Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007

Full signal coming to roadway

But Sandy Spring residents, business owners and lawmakers want the state to fund it this year, not next

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Brian Lewis/The Gazette
Residents, business owners and lawmakers say the intersection of Olney-Sandy Spring, Brooke and Meetinghouse roads is dangerous and want the state to fund a fully functioning traffic signal this year rather than next.
For more than 30 years, Sandy Spring residents have lobbied for a traffic light at the intersection of Olney-Sandy Spring, Brooke and Meetinghouse roads, and soon they will have it.

Residents, business owners and lawmakers gathered Tuesday morning for a dedication ceremony for the new traffic signal that was just approved for the busy intersection.

‘‘It’s a real bonus for us because downtown [Sandy Spring] has not been fully functional for years,” Joy Turner, president of the Sandy Spring Civic Association, said. ‘‘We’ve been trying desperately to revitalize it but can’t do that if we can’t manage traffic. This light will make all the difference, giving rebirth for a viable, pedestrian-friendly walking community.”

A blinking light that turns red for pedestrian crossing is now working at the site, but local business owners say it is not enough.

‘‘You press the pedestrian button to make the light red ... cars aren’t looking, they don’t stop,” said Karen Mauprivez, co-owner of the French Confection Bakery, located on the corner of Olney-Sandy Spring (Route 108) and Meetinghouse roads. ‘‘Everybody who works here has had a near-miss.”

Kevin O’Connor, chief operating officer of Transportation Management Services on Meetinghouse Road, said the traffic at the intersection is worse than Tyson’s Corner, Va., from where they just moved.

‘‘I’m just amazed that a little town like Sandy Spring, which we love, could have more traffic implications than my team had in Tyson’s,” O’Connor said.

Fred Nichols, a Sandy Spring developer who owns an office building on Meetinghouse Road, said not having a light has an effect on leasing office space.

‘‘People don’t want to move into the buildings without the light,” Nichols said.

Along the north side of Olney-Sandy Spring Road are empty shells of retail space recently vacated because the traffic along the road makes it difficult for customers to drive in and out of the driveways, Nichols said.

District 14 Sen. Rona E. Kramer (D) and delegates Karen S. Montgomery (D) and Herman L. Taylor Jr. (D) expressed their support for the new light and the effort to get it installed as soon as possible.

County Councilwoman Marilyn J. Praisner (D-Dist. 4) of Calverton said the light is included in the state’s fiscal year 2009 budget, but she and the state representatives are hoping to speed up the process to get it moved into the fiscal year 2008 budget.

Praisner told the crowd of approximately 30 people on Tuesday that ‘‘2009 is inadequate.”

‘‘We will be working with the delegates and representatives from County Executive [Isiah] Leggett’s office to make sure the state understands we need it now,” she added.

State Highway Administration spokesman David Buck said the approval of the light is only the first step in the process, which may take more than a year.

Praisner and Montgomery, of Brookeville, said the changes to the current light are ‘‘very minor” and ‘‘minimal costs” are required for the new fully functional light, but did not know what those costs would be.

‘‘Getting the light in the first place was the expensive part,” Montgomery said. ‘‘The major cost is already up there.”

However, SHA officials do not agree.

‘‘The whole thing has to be built from the ground up,” Buck said. ‘‘There’s more to it than just taking one down and hanging new signal heads. We have to make sure what we’re putting in is appropriate for that intersection for years to come.”

Buck said the light still needs to be designed with new technology and pedestrian amenities, then constructed when funds are available. The project could cost about $140,000 to $150,000, he said.

In May, residents and business owners met with representatives from SHA to express their concerns about the intersection.

A couple months later, SHA concluded that a light was needed at the intersection because of the expected increase in the volume of residents and development in the area.

Buck said the conditions of the road right now do not warrant a traffic signal, but that SHA officials are looking toward the future and predict that it will be needed several years down the road.

Meanwhile, lawmakers, residents and business owners are gearing up to push for the light to be installed sooner rather than later before someone gets hurt.

‘‘This is a dangerous intersection,” Montgomery said. ‘‘We want our businesses to serve our community and not to have to scrape our citizens off the road.”