Will ‘Diamond’ in a rough traffic spot be the solution?

By on December 6, 2017

Planned ‘Diverging Diamond Interchange’ at Route 322/222 interchange to add five traffic signals between the current lights at Walmart and Hahnstown Road.

Oblivious to the 40 yards behind her, the driver of a late-model Honda mini-van made a courtesy stop at 7:45 a.m. Monday in the left-hand, westbound lane of Route 322.

The driver created a three-car length gap hoping to grant access for Route 322 eastbound traffic to squeeze across two lanes onto Route 222 north toward Reading.

Meanwhile, unremarkable havoc ensued as back-logged drivers jockeyed to establish lane positions in the westbound Route 322 lanes — flooded from traffic bleeding off the intersection of Hahnstown Road and Route 222 exit ramp.

“While people think they’re being courteous, it is illegal to stop the flow of traffic,” Rob Wills, design project manager from Whitman, Requardt & Associates, told curious guests who accepted PennDOT’s invitation to the Nov. 30 open house discussion on reconstruction of the Route 322 and 222 interchange.

The interchange, a rush-hour nightmare and a safety hazard due to the crossing-lane traffic pattern, became of interest years ago to PennDOT, which began an in-depth study to solve the problem in 2016.

The result is a planned Diverging Diamond Interchange (DDI), which PennDOT officials and engineering experts unveiled Thursday at Ephrata Pioneer Fire Company.

Also called a “double crossover diamond interchange,” the design leads the two directions of traffic on the non-freeway road (Route 322) to cross to the opposite side on both sides of the bridge at the Route 222 freeway. Eastbound Route 322 traffic would swing left at the light and westbound traffic will loop right at the intersection east of the Walmart entrance.

The change would create direct merge lanes onto Route 222 in both the north and south directions from the east and west lanes of Route 322.

David Fratangeli, PennDOT project manager, said the $7 million improvement wouldn’t begin for about two years and will require 12 to 18 months to complete.

The plan calls for adding five traffic signals between the current signals at Walmart and Hahnstown Road.

“Basically we’re adding two signals at your cross-over location and a couple signals at the ramps as well,” Fratangeli said. “But all of these signals are going to be connected and coordinated with each other which should help the flow a little better.”

The crossover signal areas, which resemble a “figure eight” according to some attending the meeting, also form a diamond shape according to PennDOT.

“I’ve driven these types of roads and it feels like you’re driving in a foreign country because you’re driving on the opposite side of the road,” said Bill Zimmerman of Ephrata.

Wills noted that while the DDI traffic patterns are contrary to intuitive driving processes, barriers will block the view of opposite traffic lanes and drivers won’t even realize they’ve switched sides.

“If you’ve driven through (a DDI) you probably couldn’t tell that you were driving on the opposite side of (typical) traffic.”

More than 50,000 vehicles travel through that area on Route 222 each day, above a section of Route 322 which handles 20,000-plus vehicles per day, according to PennDOT.

The new design will create more space and possibly curb congestion though residents noted a change is required to address the backups created when Route 322 eastbound traffic suddenly shifts to a single lane in front of the Arby’s restaurant.

Fratangeli said 50 percent of crashes at the interchange occur from left-turn crossing traffic —often when motorists, such as the Honda mini-van driver on Monday, entice drivers to cross blindly into right-lane of westbound Route 322 traffic.

So, what would a year-plus detour look like between November 2019 until say January 2021?

“We did not get into the traffic control yet,” Fratangeli said. “You are crossing over and there’s going to be reconstruction underneath the (Route 222) bridge.”

There’s also overlay and “median-type” work required, he said.

“I think the majority can be done without causing too much impact on the people but we’ll probably figure that out during the second half of 2018.”

The public peppered the plan was peppered the plan with both optimism and skepticism.

On the Ephrata Review’s Facebook page, Nancy Friton noted that Sarasota Florida installed a similar design.

“Understanding the concept was impossible,” she wrote. “The finished “high traffic area” merging diamond is wonderful and very easy to use.”

Nikki Haney said she has driven through diverging diamonds in Kentucky.

“They make it so much smoother and safer. It takes some getting used to, but they’re great,” she shared.

Dennis J Knepp offered perhaps the most unique perspective on the crossover traffic system touching on the Plain community’s use of Route 322.

“The horses are going to be so confused,” he noted.

Patrick Burns is social media editor and a staff writer for the Ephrata Review. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at pburns.eph@lnpnews.com or at 721-4455.

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