Cumberland Times-News

September 21, 2013

You can’t say this has been straightened out

Jim Goldsworthy, Columnist
Cumberland Times-News

— Let us return to Goldy’s Rule 106, which was part of our discussion a few weeks ago:

It referred to a piece of road design that thousands of other motorists and I had to navigate on a daily basis.

I said at the time that the rule was “obsolete, at least until they reopen it”: If you must pass through the roundabout on U.S. Route 220 south of the junction with Interstate 68, ignore the sign that recommends you go no faster than 20 mph. Unless you are driving a sports car and know how to handle it, 15 mph is about the maximum you should push it.

Guess what? Goldy’s Rule 106 is no longer obsolete. The roundabout has made a comeback. Whether it has come back with a vengeance remains to be seen.

I was, however, incorrect in my previous wording because the State Highway Administration refers to it as a “U-about,” rather than a roundabout.

To my way of thinking, it’s neither a roundabout nor a U-about because you don’t go ’round, and you don’t make a U.

It more closely resembles a question mark than anything else.

Starting from the northern end heading southward, you go straight for a bit, then zig to the left and zig to the right (Stand up! Sit Down! Fight! Fight! Fight!) before entering a sharp left turn that would have adrenaline junkies cheering and Formula One drivers complaining.

After completing this maneuver, you zig back to the right and (thankfully) head straight downhill.

 It might be more appropriate to call it a “Question mark-about” because it probably causes drivers who are newly subjected to it to exclaim things like, “Huh?” “What the ... ?” “Why the ... ?” “Who the ... ?” and “How damn much money did they ... ?”

(The answer to the last question is about $3.77 million, as the Times-News reported in August.)

Still, U-about is an appropriate term because a warning sign that bears the following could easily be posted at its entrance:

“U-about to have fun goin’ through this sum*****!”

The original U-about was subjected to reconstruction because of the number of complaints received about it. (The newspaper is already receiving letters about the rebuilt version.)

The lane itself was too narrow and the turn was banked the wrong way.

I was one of many who could see havoc resulting when the thing gets icy in wintertime.

There was a guard rail, but a semi at full downhill slide would have gone through it like Carrie Nation’s hatchet through a whiskey barrel.

You could tell by the tire scuff marks crossing what I suppose is an island (or maybe it’s a peninsula) that truckers straightened out the curve on a regular basis.

I grew up in West Virginia and have traveled by motor vehicle to many places in the Mountain State, but never have I seen a comparably convoluted piece of road within its boundaries ... and that includes U.S. Route 50.

The rebuilding lasted for some months and the U-about is open again, so southbound traffic has to use it once more.

From what I can tell, all that’s happened is that the whole section has been raised and the steeply banked turn has been flattened out, with a curb a few inches high placed at the edge of the island/peninsula that has been retained.

The highway version of a ski jump ramp — a ski jump that follows a slalom course, no less — has been added at the top (southern) end of the question mark. (Who else has something like this? Go Allegany County!)

There remains a guard rail which, I suppose, is less intimidating than the massive (and so far impenetrable) wall that lies at the bottom of the Moose Curve on I-68 going eastbound through Cumberland.

The lane is still too narrow, and I continue to recommend you go no faster than 15 mph.

The big rigs I’ve followed have so far made it successfully through the U-about, but the left rear wheels on their trailers invariably cut across the island/peninsula.

The only thing that would make this worse is for someone in Annapolis to decide that the nearly $4 million spent on this maze could be recouped by setting up a toll both.

Traffic is already going slowly enough that making motorists stop completely to pay a toll shouldn’t hold up progress much more than is already the case.

Estimates are that an average 15,000 motorists go through there on a daily basis, so if you figure a buck a head, that’s $15,000 a day.

The U-about could pay for itself in just about nine months and begin raising money the state of Maryland could use for for new road projects in the metropolitan areas (which is where most of Maryland’s highway money already seems to go).

All this reminds me of a tale related to me by a friend who worked on the railroad. (If I’ve told you this before, please forgive me. It’s one of my favorite stories.)

He and his men had just finished constructing a mildly curved track bed and were about to commence tamping it down when a supervisor of relatively tender age showed up.

My friend described him as “a College Boy,” which is the same type of person my father and other members of his generation would have described as a “90-Day Wonder”: Put him in school for a few weeks, and he leaves it convinced that he knows all there is that’s worth knowing.

The College Boy/90-Day Wonder informed my buddy and his associates that the trackbed didn’t need to be tamped down.

The curve was sufficiently gentle, he said, and the speed limit was low enough, that there shouldn’t be a problem.

The trackbed tamping was canceled. Probably saved the railroad a good bit of money, too.

“First train that went through there,” my friend said, “guess what happened. She went right over on her side.

“We never saw that fella again.”