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New Light at Beltway Ramp

Drivers should be on the lookout this week for a new traffic signal at University Boulevard and the Capital Beltway in Silver Spring. It's part of a $1.6 million reconstruction project that is still just a little more than half done, but many readers have been asking what's up here.

Their basic question is, Why do we need another traffic light? What the state hopes this will do is improve safety and ease congestion on the Beltway's outer loop at a cloverleaf interchange designed for a bygone era.

Drivers entering and exiting the outer loop have been using the same merge lane, creating a tight weaving pattern in which they have to make split second guesses about what other drivers are going to do while rapidly accelerating or decelerating (or sometimes both). Police recorded 11 crashes there from 2003 to 2005, said Chuck Gischlar, a spokesman for the Maryland State Highway Administration, which is in charge of the reconstruction.

When the project is completed next spring, there will be only one outer loop ramp leading to University Boulevard. That ramp is being widened. The traffic light will be at the top of this new T intersection, controlling movement for drivers heading right or left on University.

Drivers on University heading for the outer loop will have to pass through this new traffic signal, but they no longer will have to battle the Beltway's exiting traffic for space on the ramp once the project is done.

Motorists may have seen the new signal flashing red or yellow for the past few days, depending on the direction of their approach. That's a standard way of setting up a new light, Gischlar said. It gives many drivers a chance to get used to it. Also helping are electronic or painted signs that advise drivers they are approaching a new signal.

This will take some getting used to. When I drove up the ramp on Friday, the orange barrels and uneven pavement were difficult to navigate. This is bound to be annoying in the early going, but I hope the end result is a safety benefit.

There's a similar project underway on the inner loop ramp at Georgia Avenue. Drivers complained to me about long lines last week as traffic stopped for the new signal at the foot of the ramp, which at the time was a flashing red arrow. That light had gone to red and green operation by Friday, but only one of the two ramp lanes under construction was open. That second ramp lane should be done by the end of August and the entire project should be done this fall.

By Robert Thomson  |  August 13, 2007; 5:09 AM ET
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