Chris Ragland’s daily drive through the Route 222/322 interchange in Ephrata Township has a new look — and he’s not impressed.

“I’m not too excited about it,” the 36-year-old Lititz man said Monday, May 17, 2021, after maneuvering his FedEx truck through the region’s first diverging diamond. “It’s supposed to look like a figure-eight, I guess, but I think that will cause more accidents in the long run.”

Ragland said he found it confusing and believes it will lead to increased traffic delays in the area. The state Department of Transportation should focus on widening roads and creating additional lanes, not making more complicated interchanges, he said.

Vehicles began passing through the new interchange, the first of its kind in Lancaster County, at around 5:45 a.m. Later in the day, motorists appeared to maneuver the new traffic pattern without much difficulty. A few horse and buggies and pedestrians on scooters made their way through the interchange using the shoulder. The new interchange will be unique in the United States as it will eventually include 8-foot dedicated lanes for horse and buggies and bicycles to share.

The new diverging diamond interchange opened Monday, May 17, 2021 on Rt. 322 at Rt. 222 in Ephrata Township.

A motorist who did not want to be identified said he felt the diverging diamond was an improvement over the interchange’s previous design, saying he believed it would help reduce crashes in the area.

The $10.9 million project aims to reduce the number and severity of car crashes in the area by minimizing conflict points, or the number of times drivers enter and leave the paths of other motorists, according to PennDOT spokesman David Thompson.

“Safety was by far the chief concern,” Thompson said.

Ephrata diverging diamond instersection

Traffic flows through the new diverging diamond interchange on Rt. 322 at Rt. 222 in Ephrata Township that opened Monday, May 17, 2021.

‘Learning curve’

Diverging diamonds are designed to reduce crash-causing conflict points by switching the sides traffic travels along in both directions. In this case, both lanes of Route 322 switch sides while passing beneath the Route 222 overpass. An average of 19,000 vehicles travel on Route 322 at the Route 222 overpass every day, according to a PennDOT traffic volume map.

“I think there’s a learning curve for people who use this interchange on a regular basis, but I think people who encounter it for the first time might be less likely to get confused,” Thompson said.

Motorists in the area said they found the new interchange to be confusing at first, though many added they believe the double-helix layout is navigable if drivers pay attention to road signs.

The interchange will become more intuitive as additional road work in the area, such as lighting and other improvements that will be added at night during off-peak hours, is completed later in the summer, Thompson said. Crews will close off one of the interchange’s ramps during this work.

Work on the entire project is expected to conclude later in the summer, well ahead of its original scheduled end-date of May 2022.

Ephrata diverging diamond instersection

This aerial view shows east bound traffic on Rt. 322 switching to the left side of the road as it flows through the new diverging diamond interchange on Rt. 322 at Rt. 222 in Ephrata Township that opened Monday, May 17, 2021. West bound traffic, right, waits at a traffic light before merging back onto the right side of Rt. 322. The tractor trailer on the far left is merging from the Rt. 222 south ramp onto Rt. 322 west.

‘It’s pretty bizarre’

David Updegrove, 32, watched vehicles pass through the interchange for much of the morning and said he thought motorists handled the new design well.

“When you first see it, it’s pretty bizarre,” said Updegrove, who works for Atglen-based J.D. Eckman, the project’s contractor.

The new design can be counterintuitive to drivers who are used to staying on the right side of the road. The interchange leads motorists on Route 322 from the right-hand side of the road to the left-hand side before sweeping them back to the right, creating a diamond-shaped median in the center where the eastbound and westbound lanes of traffic converge, separate and converge again.

Even with the unusual new design, Updegrove said traffic was able to flow through the interchange with relative ease.

“As long as you pay attention to the signs and watch out for lights, it’s no problem,” he said.

Traffic light cycles will be improved by the new design, allowing drivers to turn left without the need for a left turn traffic signal.

Construction on the diverging diamond began in late 2019, though Thompson said the seeds of the new design date back to 2013, when PennDOT conducted a road safety audit that identified potential issues at the interchange. A traffic study later that year determined that the interchange needed to be redesigned.

The nation’s first diverging diamond was built in Missouri in 2009. Pennsylvania's first diverging diamond was built at the interchange of Interstate 70 and U.S. 19 in Washington County near Pittsburgh in 2016, the 73rd diverging diamond in the country at the time, according to PennDOT.

Work on additional diverging diamonds across the state are in various stages of design, including one at the interchange of Interstate 83 and Route 851 in York County that is expected to open later in the summer, Thompson said.

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