SNOW HILL — A planned intersection overhaul, a part of the next Route 113 dualization phase, has raised concerns from Newark residents and businesses about safety and its overall impact on the community.
At issue currently is the intersection of Route 113 and Langmaid Road, where the proposed installation of J-turns instead of a traffic light, have raised questions about safety and the effect on local business.
As the State Highway Association (SHA) continues the dualization of Route 113, it has proposed reconfiguring the intersection with Langmaid Road to include a U-turn for northbound access to the highway from the western section of Langmaid Road. The agency is also proposing additional U-turns for access to and from the east section of Langmaid road to southbound Route 113. This intersection layout is commonly referred to as “J-turns.”
Some residents in the Newark area did not respond well to the proposal. A petition was launched by Fred and Debbie Wells, owners of Newark Station, a convenience store located at the intersection. They fear that the intersection could echo the intersection of Routes 12 and 113, a troubled spot that saw frequent accidents and occasional fatalities starting in the mid-2000s.
“It’s as if nothing was learned from all of the carnage at that intersection [Route 12 and US 113],” wrote the business owners in a letter to Gov. Martin O’Malley.
The abnormally high rate of collisions and fatalities at Routes 12 and 113 sparked an intense reaction in the Snow Hill community, launching multiple petitions and public meetings, all demanding that a stoplight be added to the site despite SHA deeming one unnecessary. Last year, SHA re-assessed that intersection and added a stoplight, something the Wells hope will happen with their intersection.
“We don’t know why MDOT would insist on this approach other than to save money at the expense of public safety,” they wrote of the proposed layout.
The Wells aren’t alone in their concern. Ed Ellis of Ocean Petroleum L.L.C., which owns the commercial building near the intersection and rents to the Newark Station, wrote a letter to SHA questioning the proposed changes to the Langmaid intersection. Like the Wells, Ellis alluded to the issues that plagued Routes 12 and 113. He also pointed out that there is already a blinking warning light installed at the Langmaid Road intersection making conversion to a full stop signal easier.
“In view of the many tragedies and loss of life the lack of a traffic light at Rt. 12 and Rt. 113 caused, I struggle to understand why repeating the very same mistake at this intersection makes any sense, especially since virtually all of the hardware (masts and control box) is already in place,” Ellis wrote.
However, SHA has concluded with its research that there is no need for a light at the Langmaid Road intersection with Route 113.
“SHA performed a traffic engineering study that examined all aspects of the intersection,” wrote James Smith, SHA Secretary, in a letter to the Wells earlier this fall.
SHA considered three different possible intersection configurations before deciding on the J-turns. First evaluated was the intersection for a stoplight but the area failed to meet any of the qualifications SHA uses to justify a light including traffic volume and accident frequency.
“A review of the US 113 and Langmaid Road intersection was completed for each of the nine warrants; unfortunately, none of the warrants were met,” he wrote. “Based on the review, SHA is unable to move forward with a signalized intersection at US 113 and Langmaid Road.”
A four-way intersection with only Langmaid Road stop controlled was also looked at but ultimately rejected as SHA feared that it would make the intersection too similar to the former layout of Routes 12 and 113 back when that spot was plagued by collisions.
“Based on recent experiences with that southern intersection, SHA is not proceeding with this option,” wrote Smith.
While the sides are split on what would make the Langmaid intersection the safest, there is also a fear that the J-turns would be detrimental to business.
“There will be a significant impact on motor fuel sales caused by restricted access and diminished sight lines to the fuel dispensing area,” Ellis wrote.
Restricting access with J-turns would force motorists on the eastern leg of Langmaid or northbound section of Route 113 to drive past the store and then make a U-turn onto the southbound lane of the highway. Because motor fuel is an “impulse buy” dictated by easy access, the inconvenience of the J-turns could lead to as much as a 30-percent decrease in fuel sales at Newark Station and an equal drop in sales in the convenience store, Ellis predicted.
Delegate Mike McDermott has also contacted SHA with similar concerns about both safety and the potential impact of the new intersection on Newark. J-turns have can be useful as traffic calming devices but are inappropriate for the Langmaid intersection in his opinion.
“Instead, it will create hardship on a rural community, cause significant access issues for some highly utilized public facilities,” wrote McDermott, “and lend itself to aggravated safety issues as opposed to eliminating them.”
McDermott pointed out that the intersection connects the two halves of Newark and taking away people’s ability to cross Route 113 at Langmaid, “does not serve the interests of a very cohesive rural community.”
Kimberly Kneller, the manager of Newark Station, acknowledged this week that there is a real business concern to installing J-turns at the Langmaid intersection once that portion of US 113 is dualized. But that takes a backseat to her and others’ fear that Langmaid Road and Route 113 could see collisions or fatal accidents such as those that occurred at Route 12 and US 113.
“Our main concern is the safety,” she said. “We are worried about business but that’s not our main concern.”
Once dualization of Route 113 reaches Langmaid Road, Kneller worries that motorists will feel comfortable driving faster and that without a light that could greatly increase the danger level at the intersection.
The matter is still pending as dualization catches up to the intersection. While all of the studies conducted so far by SHA point towards J-turns at the intersection, McDermott promised the Wells that he would continue to lobby for a stoplight at the location or at least some other form of traffic calming.