A traffic signal is coming to the intersection of Md. 355 and Lew Wallace Street.
“As part of the development approval for the Sugarloaf Elementary School, Frederick County Public Schools was required to install this light if warranted,” said Michael Doerrer, FCPS spokesman. “The State Highway Administration recently reviewed the need for this light and found that it was, indeed, warranted.”
FCPS will pay for the signal as part of the Urbana Elementary School replacement project because the need for the signal occurred within a year of the facility opening. An average cost to install a four-legged intersection with metal mast arms is roughly $250,000.
The signal is still in the design phase and a construction project start date has not been set. Once begun, residents should anticipate daily lane closures during off peak traffic times from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“This intersection was always envisioned to be signalized at some point in the future as the development in Urbana continued but when that time would come to fruition was always an unknown,” said Sam DeLaurence, Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration District 7 team leader. “The school, when it was in the planning stages, did a traffic study that did conclude that the signal would be needed at some point in the future. Those studies are very much an educated guess of what kind of development is going to (happen) …but (the study) did anticipate sometime after the school was opened that a signal would be needed at the intersection.” After the school opened, a SHA traffic study on volume in the area noted a signal was needed.
SHA completes annual traffic volume maps. While 2018 data is not yet available, 2017 numbers before Sugarloaf Elementary School opened saw nearly 5,000 vehicles travel the area daily. “The school didn’t add a lot more traffic on Md. 355,” DeLaurence said. “It added traffic on Lew Wallace Street so, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not a huge difference. The school just added a different element to the way the intersection operates.”
In late October, the county installed raised crosswalks and a speed hump in the area of the school—at the Lew Wallace/Stone Barn Drive and Urbana Pike intersection, which are county roads—to slow traffic after parents alerted officials to their safety concerns.
In 2017, the state narrowed travel lanes on Md. 355 in the Urbana area as a traffic calming device. Normal travel lanes are 11 to 12 feet wide and the lanes were reduced to 10 feet.
The new traffic signal, once installed, will allow the traffic exiting Lew Wallace Street to safely turn. “Today that traffic on Lew Wallace, which is traffic exiting Sugarloaf Elementary School, has to wait for a gap in 355 traffic,” DeLaurence said. “Gaps are available. They are not necessarily plentiful, so they have to wait. There is a delay and a little bit of a queue develops. They get out eventually, but the signal will manufacture gaps and afford them the ability to get out at a much quicker rate than they do today.”
Pedestrians will also be safer once the signal is installed. “(The Villages of Urbana) is intended to be a pedestrian-friendly community and it has been designed that way,” DeLaurence said. “The traffic signal here would allow pedestrians an opportunity to stop traffic because the signal will include pedestrian signals and push buttons so they would have the ability to push a button and stop traffic on Md. 355 and cross, which is helpful because it is a wide road.”