Q: What's more maddening than a traffic pattern that makes it difficult to get where you need to go?
A: Public officials who pretend there's nothing that can be done about it.
The above riddle is brought to you by the Airport Circle in Egg Harbor Township, an engineering marvel that managed to replace one of the most hated traffic circles in South Jersey with something even worse.
Since the new configuration at the intersection of Delilah Road, Tilton Road and Amelia Earhart Boulevard at Atlantic City International Airport opened in November 2011, motorists have voiced their frustration consistently and loudly.
The confusing design forces drivers to change lanes quickly as they try to squeeze through lights to avoid being stopped by the next one. Drivers can easily end up in the wrong lane, causing long lines of traffic to back up behind them. For drivers unfamiliar with the setup, it must seem like a slow-motion demolition derby. For hundreds of employees of the Federal Aviation Administration's William J. Hughes Technical Center, it is a nightmare - twice a day.
Now police reports obtained by The Press through the Open Public Records Act show that accidents at the circle have increased. Back in 2007, when plans were being made to alleviate traffic congestion and accidents at the old circle, there were 26 crashes recorded. During construction in 2011, there were 27. This year, through Nov. 15, there have been 39.
So the new configuration is actually less safe than the setup drivers faced during construction. Think about that.
The engineers who designed the circle have insisted it is working as intended. The rationalization has been that although the new configuration made trips through the circle excruciatingly slow, at least it cut down on the number of accidents.
If that's not true - if accidents have actually increased - what possible explanation can there be for the refusal of public officials to try to fix this mess?
Atlantic County officials contest these accident figures, but they can't contest the universal disdain drivers have for the circle.
County Executive Dennis Levinson said drivers are going to have to live with the flawed circle until the South Jersey Transportation Authority builds a new connector road between the Atlantic City Expressway and the airport, eliminating Amelia Earhart Boulevard. But construction of that road, expected to cost between $40 million and $50 million, isn't even scheduled yet and could be years away.
Come on, people. It's clear that the county needs to bring in new traffic engineers to figure out a way to make this circle safer, less confusing and less congested.
The new configuration is a well-intentioned mistake. There's no shame in admitting that. The only unforgivable mistake county officials can make is to be unresponsive now.