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April 3, 2013

Engineers ironing out problems in wonky U.S. Route 220 roundabout

LAVALE — In the world of highway construction, redesign happens, according to Tony Crawford, district engineer for the State Highway Administration.

“The goal, of course, is to have zero redesign, but it doesn’t always work out that way,” Crawford said Wednesday during an interview at the District 6 headquarters in LaVale.

The specific topic was the partial roundabout at U.S. Route 220 and Interstate 68 near Greene Street, its closure after problems were discovered and its future.

Crawford prefers the term “U-about.”

Drivers leaving Cumberland via Greene Street or those exiting I-68 and heading south toward Cresaptown started to complain soon after the U-about was opened to traffic.

“The most complaints were from tractor-trailer drivers,” Crawford said.

The most common complaint was that their large rigs tilted badly to the right and that the descent was too steep.

In addition, the constricted space allowed for what was in essence a tractor-trailer slalom maneuver that made for tricky mobility.

“Even before we opened it, we started to consider a redesign,” Crawford said. “We had one of our better drivers take one of our tractor-trailers and test it. He didn’t have any problem, but it didn’t take into account the varying skill levels of other drivers.”

The tires on the left sides of most tractor-trailers headed south would ride up on what SHA calls an apron, made of concrete.

The 3 percent slope of the apron and the 2 percent slope of the road surface created a noticeable tilt.

Combine that with the steepness of the descent and you know why drivers of the big rigs are required to have special operating licenses.

SHA closed the U-about in August.

“Since then, we brought in roundabout experts to help us with a redesign,” Crawford said, referring to private consultants.

The concrete apron will be made level with the existing roadway so that all of a vehicle’s tires will be on the same slope.

In addition, the roadway going downhill from the U-about will be elevated 7 feet.

The result, according to Assistant District Engineer Linda Puffenbarger, is that there will be less right-hand tilt and not as much forward lean to a vehicle negotiating the U-about.

“There will be no arc or hump (such as existed on the first U-about),” Puffenbarger said.

Crawford said SHA thinks of the financial part of a redesign not so much as a monetary loss, but as additional costs. Negotiations are under way with IA Construction to see how much that will be. The initial contract was for $3.2 million.

Work should begin in May and be complete by August, according to Devin R. Miller, SHA construction engineer.

Some of the overall project is done and will stay that way, and Crawford is pleased with the result.

Three prongs of eastbound traffic come together on I-68; vehicles from the interstate itself, as well as those from U.S. 220 and Brown Avenue.

“That is working very well,” Crawford said.

“One of the advantages is that there is now a wide open view and motorists can more easily see the traffic that is merging,” Miller added. The acceleration lanes from U.S. 220 and Brown Avenue have been lengthened, allowing, according to SHA, motorists more time to make adjustments for the merger.

An advantage of a completed U-about will be that drivers leaving Cumberland via Greene Street will be able to use it to swing seamlessly onto eastbound I-68.

Previously, those motorists had to continue south on U.S. 220 and find a place to turn around to make that happen. SHA estimates show that about 15,000 vehicles a day travel through the area.

“When you look at a design in the 2-D sense and not in 3-D it can look workable on paper,” Crawford said.

There is computer technology that exists now that wasn’t available when the U-about was designed that might make it easier for designers to spot a potential problem, Crawford explained.

“That way you don’t have to wait until you start pushing dirt before you see that something may need to be changed.”

Contact Michael A. Sawyers at


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