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More people, more traffic, same streets

September 08, 2005|by DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ and TARA REILLY

WASHINGTON COUNTY

daniels@herald-mail.com

tarar@herald-mail.com

With or without a new hospital near Robinwood Medical Center, the intersection at U.S. 40 and Edgewood Drive would be clogged with traffic and require upgrades, Washington County Public Works Director Gary Rohrer said.

The intersection is "failing morning and evening," Rohrer said. "You'll easily sit through a couple of light cycles before you get the opportunity to make your turning movement."

Similar problems can be found elsewhere in Washington County, as a swell in traffic from a growing population congests major intersections and roads on a daily basis.

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Millions of dollars in improvements are planned for the busiest intersections and roads, but when the work is completed depends on when and how much money is available for the projects, Rohrer said.

The State Highway Administration, the county and the City of Hagerstown have agreed to upgrade the U.S. 40/Edgewood Drive intersection, part of a project that is estimated to cost $11 million.

The improvements include reconstruction of the Edgewood Drive and U.S. 40 intersection to better handle traffic, such as reworking the traffic signals and turning movements, Rohrer said.

The county's fiscal years 2006-2011 Capital Improvement Program (CIP) states the project is intended to "provide additional road capacity resulting from continued development in this area."

Rohrer said a plan to build a new Washington County Hospital near that intersection, off Robinwood Drive, isn't driving the need for the upgrades.

"It's not the hospital. You could put the hospital in another location and this project would still cry out for attention," Rohrer said.

State Highway Administration statistics show that 30,000 vehicles per day travel along U.S. 40 at that intersection, but project that number could be double in 10 years.

At another congested intersection - Halfway and Massey boulevards - the county plans to revamp the traffic signals and make other improvements.

Rohrer said it's not unusual for motorists in the turn lanes to deal with lengthy waits for the turn signal.

"Halfway at Massey is a project that is long overdue. There's been substantial growth in the volume there, which is good for the economy," but not without resultant traffic congestion issues, Rohrer said.

"The congestion there is virtually a matter of the number of lanes and the signal length."

The project is expected to cost $4.7 million, up from about $3 million as originally planned.

"It's been brewing, probably, for the better part of 10 years," he said of the congestion problems. "We couldn't put it into the CIP because we had limited funds. We've had to spread this project out, as we've had for several of these."

The county has targeted several other busy roads for improvements.

They are:

- Maugans Avenue

"It's basically a capacity issue of the volume of traffic that's on it, a volume we project to increase with the pace of development," Rohrer said.

Plans are to reconstruct the roadway from two lanes to five, including a center turn lane. The estimated cost is $5.25 million.

"I had hoped that we would be able to go to construction this fall, but that's not going to happen because we don't have all of the rights-of-way and easements in place," Rohrer said.

- Eastern Boulevard

Originally built to move traffic along, "Eastern Boulevard has become congested with growth and development," Rohrer said.

Much of the congestion, he said, occurs as the road hooks around toward Northern Avenue. The county and city plan to extend the boulevard to connect with Marsh Pike and Leitersburg Pike, a $5 million project.

The jurisdictions plan to split the cost, according to the county's CIP.

The anticipated completion date is 2011, because that's when it fits in the county's budget, Rohrer said.

"Thats when it fits financially. We can't allocate funds if we don't have them," he said.

- Longmeadow Road

The county plans to widen Longmeadow Road to three lanes, including a center turn lane, from Pennsylvania Avenue to Marsh Pike.

The $2.3 million project is expected to be completed in 2008.

"We see a fair amount of Pennsylvania traffic in those feeder roads into Longmeadow Road," Rohrer said. "It's not just Pennnsylvania traffic that is impacting it, but it's the growth along the northern side of Hagerstown that is driving this need."

- Marsh Pike at Longmeadow Road

At a little more than $1 million, Washington County plans to add turning lanes and reconstruct the traffic signals to ease capacity problems, according to the county CIP.

Rohrer said the problems at the intersection are a result of traffic turning into Paramount Elementary School.

Rohrer said the county would like to build "Southern Boulevard," which would connect Frederick Street (Alternate U.S. 40) to Edgewood Drive and divert traffic from Funkstown.

The boulevard would give motorists an easier connection to destinations such as Prime Outlets Hagerstown and Valley Mall, he said.

The problem is that there's no telling when or if the expensive project will be undertaken.

"We've been trying to get interest in this project for about 15 years," Rohrer said.

"At this point in time, with what needs to be done, it's very easily in the $25 million range," he said.

The project would require federal funding and would include constructing a bridge over Antietam Creek and surrounding wetlands, he said.

In addition, county officials hope to spend $5 million a year over the next five years to improve many of the county's roads.

Rohrer said the roads weren't built to accommodate the type of volume they're handling now.

"The roads, they have never been designed, they just evolved," he said.

"Our county highway system has evolved to the point that, with it ... there have been a variety of Band-Aids to stop the bleeding," Rohrer said. "What we're talking about is major surgery."

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