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Four Roads, One Lane Equals Massive Confusion

One lane bridge in Potomac’s Glen area still stymies residents.

When the school buses start rumbling across the county next week, traffic on the one lane bridge which connects Glen, South Glen and Glen Mill roads is likely to increase. “Where the buses go, the parents will follow,” said Ginny Barnes, a resident of the Glen and board member of West Montgomery County Citizens Association.

There was a stir last winter when the county Department of Transportation and Public Works (DPWT) reconfigured the stop signs on the roads leading up to the bridge following a traffic study last fall.

“Basically, they re-assessed everything,” said Esther Bowring, spokesperson for DPWT.

The stop signs were put in and moved back about 50 feet from what drivers had been accustomed to in order to allow school buses to navigate the narrow turns coming on and off of the bridge.

But many motorists simply ignored the signs and didn’t understand why they were now supposed to stop so far back.

“[DPWT should] do something to let people know that they’re stopping so far back because the buses can’t turn,” Barnes said. “Get creative with the signage.”

Part of the problem lies in the configuration of the roads where traffic from four different directions converges in an alignment that resembles a capital letter “T” with an “F” superimposed on it. In this analogy, the bridge lies between the bars.

“Four different directions converge there, but not in a crossroads,” Barnes said.

Previously, there had been only two stop signs. The intersection worked well because the majority of the drivers in the area were aware of the bridge and developed an unofficial protocol based mainly on being polite.

“Before, you had stop signs in a modest way and they were complied with, generally,” Barnes said.

But parents dropping their children off at area schools were unaccustomed to the custom, said Barnes.

As a result, the county installed four stop signs with signs stating that drivers should “Yield to traffic on bridge.”

Some residents liked the new configuration.

“We though the stop sign was good, but [the traffic] got really backed up” said Winifred King Thompson. Thompson lives very near the bridge.

“I felt that they didn’t give it enough time,” said Guy Semmes. He thinks that the main difference was that the new configuration spread the back-up around onto roads that previously did not have it.

Barnes disagreed, stating that the new configuration was unclear, and would result in one car crossing the bridge followed by another from the same direction following closely behind.

“When you have four stop signs and it says ‘Yield to Traffic on Bridge,’ what the hell does that mean?” Barnes asked.

The new configuration did not last long, and now the signs saying that traffic should yield are only present coming from two directions, at the top of the “T.”

Now the people on Glen Mill and Glen to the north just sit there until someone is kind enough to let them through,” Semmes said.

The larger issue with the way the problem was handled involves lack of local input, said Barnes. Given the unusual configuration and rustic status of the bridge and surrounding roads, the county should have talked to residents, who cross the bridge almost every day, before changing anything.

“There was never any sitting down and asking what they should be doing,” Barnes said.

She also points out that plans for the bridge do not include the extra traffic generated by the buses and parents. “If the planning process is circumvented by the school board … then we have a dysfunctional system here in the county,” Barnes said.

West Montgomery met with DPWT officials in February, and were told that DPWT would contact the school’s transportation office in an attempt to resolve the busing issue. The transportation office did not return the Almanac’s calls by presstime.

Now, residents of this generally quiet area are facing confusion about who gets to cross the bridge and when (see sidebar).

“It would be good to see people be courteous,” Thompson said.