November 23, 2011

Charm City Circulator sets Thanksgiving hours

The Charm City Circulator will operate on a modified schedule on Thanksgiving Day, taking off during the day but coming alive in the evening to get get fans to and from the Ravens game at M&T Bank Stadium.

Adrienne Barnes, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore City Department of Transportation, said the Circulator will operate from 5 p.m. until an hour after the Thursday night game ends. She estimated that would take the bus runs up to midnight.

 Barnes said the three lines of the free city shuttle bus would operate on a normal schedule Friday through Sunday.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:19 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: City bus service

November 21, 2011

ICC open from 95 to 270 in the morning

About a half-century after it was first proposed, the Intercounty Connector will provide a direct link between Interstates 95 and 270 starting early Tuesday morning. With the opening of the 10-mile stretch between 95 and Georgia Avenue, the new toll road will finally become useful for many residents of the Baltimore region.

Motorists will have about two weeks to "test drive" the road free of charge. The Maryland Transportation Authority has waived tolls until Dec. 5. If you don't have an E-ZPass and think you'll be using the new road regularly, now is the time to break down and get a transponder. You can use the ICC without E-ZPass, but you'll have to pay a service fee to cover the costs of billing by mail.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:30 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: On the roads

November 18, 2011

AAA projects 3.5 percent holiday travel rise

Despite continued economic uncertainty, AAA Mid-Atlantic forecasts a 3.5 percent increase in the number of Marylanders taking to the roads, rails and skies this Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

AAA projects that 871,000 Marylanders will take trips of 50 miles or more between Wednesday and Sunday -- its standard definition of  travel for many years. Thus, its surveys may not be capturing many travelers who leave on Tuesday or earlier.

The organization predicts that 799,000 of those travelers will go by car -- exactly matching the percentage increase in overall travel. It forecasts a 1.3 percent gain in air travel, to 61,000 passengers -- a second strong showing after a weak 2009.

The biggest surge, according to AAA, will come among intercity  rail and bus riders. It projects a 14 percent gain, though that represents only about 1 percent of travelers.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:09 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Air travel, Maryland toll facilities, On the roads

Gunther bus company says it's still running

It's been a bad week to be a transportation company owner with the surname Gunther.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced this week that Gunthers Transport LLC, a Hanover-based trucking company, had been ordered off the road after the agency found a pattern of safety violations that posed an "imminent hazard" to public safety.

The news of that order to discontinue operations immediately had the unintended consequence of tarnishing the reputation of Gunther Charters Inc., a bus company that also has the misfortune to be based in Hanover.

Gunther Charters put out a news release Friday stressing that it is not affiliated with Gunthers Transport, which was accused of a long list of violations of federal trucking regulations. The trucking firms' vehicles have been involved in at least seven serious crashes in the past year, the agency said in an order released Wednesday. One of the truck company's crashes this year led to a death. Gunthers Transport was cited for multiple violations in that case.

Continue reading "Gunther bus company says it's still running" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:25 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads

November 17, 2011

ICC project chief named to head SHA

Melinda Peters, the 38-year-old woman who has overseen construction of the $2.6 billion Intercounty Connector in suburban Washington, was named Thursday to head the State Highway Administration -- putting her in charge of an agency that is still recovering from a highly critical audit this summer.

The appointment by Gov. Martin O'Malley makes Peters the first woman to head a roughly $1 billion-a-year agency in a traditionally male profession. The announcement comes as the SHA is putting the final touches on the section of the ICC that completes the link between Interstates 270 and 95.

The highway is scheduled to open to traffic Tuesday morning. Completion of the section between Georgia Avenue and I-95 means the project is more than 90 percent complete, leaving only some feeder roads, landscaping and a final extension to U.S. 1.

Peters will succeed Neil J. Pedersen, who left the post in June just before the critical audit was issued, as permanent administrator. Deputy Secretary Darrell Mobley has been acting administrator in the interim.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:42 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities, On the roads

November 15, 2011

Getting an early jump on Thanksgiving travel?

More and more our workplaces look like they're running with skeleton crews during Thanksgiving week as Marylanders get an early jump on holiday travel. Many, it seems, are no longer willing to deal with the traffic volumes on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and get an even earlier start on travel.

Are you one of those with plans to start you re holiday travel on Tuesday -- or even Monday -- of the next week? If so, we'd like to talk with you. Please email with contact information. Thanks.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:49 AM | | Comments (0)

Broening Highway to get much-needed repaving

Broening Highway in Southeast Baltimore, easily one of the metropolitan region's most beat-up roads, is about to get a much-needed repaving.

Jamie Kendrick, deputy director of the Baltimore City Department of Transportation, said Monday that the city will put the estimated $16 million project out to bid in about two weeks. He said work on the project is expected to begin in early February.

Broening Highway runs alongside the Seagirt and Dundalk marine terminals and as a result in heavily used by tractor-trailers. The highway is vital to the operations of the Port of Baltimore, and the Maryland Department of Transportation is kicking in $5 million toward the repaving, Kendrick said.

Getting There raised the question with the city after Richard Lessans, CEO of Baltimore-based Commerce Corp., raised the question of the highway's condition in an email 

"It is frustrating to see the condition of Broening Highway, the main conduit to the port. From Holabird Ave. to the second port entrance, the road is uneven, full of potholes and has deep ruts in it," Lessans wrote. 


Continue reading "Broening Highway to get much-needed repaving" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:24 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: On the roads

November 14, 2011

Projects launched at Key Bridge, tunnel thruway

The Maryland Transportation Authority is launching two multi-million-dollar preservation projects on two of its Baltimore-area toll facilities -- the Francis Scot Key Bridge and the Harbor Tunnel Thruway.

The authority plans to spend $6.8 million to clean and paint exposed steel surfaces, repair drainage troughs and make other repairs at the Key Bridge. The work is expected to be finished in summer 2013.

 Another $3 million will go toward underwater repairs and other maintenance work on the Interstate 895 bridge over the Patapsco River -- about 2 1/2 miles south of the Harbor Tunnel. According to the agency, there has been some erosion in the bridge structure in the river. The project is expected to be completed in fall 2013.


Continue reading "Projects launched at Key Bridge, tunnel thruway" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:52 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities

November 11, 2011

Cheatham wants another new Circulator line

After the recent launch of the third line of Baltimore's Charm City Circulator -- the Green Route serving Johns Hopkins Hospital, Fells Point and Harbor East -- former city NAACP chief Marvin L. Cheatham Sr. weighed in with a proposal of his own: a Blue Route between City Hall and the state office complex at Eutaw and Preston streets.

For Cheatham,now president of the Baltimore chapter of the National Action Network, the No. 1 argument his fairness. He says his proposed route would be one for "those who actually live and work in Baltimore city" -- implying that users of the previous three routes do not.

Cheatham complains that the Maryland Transit Administration routes on Eutaw Street are among the worst in the system. He believes there should be a free service for riders in that corridor.

I'm skeptical.


Continue reading "Cheatham wants another new Circulator line" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:01 AM | | Comments (11)
Categories: City bus service

Groups favor gas tax rise -- with conditions

A group of environmental and pro-transit organizations say they're all in favor of raising Maryland's 23.5-cent-a-gallon gas tax -- but only if their conditions are met.

The Coalition for Smarter Growth, 1,000 Friends of Maryland, Action Committee for Transit and other groups issued a joint news release Thursday in which they called on the General Assembly to agree to tighter controls on how any additional money is spent before raising more revenue.

Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of 1,000 Friends, said the groups' support for any gas tax increase is conditional on the legislature adopting measures to ensure that money is spent on projects that are not "business as usual."

Continue reading "Groups favor gas tax rise -- with conditions" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:24 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: For policy wonks only

November 10, 2011

More crashes at usual spot on JFX

A few weeks ago, Baltimore attorney David Rocah contacted Getting There to report that every rain seemed to bring at least one serious crash at a particular spot on the Jones Falls Expressway near Hampden-Woodberry.

I posted a blog item about his concerns and asked Rocah, who has a view from his office of that stretch of southbound Interstate 83 near Union Avenue between Falls Road and Cold Spring Lane. Rocah was good to his word and provided this update Thursday night:

Just so you don't think I'm crazy, I'm going to email you each time another accident occurs, so you can also see whether it happens each time it rains.  Today was (I'm pretty sure) the first rain since you wrote your blog, and sure enough, a few minutes ago there were 2 crashes in the exact same place I described to you.  

After the first accident, which was a single car skidding and hitting the wall, there was a 2nd multi-car pileup which involved a small bus and 1 or 2 other cars (not sure how many other cars; I couldn't see well, because it is dark, but could hear the screeching tires, and the sickening sounds of the cars hitting each other and the wall multiple times).

I have to say, I think its only a matter of time before someone gets killed there.  I've seen people taken away in ambulances almost every time.

So Baltimore City Department of Transportation, what gives here? Is there a design flaw in the highway that's contributing to crashes, or is it simply a case of Maryland drivers refusing to slow down in the rain?

If you do use the JFX, be warned. That area around the Pepsi sign is treacherous when wet.  Of course, which road isn't?


Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:52 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads

City gives company right to develop bike-sharing

The city Board of Estimates has approved a deal giving a company that specializes in bicycle-sharing the exclusive right to develop such a program in Baltimore. B-Cycle, a Waterloo, Wis.-based company, has been given 180 days to negotiate a contract to provide a bike-sharing at no cost to the city.

Such programs, which typically station rental bikes at strategic locations around a city so that members can use them whenever they need them, are widespread in Europe. Cities with such programs include Paris, London and Seville, Spain. In the United States, B-Cycle operates such programs in such cities as Chicago, Denver and San Antonio.

Washington has had a program up and running since September 2010, though with another vendor. The programs operate in a manner similar to the Zipcar service that rents vehicles to members, using set-aside parking spaces in Baltimore and other cities.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:25 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Bicycles

November 9, 2011

New departure at SHA follows critical audit

The top procurement official at the State Highway Administration has left the agency just five months after the release of a harshly critical legislative audit of the agency that criticized the agency's performance in the awarding of contracts.

The SHA announced the departure of Robert P. Gay, director of the SHA's Office of Procurement, in an email to staff Monday. Gay, a state employee since 1975, earned $92,950 a year.  SHA officials, saying they are restricted from commenting on personnel matters under state law, gave no explanation.  

But Gay, reached at his home in Harford County, confirmed his departure. He did not give details of the reasons he left but said "it's in line with all the audit stuff."

The wording of the announcement by Deputy Administrator Cheryl R. B. Hill was terse, giving no indication that the departure was a retirement. Here is the email:

This e-mail is to advise you that, as of today, Robert (Bob) P. Gay is no longer at SHA. Any procurement-related issues previously handled by Bob should be forwarded to Norie Calvert. Norie is serving as Acting Director of the Office of Procurement and Contracts until recruitment is completed and the position is filled. Small procurements will continue to be handled by Carole Zentz who reports to the Director of the Office of Procurement and Contracts. 

Continue reading "New departure at SHA follows critical audit" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:56 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

November 4, 2011

Wind may bar 2-way Bay Bridge operations today

The Maryland Transportation Authority is warning that the normal evening two-way operations on the Bay Bridge will be suspended today unless wind conditions improve.

The authority typically opens one lane of the 3-lane westbound span to eastbound traffic during the evening peak travel time on weekdays. However, it usually will not do so in bad weather for safety reasons. The agency warned that delays are possible.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:30 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities

November 3, 2011

AAA puts annual cost of area crashes at $4.4 billion

Vehicle crashes ran up costs of almost $4.4 billion -- more than twice the cost of traffic congestion -- in the Baltimore area in a single year, according to a study by AAA.

The national study found that across the United States, the cost of crashes was triple that of congestion at almost $300 billion.

AAA looked at 2009, a year in which 245 people were killed in crashes in metropolitan Baltimore. That year the cost of congestion was $98 billion in the U.S. and $2 billion in Maryland, according to AAA. The study found that the cost of crashes exceeded that of congestion in each of the 99 metropolitan areas in the study -- whether large or small.

Continue reading "AAA puts annual cost of area crashes at $4.4 billion" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:15 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads

November 2, 2011

Port sets 3rd straight record for cruise passengers

The port of Baltimore has set a record for cruise passengers for the third straight year, breaking last year's mark with two months to go.

The Maryland Port Administration said Sunday's sailing of the Carnival Pride, its 89th cruise of the year, pushed its 2011 total to 212,821 -- exceeding the record of 210,549 set on 90 cruises last year.

The port still has 16 cruises scheduled to ship out of its South Locust Point passenger terminal this year -- for a total of 105 operated by the Carnival, Celebrity and Royal Caribbean lines.

Last year the port was ranked No. 5 among East Coast cruise ports an No. 12 nationally. Baltimore has been offering year-round cruising since 2009 on Carnival and Royal Caribbean. Among the destinations served out of Baltimore are the Bahamas, Bermuda, the Caribbean, New England and Maritime Canada.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:04 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Afloat

November 1, 2011

State, Montgomery land BRAC dollars

The Department of Defense has awarded Maryland and Montgomery County $88.9 million of the $90 million they sought for traffic improvements around the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, members of the Maryland congressional delegation announced.

The center is moving from its longtime location on the District of Columbia to Montgomery County as part of the Base Realignment and Closure program. The federal funding was announced by Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin, along with U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen. All are Democrats.

The Pentagon will provide $40 million to Montgomery for a multimodal crossing of Route 355. The State Highway Administration will receive $48.9 for four intersection projects in the vicinity of the medical center.

While the money will be directed to the Washington area, it could represent dollars the state will not have to provide for BRAC improvements. Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, who heads the governor's subcabinet overseeing the BRAC process, said the grants would help create jobs and relieve congestion in the Bethesda area.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:30 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: For policy wonks only

City to launch Circulator Green Route today

Baltimore will add a third line to its Charm City Circulator service Tuesday, with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake joining other city officials for the launch of the new Green Route at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

The Green line will run from Hopkins Hospital through Fells Point and Harbor East before heading north to City Hall and the Fallsway. It will then head back to Hopkins along the same route.

The Green joins the east-west Orange Route, launched in January 2010 as one of the last acts of former Mayor Sheila Dixon’s administration, and the north-south Purple Route, which got its start later that year. The Orange runs from Hollins Market to Central Avenue, while the Purple goes from South Baltimore to Penn Station.

Continue reading "City to launch Circulator Green Route today" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:00 AM | | Comments (6)

October 31, 2011

B-W Parkway closings coming tonight

The Baltimore-Washington Parkway will be closed intermittently tonight as construction crews remove two steel beams from the bridge that carries Ridge Road over the highway near BWI Marshall Airport.

The State Highway Administration said its bridge rehabilitation project will require several complete closures of the road, also known as Maryland 295, for periods of 15 minutes between midnight at 5 a.m. In addition, a single lane will be closed through the night at 9 p.m. The agency suggested that travelers use alternate routes such as Interstates 95 or 97 or U.S. 1.

Ridge Road will remain open during the operation, which is part of a $1.2 million project to rebuild the 61-year-old  Ridge Road bridges over the parkway. The work is expected to be completed next summer.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:32 PM | | Comments (0)

October 28, 2011

Fully open ICC to be free Nov. 22-Dec.4

The Intercounty Connector, which is now scheduled to open all the way between Interstates 95 and 370 by the morning of Nov. 22, will be toll-free for almost two weeks as drivers become acquainted with the new highway in the Washington suburbs.

The Maryland Transportation Authority will begin collecting tolls on the already open and about-to-open stretches of the ICC Dec. 5.

The section of the ICC that will open by Nov. 22 runs from I-95 in Prince George's County too Georgia Avenue in Montgomery County. It will link up with the section between Georgia Avenue and I-370, which opened in February. The opening completes the main task of the ICC, linking the I-95 to Interstate 270 corridors without requiring drivers to use congested and slow local roads. A future segment of the toll road is expected to connect with U.S. 1, but for most motorists' purposes next month's opening will mean the ICC is complete after almost a half-century of debate and about four years under construction.

Motorists will pay tolls at the same per-mile rates charged on the first section: 25 cents at peak times, 20 cents off-peak and 10 cents overnight.

Officials estimate that travelers between Laurel and Gaithersburg will be able to make the trip in about 17 minutes, rather than the estimated 47 it now takes on local roads. For Baltimore drivers, it will also reduce the need to use the often-congested Capital Beltway to reach destinations in Montgomery County.




Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:24 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities

Toll hikes coming Tuesday: How will they affect you?

The first phase of the largest package of toll increases in Maryland's history will take effect at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday as the bill comes due for two mega-projects and the state transportation system's aging infrastructure.

The increases were approved by the board of The Maryland Transportation Authority in September after a series of public hearings led to some modifications in the original plan but only minor changes in its overall scope.

Getting There is interested in hearing from users of the states' various toll facilities about how the increases will affect them -- in their commuting, in personal travel or in doing business. Please email and include a phone number where you can be reached.

Continue reading "Toll hikes coming Tuesday: How will they affect you?" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:00 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities

October 27, 2011

Harford CC to host 3rd Heather Hurd walk/run

Harford Community College will host the third annual Heather L. Hurd 5K Walk/Run Nov. 12, honoring a former student whose 2008 death in a Florida crash helped lead to passage of Maryland's laws restricting cell phone use and banning texting while behind the wheel.

After that crash, Heather's father, Russell Hurd testified in Annapolis in support of both bills, telling lawmakers about his daughter's death in a crash in which she was hit by a distracted truck driver. The walk/run was established as a benefit to help provide book scholarships for HCC students while also calling attention to the problem of distracted driving.

Registration will take place that Saturday morning from 7 a.m. to 7:45 a.m at the Chesapeake Center Dining Room. The race, with entry fees of $20 for adults and $10 for those under 18, starts at 8 a.m. Participants can pre-register or get more information  by clicking here.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:55 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads

I-83 spectator finds rain means crashes at one spot

Attorney David Rocah has a clear view of traffic in the Jones Falls Expressway from the window of his office in the Hampden-Woodberry area. And what he's been seeing, any time it rains, is a lot of crashes in one particular spot on Interstate 83.

Rocah called Getting There Thursday after witnessing yet another wet weather crash in the southbound lanes of the JFFX near Union Avenue, just south of the Pepsi sign.

"It always happens in the same place. It's the exact same place that's pretty visible," he said. "It's not every time it rains, but it's almost every time it rains."

Rocah said the spot is not on a curve but on a straight section. He said he's seen all manner of crashes -- single-vehicle spin-outs, two-car collisions, pile-ups. Frequently, he'll see ambulances responding to the scene. But he said he's never seen a crash there during dry weather. A check of the comprehensive web site SafeRoadsMap turned up no fatalities at that point in recent years (excluding 2011).

Continue reading "I-83 spectator finds rain means crashes at one spot" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:52 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads

Highway agency recruits 'snow squad'

With winter looming and the first flakes possible this weekend, the State Highway Administration is looking for a few good snow scouts.

The agency is seeking to recruit a "snow squad" of about 30 volunteers to help highway officials assess road conditions this winter. According to SHA acting Administrator Darrell B. Mobley, personal observations can provide information on road conditions that the agency's cameras and traffic sensors can't detect.

Information provided by the volunteers will help officials at the agency's Statewide Operations Center in Hanover make decisions. According to the SHA, the volunteers will be trained to report on such matters as snow or ice on roadways, traffic vehicles and stranded motorists.


Continue reading "Highway agency recruits 'snow squad'" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

October 26, 2011

Maryland ignition interlock program expands

Marylanders who who have been convicted of drinking and driving are more likely than residents of any other East Coast state to be enrolled in an ignition interlock program -- requiring them to pass a breath test before starting their cars -- than residents of any other East Coast state, the Motor Vehicle Administration reports.

The MVA said that after a large increase in its numbers over the past few years, Maryland's interlock program has the highest per capita participation in the region.

That boast came as Maryland officials announced a further expansion of the state's interlock program under a law passed by the General Assembly earlier this year. It took effect Oct. 1, expanding the circumstances under which participation in the program becomes mandatory.


Continue reading "Maryland ignition interlock program expands" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:52 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads
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About Michael Dresser
Michael Dresser has been an editor, reporter and columnist with The Sun longer than Baltimore's had a subway. He's covered retailing, telecommunications, state politics and wine. Since 2004, he's been The Sun's transportation writer. He lives in Ellicott City with his wife and travel companion, Cindy.

His Getting There column appears on Mondays. Mike's blog will be a forum for all who are interested in highways, transit and other transportation issues affecting Baltimore, Maryland and the region.

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