Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Planners urge county to scale back traffic project

Some residents had lobbied for less expensive solution for Dale Drive intersection

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County transportation officials should listen to residents and explore less expensive ways of improving traffic flow at Dale Drive and Colesville Road, the Montgomery County Planning Board said Thursday.

Improvements costing about $2.5 million have been planned at the intersection to address problems, transportation planners have said. The changes would add two turn lanes to the intersection on both the east and west approaches of Dale Drive.

Planning Board staff supported those upgrades, but the board itself unanimously voted to reject them, although the vote only serves as a recommendation. Some residents have been calling for a turn signal and improved traffic light instead, a $200,000 expense they said would make the roads safer and save the county money.

‘‘The point here is, we want to try a simple solution,” Larry Mitchell of the Woodside Forest Civic Association testified Thursday. Three others supported the idea. Barbara Ditzler of the Woodside Park Civic Association said the widening of the intersection could actually have a harmful effect on the community, where speeding is already a problem.

‘‘The problem with traffic is at rush hour only,” Ditzler testified Thursday. Most of the hours of the day, there were no backups, she said.

Planning Board Chairman Royce Hanson questioned whether any changes were needed, adding that improving the flow of traffic may not do much to improve the quality of the area. The commissioners said that they were inclined to support the recommendations of a community that used the intersection every day, and that the traffic there was less problematic than in other areas of Silver Spring.

‘‘I’m not prepared to say that traffic on Colesville should be given such a priority,” Commissioner John Robinson said.

Dan Sheridan, a senior engineer on the project with the county’s Department of Transportation, said Thursday that the project was a ‘‘comprehensive look at the intersection,” and included pedestrian safety aspects both planning staff and the community had requested, such as new sidewalks.

Sheridan added that one of the improvements, adding a right- turn lane on Dale Drive going south on Colesville Road, was part of the master plan for the central business district and improved a ‘‘dangerous situation.” Transportation officials at the meeting said they had also heard residents who were supportive of the project and had the opposite viewpoint of those testifying.

The Planning Board’s recommendation to pursue other options at Dale Drive and Colesville Road will be sent to the county’s Department of Transportation. Spokeswoman Esther Bowring said the department was waiting to receive that letter before determining the next step. At some point, construction money would need to be allocated by the County Council, she said.