County To Seek Waiver For Traffic Light At Troubled Spot

SNOW HILL — Following a heated meeting between the State Highway Administration (SHA) and residents of Snow Hill last month, the Worcester County Commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to write a letter to the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) requesting that a traffic light be installed at the intersection of Routes 12 and 113, despite the site not meeting the requirements for a light.

Commissioner Virgil Shockley, who represents the Snow Hill district, briefed the rest of the commission this week, with the exception of Commissioner Jim Bunting who was absent, on the late December meeting between residents and the SHA.

“We had quite a few people in the room; quite a few angry people in the room, I should say, talking about J-turns,” said Shockley.

J-turns, a traffic calming device that has motorists merge onto a highway and make a U-turn instead of directly crossing an intersection, are the SHA’s proposal to fix Routes 12 and 113, which by all accounts have been plagued by accidents since opening in the mid-2000s.

Shockley mentioned a collision that took place about a week after the SHA meeting and argued that the numbers are shocking for the site, especially since he has only been counting major accidents that require medical transportation.

“That’s number 60, by my count,” he said. “That’s number 60 of people who have been transported. It doesn’t count if you haven’t been transported, by the way.”

Shockley has long been an advocate of installing an overpass at the spot to calm traffic, but has said that he would at least like to see a traffic light at the location until funding can be found for an overpass. His constituents overwhelmingly agree with him, if the turn out and comments at the December meeting are any indicator.

Nearly 100 residents packed the meeting last month and roughly two dozen made comments, all requesting that the SHA re-consider installing J-turns, which they fear won’t be effective and could be troublesome for larger vehicles, in favor of a traffic light.

The only problem, which SHA District Engineer Donnie Drewer has pointed out repeatedly, is that the intersection failed to meet the minimum traffic requirements needed to justify installing a light. Because it fell under the limit, Drewer has explained that, even if he personally wanted to, he is unable to install a traffic light without an official waiver from MDOT. However, it should be noted that Drewer, in his opinion as an engineer with decades of experience, does believe that the J-turns are the best solution and has gone on record saying so.

Despite the SHA’s and Drewer’s opinion, Shockley and many of his constituents are adamant that a light is needed at Routes 12 and 113.

That intersection is significantly different than the more urban locations that have received J-turns, argued Shockley, with the heavy traffic of farm vehicles and tractor trailers making a light more sensible. A repeated argument made during the meeting last month was that long vehicles will find it hard to use the J-turns and most, including emergency vehicles, will have to cross through the intersection, which will have an elevated but navigable curb that will start at three inches and peak to six inches.

Shockley blasted the idea, asserting that on most modern farm equipment a six-inch median would be like “driving over a bowling ball.”

There’s also the site’s proximity to schools and the number of buses that use the intersection to consider, according to Shockley, who drives a bus for the school system.

“We’ve probably got 300 to 400 kids going through that intersection on any given day,” Shockley said.

Shockley has explained that he doesn’t like the idea of taking a bus through the J-turns, a statement that Board of Education Director of Transportation Steve Price has echoed, saying that the design in regards to bus traffic “scares the hell” out of him.

Shockley also pointed out that the intersection just barely missed the requirements for a stop light. It had more than enough accidents to justify the device, but failed to produce enough traffic within an eight-hour consecutive period to satisfy the criteria.

However, Shockley revealed the intersection at Routes 12 and 113 was above the traffic benchmark during six of the eight hours, only failing to meet the limit between 1 and 3 p.m. on the day of the count, which took place in the summer.

The commission agreed unanimously to ask for a waiver for a light and between their letter and a petition that is circulating in the Snow Hill community with a 1,000-signature goal, Shockley said he hopes MDOT can be persuaded.

Up until this point, however, he called the struggle at the intersection “the most frustrating thing the [he’s] ever been a part of” as a commissioner.

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