Traffic light in Northern Virginia concerns motorists

A regional trail project in northern Virginia has drawn attention from frustrated drivers who accuse a recently installed traffic signal of turning red whenever nobody’s near it. The signs — which appear at random intersections on the Columbia Pike portion of the Capital Trail — are designed to help protect the trail’s fragile earthen walls from cars, but some say the timing isn’t ideal.

Drivers entering the Laurel Turnpike crossing from the west side of the trail often end up at the intersection of South Rockville Pike and Columbia Pike because the light at the intersection of Rockville Pike and Seven Mile Bridge Road turns red when no one crosses the road. (They used to cross that road on a pathway through a gate through nearby Dulles Crossing, but that “underpass has been closed by the county to avoid increasing conflict and costs for maintenance,” according to the county.)

I approach the light every day since the Columbia Pike, the Laurel Turnpike intersection and the Seven Mile Road to avoid the Columbia Pike intersection. Most of the morning time, it stays red. In the summer, the light switches from red to green. What’s the point of having the light here at this intersection? — Billy Wood

the gates / campsite tour Would more signage to stop illegal campers on the trail save? _tc_ @krampe

“The light at the South Rockville Pike/Rockville Pike intersection was put in to protect the trail,” said D.C. Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jennifer Kavanagh. “The Columbia Pike thru-trail will use this bridge. It is important that motorists drive up to the intersection, click on the light, wait for the light to change and then proceed through the intersection to get through the trail safely.”

Kavanagh said signs were added to the right side of the South Rockville Pike intersection as recently as this spring. A check this week revealed that the light had not been turned off, at least at times. That discrepancy is why cars frequently land at that intersection, but not walkers or cyclists.

Several people reached out to Washington Post transportation reporter Susan Salter Reynolds to note the unusual timing, saying it was difficult to reconcile with what crews had promised when the Columbia Pike was upgraded, or suggested when the work was in progress. (The project, part of the Columbia Pike-Rockville Pike Corridor Improvement Program, was in “design,” which is usually meaning that a green light is likely to appear soon.)

One man, who said he’d driven the Capital Trail for 40 years, told the Post that he was not able to believe someone would spend the money on a signal when there were so many other efficient and less expensive options available.

“That says it all,” the man said. “You are damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.”

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