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Transportation officials looking for answers to U.S. 340 traffic backups

April 13, 2012|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com

Congestion along the busy U.S. 340 corridor near the Potomac River is not a new issue to local residents or transportation officials from Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia.

Searching for answers to traffic backups that can reach almost two miles long during rush hours, about 30 people attended a meeting Friday night at Pleasant Valley Elementary School in Knoxville, Md., to air their complaints.

Officials from the Md. State Highway Administration were joined by West Virginia and Virginia Department of Transportation representatives to talk about the issues that motorists are facing, offer some short-term solutions and seek input.

An increase in truck traffic, housing developments in West Virginia, and traffic coming from the nearby Hollywood Casino in Charles Town, W.Va., were named as possible reasons for the delays, most often in the mornings and evenings.

State Del. Neil Parrott, R-Washington, who organized and moderated the meeting, said the goal was to identify ways to reduce congestion because it’s never going to go away.

“Because it was there before,” Parrott said in response to people in the crowd. “Just the fact that we go from four lanes down to two lanes causes congestion. But this has really exacerbated the problem, making those queues which may have been a half-mile long, now they’re two miles long.”

In Maryland, U.S. 340 is a four-lane divided highway, but it cuts down into two lanes as it crosses the Potomac River into Virginia.

There, a traffic light at Harpers Ferry Road (Va. 671) creates additional backup issues before the roadway widens back out to a four-lane divided highway in West Virginia.

“It affects not just Maryland ... but West Virginians and people from Virginia who are going home as well,” Parrott said.

One man who frequently drives on U.S. 340 from West Virginia into Maryland said the traffic light at Harpers Ferry Road causes severe backups between 7 a.m. and 8:30 a.m.

 Other people expressed concerns about safety entering and exiting the highway on Keep Tryst Road near Sandy Hook, Md., which intersects on both ends with U.S. 340.

Parrott suggested some short-term fixes for the Harpers Ferry Road intersection, highlighting the installation of a half-signal as a way to keep traffic moving more smoothly and reduce congestion.

Transportation officials offered other short-term remedies, including devoted lanes for left-hand turns off the highway, and acceleration lanes to merge safely onto U.S. 340 from side roads.

Parrott estimated that a project to improve traffic flow could cost around $750,000, but traffic studies would need to be completed first. It would be split among the three states, Parrott said.

Another public meeting is planned for May or June, but a time and place has yet to be set, officials said.

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