SNOW HILL — Collective protests from the Snow Hill community and unique traffic conditions have the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) re-considering placing a stoplight at the intersection of Routes 12 and 113.
Though nothing has been guaranteed, MDOT’s admission that they might put a traffic light at the accident prone intersection is a major change in position from its most recent stance. County Commissioner Virgil Shockley, who has made Routes 12 and 113 a pet project for years, attributed MDOT and the State Highway Administration’s (SHA) change in attitude to a public session held in December when the overwhelming community call was for the installation of a light.
“The meeting that night definitely had the impact needed to get some movement … The people who were in the room that night deserve a lot of credit,” he said.
At the meeting, SHA District Engineer Donnie Drewer and his team presented their evaluation of the intersection as well as their plans moving forward. They acknowledged that the intersection was unusually susceptible to accidents but concluded that J-turns, a traffic calming device that forces drivers to turn right and then make a U-turn at an intersection when they wish to go left or across, would be the best fit instead of a traditional traffic light.
Snow Hill residents in attendance disagreed.
“I can tell you that the heat got turned on,” said Shockley.
Dozens of residents attended the meeting and in more than two hours of remarks, the unanimous comment given to SHA was that J-turns, despite the success they have had in other areas, would cause conflicts. For example, several residents mentioned that farming equipment would be put at a severe disadvantage trying to deal with the J-turns. Though combines would be able to avoid the turn and drive straight through, they would have to mount a rising curb in the middle of the intersection, a feat many in the audience told the SHA would be jarring. The narrow length of the intersection could also leave larger vehicles like combines, tractor trailers and even school buses in the lurch if J-turns are the administration’s choice, argued residents.
While he felt that the types of vehicles frequenting the intersection should have been considered from the start, Shockley pointed out that it was easy for the SHA to not factor those variables in.
“That kind of volume of combines and machines is unique to that intersection,” he said.
Additionally, the July traffic study that was used to justify the original J-turn decision was conducted during the summer, the busiest time for most traffic but a period when farming vehicles, as well as school buses, would be scarce on the road.
In a letter to the commissioners, MDOT Acting Secretary Darrell Mobley referenced the community concern and the unique traffic that passes through the intersection as the reasons SHA will put the less expensive but less favored traffic light option back on the table against the J-turns.
“In response to your letter, I consulted SHA District Engineer Donnie Drewer, who informed me of the community support for a traffic signal in lieu of J-Turns,” wrote Mobley. “He explained that this intersection has unique issues involving farm vehicles and a high number of tractor trailer traffic.”
SHA sent two additional personnel to observe Routes 12 and 113 two weeks after the December meeting, added Mobley. The organization’s traffic engineers and managers is now weighing a traffic light and an answer could come this month.