decided to take a less expensive route to ease congestion and safety problems at the intersection.

The decision was based on the findings of a recent study of the problem area, which showed a signal isn't warranted, said Kyle Liang, a traffic engineer in the Maryland State Highway Administration's Hagerstown office.

Instead, engineers recommended changing the timing on the nearby traffic signal at Emma K. Doub Elementary School and re-marking South Potomac Street to create a bypass lane, an acceleration and deceleration lane, and a crosswalk, he said.


The solution will cost far less than putting in a traffic light, said Liang, who said the average cost of installing a timed signal at an intersection was running around $160,000 two years ago.

The cost of converting the intersection's current blinking light system to a timed traffic light set-up would have to be determined by a design request.

But cost is only one factor, Liang said. Putting in a light where it isn't warranted creates other problems.

To determine if a signal should be installed, the study used the 11 criteria outlined by the Federal Highway Administration, Liang said.

Only one of the criteria - which include traffic volume, the number of pedestrians crossing the road, the number of students who walk to school, the wait to make a turn and the number of accidents per year - needs to be met to warrant putting in a traffic signal, he said.

Liang said he agrees there is a congestion problem before and after school, based on the study findings and his own observation.

However, the worst of it - starting when school lets out at 3:30 p.m. - lasts only 10 minutes, he said. And the accident rate at the intersection is low.

South Hagerstown High School Principal Richard Martin said he realizes the congestion is short-lived, but it's still a major safety concern for both walking students and motorists and should be adequately addressed.

While it falls short of his goal, Martin said he's hopeful the state's solution will work.

"They're experts, supposedly, and they've come up with a plan they want to try," he said. "We hope that it will make it safer. We'll just have to wait and see."

The REBS parent activist group was shooting for a traffic light, said REBS member Janet Emral Shaool, who has two children at South Hagerstown High School.

However, Shaool said she's glad to see state highway officials taking some positive action.

"I have high hopes that it's going to relieve some of the congestion and it's going to be safer," said Shaool, who wrote letters to Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, and state highway officials requesting another look into the traffic signal request.

The timing on the traffic signal at Emma K. Doub has already been changed to lengthen the red light and give people more time to turn out of the high school entrance onto South Potomac Street, Liang said.

South Potomac Street is scheduled to be re-marked as soon as weather conditions permit, he said.

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