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Study: Intersection near YMCA has problems

June 10, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN -- With a steady flow of rush-hour traffic zipping past, no stoplight and a sharp bend a few hundred feet away, turning onto Eastern Boulevard from the Hagerstown YMCA parking lot or the residential street across from it presents a challenge that one area resident calls "a fatality waiting to happen."

"I don't go that way anymore," Chimneystone Court resident Jeffrey Spickler said. "I'm scared to."

Spickler recently conducted an e-mail campaign to alert the Washington County Commissioners, state legislators and others about conditions at the intersection. His efforts prompted a Washington County traffic engineer to recommend several changes, including a reduced speed limit on that stretch of Eastern Boulevard and a restriction on left turns onto Eastern Boulevard from Chartridge Drive during rush hour.

A traffic study of the intersection showed it did not meet the criteria required by the Federal Highway Administration before a traffic signal can be installed, but the study did reveal visibility problems, heavy traffic volume and speeds too high for the sight distance available to turning cars, Washington County Public Works Director Joseph Kroboth III said.

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YMCA users said they struggle with the intersection during rush hour. Swim coach Allen Burch, 55, said he guessed it takes him about three minutes, on average, to make a left turn out of the YMCA when he leaves at 5 p.m.

Pamela Click, 29, said she stopped trying to make left turns when she picks up her daughter from summer camp at the YMCA.

"It was difficult," she said. "If you do get a break, you've got to squeal really fast to get there 'cause they are flying."

Kroboth said the ultimate solution to those problems is a planned extension to Eastern Boulevard that will reroute it behind the YMCA and the Stonehouse Square shopping center and connect it to Marsh Pike at Leitersburg Pike.

It is projected the extension would cut traffic nearly in half on the portion of the current Eastern Boulevard that runs in front of the YMCA, according to a project study.

Funding limitations have forced the county to push the extension project back to 2016 in the county's capital improvement plan, Kroboth said.

Much of the funding for the extension is to come from excise tax revenue, which is down significantly due to the state of the economy, Kroboth said. In addition, the county still is working to obtain the necessary rights of way, he said.

The recommended changes are designed to improve the safety of the intersection until the extension can be built, Kroboth said.

The changes recommended by county traffic engineer Merle Saville are:

o Reduce the speed limit on Eastern Boulevard from 40 mph to 30 mph for about 600 feet to either side of the intersection.

o Post large, conspicuous speed limit signs.

o Post signs warning drivers of the intersection ahead.

o Use wider lane-edge lines to create the impression of lane narrowing, a psychological trick that has been shown to cause drivers to slow down.

o Move the stop bar on Chartridge Drive forward to allow vehicles to pull out further.

o Install a concrete median on Chartridge Drive to shield vehicles as they wait to turn.

o Trim tree branches and brush to improve visibility.

o Prohibit left turns from Chartridge Drive on weekdays between 7 and 9 a.m. and between 3 and 6 p.m.

The curve already has a sign advising drivers to reduce their speed to 35 mph, but this advisory speed is not enforceable, and the traffic study revealed many vehicles take the curve faster than advised, Kroboth said. The "85th percentile speed" for traffic coming toward the intersection from the curve was 40 mph, meaning 85 percent of traffic was going 40 mph or less, he said.

Meanwhile, the study showed the sight distance looking right on Eastern Boulevard from Chartridge Drive was 335 feet, Kroboth said. For a 40-mph road, the desirable sight distance is 445 feet, he said.

As a result, during evening rush hour, vehicles approaching the intersection on Chartridge Drive waited an average of 42 seconds before turning, while those leaving the YMCA waited an average of one minute and 45 seconds, Kroboth said.

Washington County Sheriff's Department records show there was one crash at the intersection each year in 2006, 2007 and 2008, Kroboth said.

Kroboth said he would forward the recommended changes to the county's highway department for implementation. He said drivers could expect to begin seeing the changes in 30 to 40 days.

Spickler said he was glad to see the county taking action, but would like to see an effort to fast track the Eastern Boulevard extension. He said the proposed changes wouldn't affect his commute because the left turns he already avoids would be prohibited during rush hour.

"It's an improvement, but it's not the solution, I don't think," he said.

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