The curious case of the purple dots explained
Maryland Transportation Authority photo
Sometimes the things government transportation agencies do -- and undo -- are baffling to ordinary travelers. A smart, useful innovation appears -- only to disappear mysteriously. Seldom does the public learn why.
Readers of this blog can now learn about the Case of the Purple Dots at the Fort McHenry Tunnel thanks to a perceptive question from reader Mary McDonald about the Fort McHenry Tunnel Toll Plaza (above) and a refreshingly candid response from Teri Moss of the Maryland Transportation Authority (awkwardly abbreviated below as MDTA).
As those of us who regularly drive northbound through the Fort McHenry tunnel know, there's a huge curve when you come out of the tunnel exit and head towards the toll booths. Because of that it's impossible to know which toll booth you'll end up at unless you have an advanced degree in geometry. This leads to pretty dangerous lane cutting/drifting as people (and trucks) try to figure out how to aim themselves towards the EZ Pass lanes.
Last year, some brilliant MTA employee painted big purple circles on the road surface forming a path that guided cars and trucks towards the one permanent EZ Pass lane. It was great, just great. Of course, someone ordered them removed about two months later so now we're back to it being a dangerous and irritating free for all when you come out of the tunnel.
I realize this is a small thing, but it was really helpful. Who should I write to commend whoever had the idea to begin with and beg for its return?
Moss provided the following answer:
Please extend our thanks to Ms. MacDonald on her positive feedback about the program.
The markings were removed when the top layer of pavement was removed for the toll plaza improvement project. This project involved pavement rehabilitation and construction of new higher speed E-ZPass® lanes.
According to our traffic manager, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) approved the MDTA’s work plan to implement the “purple dots” as an experimental traffic control (way-finding) device at the Fort McHenry Tunnel’s northbound toll plaza. The MDTA’s report on the pilot program indicated benefits including a reduction in the number of “sudden” lane changes in the toll plaza during the experiment, improved lane utilization across dedicated E-ZPass lanes and that customers reported the purple dots were helpful.
Upon completion of the initial experiment and submission of the final report to FHWA in May 2007, the FHWA did not feel there was sufficient data supporting continuation or expansion of the program and requested that MDTA provide crash data to document if the reduction in sudden lane changes had resulted in a reduced number of crashes. The current crash reporting system utilized in Maryland does not provide enough detail to relate crashes in the toll plaza to a particular toll lane or payment type. The FHWA also suggested that additional test sites would be needed before further discussion can occur on approving the purple dots as an acceptable traffic control device.
At this time, due to current financial constraints, we have not solicited sister agencies for additional test sites nor approached FHWA about continuing the experiment to collect more detailed crash data. We do not have a timeframe for another pilot program.
You might want to remind your readers that there are dedicated higher-speed (30 mph) E-ZPass lanes on the left of the northbound and southbound toll plaza. The E-ZPass only lane on northbound prior to the tunnel and extends to the wider, higher-speed lane. Also, E-ZPass is accepted at all lanes and we encourage motorists to utilize any lane to expedite their travel. Vehicles must come to a complete stop in staffed lanes for collectors’ safety.
Let me know if you have any questions. Again, we thank your reader for her positive feedback. Per this email I am passing her inquiry and suggestion along to our engineering and operations departments.
So it appears that any letters should be sent to Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez, U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, 1200 New Jersey Ave SE, Washington, DC 20590. Writing to the authority would seem to be preaching to the converted.