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August 26, 2009

Bad news for a bridge lover



Photo by Kara Brown     

Kara Brown of the Medfield neighborhood of Baltimore saw the item here about the State Highway Administration's plans to replace the deck on the McDonogh Road bridge over the Gwynns Falls. She had a funny feeling about the project and sent the folowing inquiry:

I love that bridge, it is a small but great example of art deco, I have never seen anything else like it, and have even photographed it. I drive it every week day, and even talked to a workman there, who seemed to know nothing about the project.  I read your article saying that the bridge is structurally sound, but needs a new deck.  Can you tell me if that means removing the concrete and metal railings?  I have been upset for several weeks since they started working there, not knowing if the aesthetics of the bridge are going to be destroyed.  Since the work is to take so long, I suspect that it does mean destroying all that is visible.

I would greatly appreciate your answer, as I have been driving that way, even though it is backed up now, just to see if the bridge has been destroyed.

I passed along her inquiry to SHA spokesman Charlie Gischlar, and it turned out her worst fears would come true.

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to your reader concerning SHA's project to replace the bridge deck (driving surface) of the McDonogh Road Bridge over Gwynns Falls in Baltimore County.
While SHA recognizes that the original steel railing displayed a unique aesthetical value to the bridge, the safety of motorists and our construction crews must come first, which includes replacing the existing driving surface (the bridge deck) and replacing with a new concrete bridge deck.  SHA will also replace the existing steel railing with a new concrete parapet wall (The parapet wall is part of the bridge deck).  The improvements will improve safety, ride quality and add years of life to the bridge.

It is worth noting that, before undertaking any large project, SHA thoroughly evaluates various aspects of the project, including the potential for impacts to historical structures in or near a project site.  After careful evaluation from SHA's environmental planning division and consulting with the Maryland Historical Trust, the McDonogh Road Bridge over Gwynns Falls was determined to be not eligible for the National Register of Historic Places (or not historic in nature) and therefore could be dismantled as part of the bridge deck replacement project.

The $891,000 bridge project should be completed spring 2010, weather permitting.

So it goes. It would be nice if the SHA would at least let art deco fans bid on some of that old steel railing instead of disposing of it as scrap.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:53 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

August 25, 2009

Rails and NIMBYism

shanghai maglevMaryann here, providing spot support this week while Mike's on vacation.

Maryland is seeking $360 million in federal funds for rail upgrades, Tim Wheeler (of B'more Green) wrote for today's paper. The state is hoping to use stimulus funds for improvements to replace the aging passenger tunnel (not the freight tunnel that caught fire years ago), expand the BWI Marshall airport rail station, and make improvements on passenger rail in the area.

However, one of the most interesting tidbits lies farther down in the story. The Federal Rail Administration will open up bids in October for greater infrastructure improvements, which could possibly include the first maglev train in the U.S. (The train pictured at left is Shanghai's maglev.) But problems are afoot, Wheeler reports:

Any bid for maglev funding faces a potential hurdle. A preliminary study of a maglev train between Washington and Baltimore halted after state lawmakers barred Maryland officials from studying, developing or building such a system in response to constituents' vocal fears about the safety and potential disruption of super-high-speed trains in their communities.

Call me daft, but wouldn't a high-speed rail be a boon for the Baltimore-Washington area? Are we so consumed with NIMBYism that we can't even study and consider the option?

Personally, I would love to have a quicker, more convenient route to and from D.C., especially on days when the B-W Parkway is closed both ways. But that's just my non-homeowner perspective. I'd like to know your opinion: Would you be down with a maglev train connecting Baltimore and Washington, or are you firmly against?

Photo by kanegen @ Flickr

Posted by Maryann James at 9:43 AM | | Comments (30)
Categories: Amtrak/intercity railroads

August 23, 2009

ICC work changing Montgomery traffic flow

If you're traveling in Montgomery County this week, you might run into some changed traffic patterns force bby construction of the Inter-County Connector. The work will take place Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. I'll let the State  Highway Administration describe the specific changes because they're good at such things:


Traffic patterns are scheduled to change at the following locations:

• Longmead Crossing Drive - On or about August 24, crews will shift traffic west of existing Longmead Crossing Drive onto a temporary road allowing for construction of a permanent bridge over the ICC.  Crews will shift traffic back to the existing road summer 2010.  Pedestrian access will be maintained via temporary sidewalk connections on the west side of Longmead Crossing Drive at Valleyfield Drive.

• MD 182 (Layhill Road) - On or about August 28, crews will shift Layhill Road traffic onto a temporary road allowing for construction of a permanent bridge over the ICC, as well as work on the ICC/MD 182 interchange.  During this one-day transition, SHA will alternate traffic using a flagging operation and temporary lane closures. 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:12 PM |

August 21, 2009

Nearly 5,000 cancel E-ZPasses

The following story is running in the Saturday edition of The Sun.

 Almost 5,000 E-ZPass subscribers in the state closed their accounts last month after a new $1.50-a-month fee took effect, the Maryland Transportation Authority said Friday.

The 4,990 customers who dropped their accounts in July were the most for any month since the authority voted in January to impose the fees.

According to spokeswoman Teri Moss, Maryland continues to have 557,000 active subscribers to the electronic toll collection plan. She disputed published reports that 19,000 customers had filed requests to drop their accounts, saying that was a tally of inquiries about possible cancellation.

Before the fee took effect July 1, the authority disclosed that 72,000 of its account holders had not used their transponders in the past 12 months.

In July, Moss said, about 2,000 of those inactive account holders dropped E-ZPass.

There's more below if you're interested.

This has been a frequent Getting There topic, so allow me to add a comment.

It's all  going according to plan. People who don't get enough use out of their E-ZPasses are turning them in to avoid the $1.50-a-month fee. That's  as it  should be. They were costing the rest of us money as long as they hung on for free. It isn't exactly a kinder system, but it is more rational. So far the number of people turning in their transponders is running at about 1 perccent of the subscriber base.  That number could increase considerably in the coming months without harm to the system as more of  the 70,000 who have inactive accounts wake up and realize they're spending money and getting nothing.


Tom Gugel, the authority's deputy director of E-ZPass operations, said it costs the state $2.25 a month to keep an account open -- no matter whether it is used heavily or not at all.

Authority officials have said that with the fee in place it make sense for inactive users to drop the service.

"They saved money. We saved money also," Gogel said.

Moss said the nearly 5,000 July closings were offset by 2,800 accounts that were opened last month -- for a net loss of 2,200 subscribers.

According to the authority, the average number of closings before the fee was imposed ran at about 1,000 a month. They said it would be reasonable to suppose that about 4,000 of the closings were related to the fee.

"We expected quite a few accounts to go away," Gugel said.

Closings this year remained at typical levels until late spring, when they increased to 1,600 in May and 3,000 in June, the authority said.

Officials said the were not surprised by the response to the fee, which they said was intended to recover some of the costs of maintaining accounts.

Gugel said the use of E-ZPass transponders at Maryland toll facilities has continued to increase and that the overall effectiveness of the program has been maintained.

According to Moss, there has been no increase in congestion because most of those who dropped their accounts were likely infrequent users of toll facilities.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:41 PM | | Comments (8)

Wider I-270 would take 5 times more homes than ICC

Here's an interesting tidbit from the State Highway Administration's winter 2009 newsletter on the I270 corridor study: Widening the highway the way the Montgomery County Planning Board wants to do it would kick 251 families out of their homes.

That's right. This $4.6 billion boondoggle would confiscate five times more homes than the Inter-county Connector -- which has required a mere 47 "residential displacements" as tthey are kknown in transportation wonk-speak.

For context, the transit portion of the I-270 study -- known as the Corridor Cities Transiitway -- would take 5-9 homes. The proposed Red Line through the heart of Baltimore would take nobody's home.

The list of reasons for questioning this grandiose project just gets longer and longer the more one looks at it. I'm still waiting for an explanation of how it can be built without raising Baltimore-area tolls. I haven't heard anything yet. Anyone want to enlighten me?



Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:30 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: On the roads

Eastbound backups expected on Bay Bridge

Because of bad weather, the Maryland Transportation Authority has called  off two-way operations on the Bay Bridge this evening, so there will only be two eastbound travels lanes.

When the weather permits, the authority usually opens one of the westbound lanes to eastbound traffic at times of peak travel. Congestion this evening could be made worse by the combination of rush hour commuting and travel to beach destinations.

If you live in the  Baltimore area, it would be wise to consider using a northern route around the head of the bay.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:57 PM |
Categories: Maryland toll facilities

Push poll unmasked?

The GreaterGreaterWashington blog, one of the best for keeping tabs on transportation projects in that region, has uncovered what looks suspiciously like a "push poll" being circulated by supporters of a disputed Johns Hopkins development project in northern Montgomery County.

Critics say the proposed campus is a sprawling development, far from existing transit lines, that ties in with a proposed $4.6 billion project to widen Interstate 270.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:57 PM |

August 20, 2009

MARC having 'major' disruptions - finally

The Maryland Transit Administration is reporting "major" disruptions on MARC tonight. There's nothing particularly surprising about  that. What's  new is that the agency isn't dismissing the problems as "minor" -- as it usually  does.

Jeff Qunton at Inside Charm City has complied a long of what went wrong on the Penn and Brunswick Lines today. It isn't pretty --  mechanical failure, canceled trains, late trains.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:19 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: MARC train

It's looking grim for the Bay Bridge next week


Next week is shaping up as a great one for avoiding the Bay Bridge.

Two-way travel will bedevil night travelers on the  bridge most of the week. On Tuesday night through Friday night, the westbound span will close at 10 p.m. and reopen the following morning. On Saturday night it will close at 11 p.m. and reopen at 7 a.m. Sunday.

That means two-way travel on the two lane eastbound span -- a daunting prospect when everyone on the bridge is awake  and sober and potentially deadly when they're not. I'm not faulting the Maryland Transportation Authority for allowing two-way operations under these circumstances. Maintenance work has to be done. But the authority could do a better job of encouraging all those who can to use the northern route around Elkton. For people coming from Baltimore, it's just as effective a way to get to and from many Delmarva destinations.

In choosing a route, it's wise to consider that all it takes is one bad driver to get you trapped on the bridge or its approaches for hours. A good example of that occurred last August, when a young woman who had been drinking fell asleep while driving on the bridge and set off a chain of events that cost a trucker his life and other motorists much of their day (results shown at left). It happened during  two-way operations on the eastbound span.

Meanwhile, the eastbound span will have closings of its own Sunday night and Monday morning for repairs to the bridge wall.

Sun photo

On Sunday, one lane will close at 9 p.m. and the other wiill be shut down at midnight. That means two-way traffic on the westbound span until 5 a.m.  It's not as scary as two-way operations on the narrower span, but the One Bad Driver Rule is still in force.

The challenges next week will not be confined to daylight  overnight hours. Next Monday through Thursday, one lane of the westbound span will close for preservation work from 9 a.m. until 2:30 p.m.

Deep Creek Lake, anyone?



Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:36 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities

Northbound I-83 closed downtown

UPDATE @ 10:10 a.m. Traffic is flowing again.

The Downtown Partnership says the northbound lanes of Interstate 83, the Jones Falls Expressway, have been closed between Fayette Street and North Avenue because of an oil spill.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:22 AM |

August 19, 2009

Obama as Hitler at MVA? It's legal

A reader called in to complain that a pair of people associated with fringe figure Lyndon LaRouche set up a table just outside the door of the Motor Vehicle Administration office in Westminster Wednesday adorned with a poster of President Obama sporting a Hitler-style mustache.

The woman who spotted the poster, a Republican and military wife who clings to such quaint concepts as civil discourse and respect for the commander-in-chief, said she was offended by the portrayal and wondered whether the LaRouche people had a right to do what they were doing  when they were clearly on state property.

"If I want to go to a political rally, I expect  to see such things but not when I turn in my plates," said the caller, who declined to give her full name because of her husband's job.

According to MVA spokesman Buel Young, the LaRouche folks were entirely within their rights. It seems that a LaRouche-affiliated group went to court some years ago and sued successfully for the right to air their views on MVA property.

Now the MVA has a procedure under which any group that wants to spread its message can apply to the agency's Office of Risk  Management for permission to disseminate its views on agency property outside MVA  offices. According to Young, the LaRouche people have been scrupulous about following the rules during recent appearances at MVA offices around the state.

"We do not control their message," Young said.

That's the First Amendment at work, folks.

Here are  the rules these groups must abide by. If they are in violation, you have every right to complain.

   We agree to abide by the following restrictions:

1.  These activities shall be confined to the designated sidewalk areas of the facility.
     MVA will designate locations where the activities can be conducted so as not to
     obstruct or hinder the ingress or egress of persons using the MVA buildings,
     obstruct or hinder pedestrian routes, or unreasonably disturb the public in the
     course of normal business activity on MVA property.

2.  The number of participants may be limited to a number reasonable under the
     circumstances to preserve safety, order and ingress, egress and public pedestrian

3.  These activities shall be conducted in a peaceful and orderly manner.  Any person,
     group of persons, or organization participating in the activity may not:

     a)  impede or physically touch the public or pedestrians using or transmitting MVA
      property without their consent;
     b)  engage in demanding, harassing, threatening, or intimidating conduct;
     c)  engage in disorderly conduct;
     d)  create loud and unseemly noises;
     e)  ignite or maintain any open fires;
     f)  profanely curse, swear or use obscene language; or
     g)  unreasonably disturb the public in the course of normal business activity.

4.  Any person, group of persons, or organization conducting the activity may operate
     from a table provided a sign or placard informs the public that the MVA has no
     connection whatsoever with the organization or it's activities.

5.  Any person, group of persons, or organization conducting the activity shall be
     responsible for maintaining the cleanliness of MVA property within it's immediate
     confines and for removing all litter attributable to their activities.  They shall
     furthermore be responsible for any damage to any MVA property, or to any real
     or personal property caused by their activities.

6.  Pamphlets, handbills, leaflets, signs, placards, posters, collection boxes or containers,
     any similar material, may not be left unattended.

7.  Any person, group of persons, or organization conducting activities shall apply for
    approval by completing this form and filing same in advance with the Office of Risk
    Management and Safety (fax 410-424-3068).  Blank forms can be obtained by calling
    410-768-7069 or 410-768-7449.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:42 PM | | Comments (5)

The little engine that could (whine a lot)

Adam Pagnucco at Maryland Politics Watch is building up a head of steam for his apparent argument that the rest of the state owes Montgomery County $4.6 billion to turn Interstate 270 into the gazillion-lane Maryland Sprawlway.

The theme is that Montgomery County is the "economic engine of the state" and deserves to remain so forever. It appears that if the Baltimore region, Prince George's, Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore don't give Montgomery what it wants (even though it's dubious that all of Montgomery wants it), the entire population of the county will decamp across the Potomac and leave nothing but scorched earth from Takoma Park to Germantown.

"This engine is wearing down. And if it breaks, the state will stop moving," Pagnucco wails.

Uh, Adam, is the federal government going to move to Yucca Mountain, Nevada, if I-270 isn't widened? Don't think so.

Maryland has been flying far too long on a single economic engine. It will fly a lot smoother and straighter if it had one on each wing. Let me suggest that growth be rechanneled toward Interstate 95, where much more of the state can reach the jobs. Montgomery's been pulling too much of the weight for too long. It behooves the rest of the state to give it a break from the arduous task of creating wealth and to absorb some of that traffic stuck in the growth-saturated I-270 corridor.

I can't wait to read Pagnuco's Part 2. The more these Montgomery folks lecture us about their indispensibility, the sooner we'll decide to decommission I-270 and turn it into a hiker-biker trail.





Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:47 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: On the roads

Route to Delaware beaches will remain a slog

Ron Rudolf of Ellicott City posed a timely question about the propects for improvements on Route 404 -- a main route to the Delaware resorts of Rehoboth Beach, Dewey Beach and Lewes. As we approach Labor Day, many Marylanders can look forward to sitting in traffic on this road through Queen Anne's County, Caroline County and Delaware.

Rudolf wrote:

 A topic that is certain to have very broad appeal among readers is the current status in increasing MD Eastern Shore's Rt. 404 (the highway of death?) from a two lane to a four lane highway.  WIKEPEDIA states that this is to come about as a result of the Obama stimulus package.  I was wondering, just when does this begin?  Will the entire section of Rt 404 become a four lane highway from Rt. 50 all the way to the Delaware Line?  If so, will Delaware extend their portion further toward the beaches?  If not, one wonders why the Feds don't step in top make this happen.

I can answer the last question: The feds just don't do that. They leave local highway decisions to the states.

The other questions I put to Dave Buck of the State Highway Administration. He wrote back:

The next phase of the widening along MD 404 between east of Tuckahoe Creek and east of MD 480 was announced last weekend by Governor O'Malley at an event to dedicate the MD 404 Bridge over the Choptank River to former Governor Harry Hughes.  This widening along MD 404 is being funded with stimulus $$ and will begin in the next several weeks. 
Motorists that travel along MD 404 are likely aware SHA has already widened two sections of MD 404 over the past several years.  We opened a new four-lane divided section along MD 404 between south of Legion Road and Double Hills Road in 2005 and a second section between Double Hills Road and Sennett Road in 2007. 
The ultimate goal is to widen an additional 11.8 miles along MD 404 between US 50 and MD 404 Business west of Denton.  Of course, this will take many years and quite a bit of funding that is currently not available.  This will be done in segments just as has been done in the past 7-8 years (makes sense both from a funding perspective and a impact perspective).
The stimulus funding certainly is helping to keep the momentum moving forward on MD 404 with the announcement of this next phase to begin this year.
Delaware has no plans to widen Del 404. 

Buck said Delaware officials have been very clear on that point: "It's something they don't want to consider.. . . They've shown no interest in pursuing that."

So there you have it: Maryland can widen 404 all the way from U.S. 50 to the state line and you'll still have a backup where it narrows down to two lanes. That's one reason Maryland has made the stretch of 404 west of Denton its priority.

Options for travelers include:

1. Boycotting Delaware and telling their beach town chambers of commerce why.

2. Getting a Maryland highway rooad map in order to plot an alternate route to avoid jams.

3. Traveling at off-peak times.

4. Accepting delays as a test of character.




Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:39 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: On the roads

Frosh seeks alternatives to I-270 widening

Any illusion of unity in the Montgomery County legislative delegation has been shattered by a letter drafted by Sen. Brian E. Frosh, reported somewhat breathlessly by the Maryland Politics Watch blog, calling on Gov. Martin O'Malley to order a full study of transit alternatives to the $4.6 billion proposal to widen Interstate 270.

Blogger Adam Pagnucco is correct in noting that money is difficult to transfer dollar  for dollar between highways and transit projects, but he's off base when he assumes Frosh's proposal arises from the senator's ignorance of transportation finance. As anyone who has covered the General Assembly knows, Frosh is one of the smartest legislators in Annapolis and a senator whose  expertise  is not confined to the matters before his committee.

Pagnucco also shows a hint of naivete when he writes: "Why would we be daft enough to even hint to the state that we don't want a big transportation project?"

Frosh's letter makes it crystal clear that he does not want to be included in Pagnucco's "we." The senator, perhaps the most dedicated and knowledgeable environmentalist in the General Assembly, is about as likely to join a team promoting a sprawl-inducing road project as he is to sponsor a repeal of the ban on dumping  phosphates in the bay. 

He's  hardly daft. He's a south-county lawmaker who feels secure in the knowledge that his constituents have little interest in a huge, environmentally questionable north county project. Look for his letter to pick up a respectable number of signatures from fellow lawmakers in the Bethesda-Silver Spring-Takoma Park areas of the county.

And by the way, those of us in the rest of the state aren't as dumb as we look to folks from Montgomery. The county's internal division is well-known to political observers in Baltimore and Annapolis. Don't bother to hide your dirty knickers. We've already had a peek.






Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:01 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: On the roads

August 18, 2009

More 'minor' disruptions on MARC

MARC is working on a trifecta of trouble this evening -- with so-called "minor" disruptions on all three lines.

From the MTA:

Camden: Marc 848 is operating approx 25 mins late approaching Muirkirk due to following a heat inspector.

Penn: Marc 530 is approaching Baltimore operating approximately 35 minutes late.

Brunswick: The elevators at Silver Spring Station are currently out-of-service and repair personnel are enroute.  

With tonight's thunderstorms, the only surprise is that it isn't worse. Or  are the tree limbs falling on the tracks as I type?


Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:55 PM | | Comments (4)

Oaks unhappy but won't block Red Line


                                                                                Sun Photo

Del. Nathaniel Oaks (left) and Del. Sandy Rosenberg.


I had the chance to catch up with Del. Nathaniel Oaks Tuesday on the subject of the proposed Red Line, the east-west transit line that would go through his  political base in Edmondson Village.

The 41st District Democrat said he's not happy with the route that Gov. Martin O'Malley chose or the fact that it involves running light rail on the surface along Edmondson Avenue. But he joined the other lawmakers from the 41st in pledging not to attempt to block funding for the transit line from Bayview to Woodlawn.

Oaks had previously relayed his position through Del. Sandy Rosenberg, his district colleague, but that's no replacement for a direct quote from the colorful Delegate Oaks.

"Am I going to raise the kind of hell that's  going to stop the prooject? I don't think so," he said. "The project itself is bigger than my opposition to  five or six blocks down Edmondson Avenue."

Oaks added that he would have preferred it if O'Malley had chosen a route along Eastern Avenue rather than one along Boston Street, calling the northern route a straighter shot to Bayview. But Oaks said an improved transit connection between the Security Square area and Johns  Hopkins' Bayview campus "is definitely something we need."

Incidentally, it is interesting to see the once-fractious delegation from the 41st, which also includes Sen. Lisa Gladden and Del. Jill Carter, working as a team on this issue. That can only help in their dealings with the governor and City Hall.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:53 PM |
Categories: Red Line

Summer of horrors continues on D.C. transit

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority reports that a contractor was killed Tuesday morning in an electrocution accident at its Bladensburg bus depot in Northeast Washington. Meanwhile, a crack was found in the  track on the Metrorail Red Line.

It was just last week that a man apparently committed suicide by placing himslef on the tracks at the West Falls Chruch station in Virginia. Earlier in the summer, a  Metro employee was killed on the job. And of the course the worst was the June 22 crash of two trains on the Red Line that left nine dead.

If that wasn't enough, last week brought the news of the firings of two bus operators for serious infractions.

When will it all end?


Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:38 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: WMATA/D.C. Metro

MTA adds new Quickbus route this month

The Maryland Transit Administration will add a new express bus route between the downtown University  of Maryland Transit Center and Towson as part of a series of changes it will make in its fall schedule.

The new No. 48 Quickbus will provide limited-stop service along the current route of the No. 8 bus line, one of the system's busiest. The new route, which will replace the express runs of the No. 8 line, is modeled on the crosstown No. 40 Quickbus service begun several years ago.

Weekday service on the 48 will run every 15 minutes between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. on the Greenmount Avenue-York Road corridor. On Saturdays, service will begin at 7 a.m. and continue until 7 p.m. The line will not operate on Sundays, when the route will be served by the No. 8.

Other changes in the  fall schedule, which will  go into effect Aug. 30, include new schedules of Routes No. 3, 4, 16, 20, 21, 27, 29,  36, 48, 51 and 150. The current M1, M2 and M6 routes will be redesignated the No. 52, No. 53 and No. 57 respectively. The M17 route is being eliminated, with service between the Owings Mills Metro Station and Red Land Court being switched to the No. 59 route.

On the No. 17 route to Anne Arundel County, service to the Airport 100 Business Park and the State Employees Credit Union headquarters will be eliminated. Some  runs will terminate at Arundel Mills, others at Parkway Center.

Other changes will occur on Routes No. 7, 8, 14, 15, 24, 33, 35 and 48 routes.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:34 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Local bus lines

D.C. Metro to bring wireless underground

The Washington Metro system announced that it will equip 20 underground stations for wireless service on the Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel, AT&T and T-Mobile networks so that riders can make calls, text or get access to the Web while in the subway.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:37 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: WMATA/D.C. Metro

Virginia express toll lanes put on hold

The Washington Examiner is reporting that Virginia has called a halt to its planned addition of express toll lanes to Interstate 395 and Interstate 95 between the Pentagon and Spotsylvania County, citing difficulties in financing the project.

Construction on the project, a public-private venture with Fluor Daniel and Transurban USA, had been exected to begin next year.

This could put a damper on a similar, $4.6 billion scheme to widen Interstate 270 by adding two express toll lanes in each direction. Financing that project could be a challenge, especially if lawmakers from Baltimore and other regions of the  state block the use of increased tolls from their local facilities to underwrite bonds.

In light of these credit issues, Maryland transportation planners may want to take a serious look at an all-transit proposal for easing congestion in that corridor.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:33 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads

August 17, 2009

McDonogh Road getting new bridge deck

The McDonogh Road Bridge over the Gwynns Falls will be cut down to a single lane to carry two-way traffic next week as the State Highway Administration launches a project to replace the surface of the nearly 70-year old structure.

After the closing of the eastbound lane on or about Tuesday, two-way traffic in the westbound lane will be managed through installation of a temporary signal that will operate around the clock all week. A second phase of the project will involve work on the westbound lane.

The bridge was built in 1940, but the highway administration said it remains structurally safe -- needing only a new deck. Most of the work will be performed between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. on weekdays, the agency said, but there  will also be some night work.

The project is expected to be completed next spring.

The project is somewhat unusual because McDonogh Road is not a state highway.  According to  SHA spokesman Charlie Gischlar, the road apart from the bridge was transferred to Baltimore County's control in the 1990s. Gischlar said  that once the bridge work is complete, it too would be transferred to county ownership.




Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:34 PM |
Categories: On the roads

ICC comes to I-95, brings lane closings

The $2.5 billion Inter-county Connector project will start being felt by drivers on Interstate 95 as the  State  Highway Administration begins a series of lane closings and traffic shifts to allow for construction of the interchange of the two highways.

The lane closings, which will affect the stretch of I-95 between Route 198 in Laurel and Route 212 in Beltsville,  will continue through Sept. 29. Changes in the traffic pattern will remain in place until July 2011.

Northbound single-lane closings will start at 8 p.m., while southbound closings will start at 7 p.m. Double lane closings will start in both directions at 11 p.m. The  highway administration is warning motorists to expect delays.

Lanes will be  shifted to the left, using the inside median as a travel lane, so that new feeder lanes can be built on the right sides of I-95 to lead to the ICC.




Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:00 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: On the roads

MARC train takes a dive

A reader wanted to know what the heck went wrong on the Penn Line this morning. It's a familiar story: A locomotive broke down, Train 405 out of Penn Station had to be cancelled and following trains were crowded. MTA spokeswoman Cheron Wicker said the breakdown was heat-related. "It was a rough to the morning but it straightened itself out," she said. With the MTA mired in a dispute with the manufacturer of its new, $100 million fleet of 26 locomotives, MARC riders can expect little relief this summer. With a little luck, maybe the new locomotives will be in service by next summer -- allowing the MTA to retire some of the breakdown-prone "turkeys" in its inventory. Or not.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:54 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: MARC train, MARC train

August 14, 2009

Toll authority plods ahead with travel plaza project



                                                                                           Sun photo/Lloyd Fox

A visit last week to the Maryland House, the venerable travel plaza along Interstate 95 near Aberdeen, brought back memories  of an October 2006 meeting there with Trent M. Kittleman.

Littleman, then executive secretary of the Maryland Transportation Authority, outlined  ambitious plans to replace the vintage 1963 travel plaza and its younger Cecil County counterpart, the Chesapeake House.

But  here it is 2009, and there were few signs of change from three years before. Nor had I heard much mention of the project in recent years.

Authority spokewoman Teri Moss assured me this week that the project has not fallen by the wayside. She said the state is developing a solicitation for a contractor to design, build and operate the facilities. She said she expects the request for proposals (RFP) to hit the streets late this year or early in 2010.

"We were hoping to get the RFP out earlier, but this is a new concept for us," Moss wrote.  "We’ve been careful to come up with a document that would generate a great amount of interest and from the best companies – that would give us the most out of the proposals."

Moss said the authority hopes to have chosen a contractor and to have given it the green light to proceed by the end of next year.

To read the full 2006 article, click below.


   From the sunset of the Studebaker to the heyday of the Hummer, motorists traveling on Interstate 95 have been taking their bathroom breaks near Aberdeen in a distinguished-looking, red-brick, neo-Georgian building called the Maryland House - the busiest travel plaza in the United States.

    Since the Ford administration, drivers have had a second choice of pit stop on the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway - the oh-so-'70s Chesapeake House in Cecil County, just to the north. It's not as busy - or as attractive - as its older counterpart, but it consistently ranks in the top five nationally.But now Maryland has pronounced both facilities obsolete and is laying plans to replace them.

    In its newly released 2007-2012 spending plan, the Maryland Transportation Authority has budgeted $1.8 million for planning and engineering of new travel plazas expected to open early in the next decade.

    "The Maryland House and Chesapeake House Travel Plazas have aged to the point in which a full redesign and reconstruction is necessary to adequately meet public demand over the next 20-30 years," the authority says in the draft of the budget plan it will submit to the General Assembly.

    By moving to replace its aging travel plazas, Maryland is joining a national trend among states that built toll roads in the mid-20th century. Along the Pennsylvania Turnpike, for instance, the same company that runs the Maryland and Chesapeake houses is pouring $100 million into a comprehensive rebuilding of 18 travel plazas over the next five years. New Jersey, Maine and Ohio are also among the states to build new plazas in recent years.

    The cost to Maryland of replacing the plazas - familiar rest stations to nearly everyone who drives the Northeast corridor between Washington and New York - has yet to be determined because much of the burden is likely to be borne by a corporate partner. With its two-decade contract with Bethesda-based HMSHost Corp. due to expire in late 2008, the authority plans to invite potential contractors to submit proposals next year for two travel plazas for the 21st century.

    What those proposals might yield is difficult to say, but it's certain that the result will be far different from the Maryland House that opened in November 1963 when President Kennedy dedicated the Maryland highway - one week before his fateful trip to Dallas. The next year, the toll road portion of I-95 northeast of Baltimore was named after the slain president.

    When the Maryland House opened, with an estimated construction cost of $660,000, the pace of American life was so leisurely that the plaza included a restaurant with fine china and white-linen tablecloths. But the debut of the facility, which at the time was the only dining spot on a 100-mile stretch of highway between New Jersey and Washington, was followed by controversy over its monopolistic food prices - as much as $2.65 for a steak sandwich.

    The company that ran the restaurant backed off its high prices, cutting the price of a hamburger from 50 cents to 40 cents under pressure from state officials.

    Over the years, the building has undergone retrofit after retrofit and now includes a lineup of name-brand fast-food providers as well as Internet access and Wi-Fi capability. With cell phones now ubiquitous, what was once a second-floor bank of pay phones has been turned into a conference room. Two wings have been added to the original building, including one that provided a much-needed second entrance.

    But Trent M. Kittleman, executive secretary of the transportation authority, said the building is too small to handle its traffic load and has become prohibitively expensive to maintain. She added that it's hard to keep the restrooms clean in a building that was designed in the 1950s.

    "That's when you obviously need to look at a new structure," she said. "If we waited til it's as bad as it might be, it's too late."

    Recent visitors to the travel plazas were ambivalent about the proposed replacements. Some, especially at the Maryland House, said they worried that any change would be for the worse.

    Kevin Smith of Kannapolis, N.C., said the Maryland House - with its shady stand of old trees on its east lawn - was the classiest travel plaza he has seen in his travels between his hometown and the Philadelphia area.

    "This style gives it a taste of what Maryland's all about. It gives it a character," he said. "The whole style is a classic. It says simpler times."

    But, for Jean Hammond of Fairfax, Va., who was slowly struggling down a Maryland House ramp with a walker, access issues trumped aesthetics.

    "If you use one of these or a cane or crutches, it's a long way" to the parking lot, said Hammond, 68.

    Anne Wallace of McLean, Va., who declined to give her age but said she had been traveling on the Kennedy highway for about 30 years, said an upgrade of the Maryland House is long overdue.

    "The facility gets very, very crowded," she said. "On a holiday weekend in the summer, this place can just be jammed."

    While the Maryland House is hardly in shambles, it is showing its age. The dark tile floor rumbles every time a worker pushes a cart across it to resupply the restaurants, which lack a rear service entrance. The concrete on the stairs to the second floor is cracked. And from the main entrance, the sight lines make it difficult to see the Starbucks - which nevertheless has become one of the busiest coffee shops in the chain, according to HMSHost.

    Kittleman, the transportation authority chief, said that while the structure will be rebuilt - perhaps retaining some original elements - its appearance will be preserved.

    "The whole look of the Maryland House is something Marylanders love, and we're going to keep that look," she said.

    The Chesapeake House, which opened in 1975 and does about 75 percent of the business of the Maryland House, probably won't inspire similar affection. Unlike its stately elder sibling, it is festooned with garish fast-food signage. Customers variously described it as "70-ish" or as resembling a public high school. It was originally designed for cafeteria-style dining.

    "It looks like a monument to the glory days of large-scale interstate construction," said Ken Gordon, who was traveling to Philadelphia from his home in Fairfax, Va.

    Gordon, 38, was one of several customers who remarked on the confusing layout of the Chesapeake House, where northbound customers frequently emerge on the southbound side of the building. "Every time I am in here, I do a lap to find the men's room, I have to do a lap to find the Burger King and a lap to find the exit," he said.

    Transportation authority officials say that even though the Chesapeake House is a decade younger than the Maryland House, it is in worse condition because it was not built as sturdily. For instance, they said, the Chesapeake House was built with a shingle roof while the Maryland House was given slate.

    (While the slate lasted longer, the Maryland House's roof needs replacing, officials said. It will get a new shingle roof, because it isn't expected to be around long enough to justify slate.)

    Officials of the transportation authority, which runs Maryland's toll bridges and tunnels as well as the Kennedy highway, will be seeking proposals to redevelop the travel plaza, including gas stations and parking areas.

    A major concern is providing enough space to accommodate growing truck traffic in the I-95 corridor. Officials say that on busy weekday nights, parked trucks frequently back up all the way to the highway on the shoulders of the four quarter-mile ramps leading to and from the plazas.

    "It's not safe for the traveling public, and its not safe for [truckers] to be walking in that area," said Vern Bingham, HMSHost's general manager of the facilities.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:31 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities

WMATA fires 2 operators, reinstates another

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority has fired two operators for serious infraction but has reinstated a third whose use of a cell phone was found not to have violated the agency's strict prohibition on use of the electronic devices while driving.

WMATA on Friday announced the firing this week of one operator who was charged with kidnapping after refusing to let a passenger leave a bus after a verbal dispute in Prince Georges' County July 25. Another operator, who was involved in a crash with a passenger vehicle July 30 in Southeast Washington, was also fired. While  the driver of the car in the accident was charged with failure to yield the right of way, the operator was found to have been driving on a suspended license, WMATA said.

In the third incident, a bus operator was accused by some passengers of violating the agency's newly adopted "one-strike-and-you're-out" policy against cell phone use while operating transit vehicles. According to the agency, the operator was determined to have used a personal cell phone to report a mechanical problem with the bus. WMATA said investigators found that she was not operating the bus at the time she was talking on the phone. The agency said she was "re-instructed regarding operating procedures" and returned to her job.

The announcement confirms a report on the Maryland Politics Watch blog Monday that early reports of a flagrant violation of WMATA's cell phone policy had been mistaken. The article raises pertinent questions about who really needs re-instruction -- the operator or WMATA management.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:42 PM |
Categories: WMATA/D.C. Metro

Taking time to vet new equipment can pay off

It has to be frustrating for MARC riders to realize there are 26 new locomotives in the pipeline -- held up by the Maryland Transit Administration's demands for more extensive testing -- at a time when old locomotives are breaking down and causing long delays for riders.

The following link may provide a clue to why the MTA is being so persnickety:

The manufacturer is not the same as the one that made the locomotives for MARC, but the principle is the same.

It's just a shame that the MTA  didn't explain the reasons for delay up front instead of having to have the information dragged out of it. At  some levels of the organization, there seems to be an institutional impulse to conceal rather than reveal. Often, its managers leave the MTA's public affairs people out of the loop when there's bad news. Then they're surprised when the agency gets hammered in the media.

So even when MTA does the right thing, it does it the wrong way.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:51 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MARC train

August 13, 2009

New rail cars on MARC, but not on Penn Line

Some riders of the MARC Penn Line have been wondering whatever became of the 13 double-decker railcars the Maryland Transit Administration recently bought from the Virginia Railway Express.

The answer, accordiing to Maryland Department of Transportation spokesman Jack Cahalan, is that they are in service but only on the Camden and Brunswick lines. He said the MTA is currently seeking Federal Railroad Administration certification for the cars to operate at sppeds up to 125 mph. Once it receives that certification, Cahalan said, the MTA will be able to use the cars on the frequently crowded Penn Line as well.

Cahalan said the MTA conducted tests of the cars over the weekend and that the MTA bbelieves they passed with flying colors. He said the MTA submitted its documentation to the federal agency and hopes to have permission to use them on the Penn Line by the end of the year.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:39 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: MARC train

How do you tell a blind man he's in the quiet car?

Sometimes I get an email that's worth a blog post all its own. Such a message came from Frank Irizawa of Elkridge. Call me insensitive, but all I could think of when reading this was that it would make a great skit in a Farrelly Brothers (There's Something About Mary, Dumb and Dumber)  comedy. So who would you cast as the blind man? I was thinking John Cleese.

We had an interesting situation on the Camden 847 this morning, with a blind passenger. It highlighted the need to have all train stops announced each and every time on every train. The conductors on this train very rarely, if ever, announce any stop. It is always a very smooth running train and always arrives early but they do always neglect the announcements.
A blind passenger with a cane boarded at the Greenbelt station. He ended up in the Quiet car because he was having trouble finding an empty seat. There were plenty of empty seats available but he was sticking his cane out too far and hitting the legs of whoever was sitting next to the empty seats, and assuming that the seat was taken. It seemed that he was not familiar with the seating arrangements of the single-story cars commonly used on the Camden line. He starting exclaiming in a very loud voice that "I can't find a seat". 

Now the folks who sit in the quiet cars on the Camden line are quite "conditioned" to not speaking at all and refraining from any conversation. There are also quite a few "quiet car Nazis" on the Camden line (and on the Brunswick, from what I hear). So I sensed a general reluctance to be the first person to respond to the blind man. Someone did finally lead him to an empty seat. The blind man, of course, had no idea that it was the quiet car since he could not see the sign.
The blind man declared out loud, perhaps to no one in particular, that he was not familiar with this train because he was "trying out" different trains and stations to see which would ones be better for him. He has very clear, strong voice - perhaps a result of his reliance on verbal communication because of his lack of sight? I could almost "feel" the quiet car riders cringe as he continued to converse in a voice that could be heard quite clearly throughout the whole car. Even the "quiet car Nazis" were reluctant to tell a blind man in need of assistance that he needs to quiet down.
Of course, when he realized that no announcements were being made over the PA he had to start asking what station we were at. Whoever responded to him with the answer, he tried to engage in conversation with him - to their horror, I imagine. That made the other passengers even more reluctant to respond to his questions, and so he had to repeat his questions three or four times before someone would respond. Finally a passenger explained to him that he was on the Quiet car, and that's why people were being reluctant to respond to his questions. He acknowledged it but continued to engage in conversation. I can only speculate that to a blind person, a lack of verbal interaction with those around him could be somewhat unnerving?
By the time we reached the Riverdale station the "quiet car Nazis" did start "shooshing" him but he either didn't hear them or didn't understand them or just ignored him - I don't which. In my experience, people with very loud voices often have poor hearing.
In my opinion, if the MARC conductors had announced every stop, as well as other normally helpful information, it would have gone a long ways to easing the situation described above. On some trains they do exactly that. On other trains they do it a little or sometimes, and on others like the Camden 847, they never do it. Another example of the "inconsistencies" prevalent in the MARC system.
Frank Irizawa

And, yes, Irizawa's correct. The MARC conductors should be calling out every stop. Not just for the blind but for daydreamers and anyone who isn't familiar with the system. Scenes like this belong in lowbrow movies, not on MARC.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:44 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: MARC train

August 12, 2009

Full speed ahead with city speed cameras

Baltimore's Board of Estimates gave its final approval today to a contract for the operation of speed cameras under authority granted to local jurisdictions by the General Assembly earlier this year.

According to the city's deputy transportation chief, Jamie Kendrick, that means the cameras will be up and running Oct. 1. "We're going full steam," he said.

So if  you're near a school or in a work zone, where such cameras are permitted, save yourself $40 and slow down.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:18 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads

Kraft clarifies his Red Line stand

I just had a pleasant chat with Councilman Jim Kraft, the District 1 councilman who is walking a tightrope on the issue of building the Red Line.

Kraft disputed my earlier posting that said he had come out against the east-west transit line, which was based on an email that said in part: "Consequently, I am, and will continue to be, opposed to any above-ground alignment on Boston Street."

Since Gov. Martin O'Malley made his choice of a plan that includes above-ground light rail on Boston Street, and since that plan will be Maryland's official submission to the federal government, that seemed pretty clear cut. But Kraft said his position is more  nuanced than that.

Kraft told me he is and has long been a supporter of the Red Line as long as it is in a tunnel on Boston Street as far as Clinton Street. In solidarity with the west side allies of his Canton constituents, he said he also supports tunneling under Edmondson Avenue.

Officially, that option is now off the table -- if it ever was a real option. The price tag was just too high. Some other city elected officials have taken the governor's selection of a locally preferred alternative  as a cue to either fall in line with the governor or to express outright opposition to the Red Line.

But not Kraft. He said he understands that the maximum tunnel option does not fit within federal funding guidelines. He said he's not faulting the governor for the choice he submitted to the Federal Transit Administration -- light rail with tunneling under downtown, Fells Point and Cooks Lane but otherwise on the surface.

"In that it focuses where we are, it's the decision that needed  to be made," the councilman said.

What he's looking to do is change the guidelines by calling on the supposed clout of the Maryland congressional delegation. He's still hoping for a  win-win, and that the money ccan be found to give everyone who wants a tunnel a tunnel.

Kraft's challenge is that there are parts of his district where the Red Line -- as proposed -- is as popular as it is reviled in Canton.

"I'm not avoiding a decision. I am trying to reach an accommodation that is acceptable to everyone," he said.

Fair enough. But Kraft faces the politician's most vexing dilemma: In trying to please everybody, do you risk pleasing nobody?

At Kraft's request, I am posting the full text of his email to city NAACP chied Marvin L. "Doc" Cheatham:

Good morning,
Thanks for getting in touch with me about this.

Based upon the correspondence, e-mails, telephone calls and personal contacts/conversations, that my office and I have both received and had about this important issue facing our community to date, with the exception of those who work in government, the number of folks who have requested that I support an above-ground alignment on Boston Street appears to be less than 50, while those who are opposed to it seems to be around 500.
This is not inclusive of, what I believe to be, over 1,500 signed post cards in opposition that were collected door-to-door throughout the greater Canton area and presented to Governor O'Malley.

There have been very, very few who are in outright opposition to the Red Line as most recognize the need to find an appropriate way to move people rather than move automobiles; however, one message continues to ring true:
Keep it underground.

My position on this important issue is as with all others that face my district, I look to the organizations most directly impacted and attempt to respect their wishes.  Consequently, I am, and will continue to be, opposed to any above-ground alignment on Boston Street.


Jim Kraft


Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:08 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Red Line

Ready to pay higher tolls to ease Montgomery jams?

Are you ready to pay higher tolls at Maryland toll facilities to widen a highway whose benefits you'll never use and which puts Baltimore at a competitive disadvantage?

It's not out of the question. Ben Ross of the Action Committee for Transit raised that possibility while we were chatting the other day about the proposed $4.6 billion project to widen Interstate 270 by adding two express toll lanes in each direction.

Ross is not exactly unbiased. He doesn't like the proposed project - which has been backed by the Montgomery County Planning Board and some County Council members there - on environmental grounds. But the concern he raises is valid enough that it should prompt elected officials from other parts of the state to ask pointed questions.

Adding toll lanes to I-270 would almost certainly put it within the purview of the Maryland Transportation Authority - thus making the project eligible to be funded in part with bonds backed by revenue from other state toll facilities. But for now, it's taking all the tolls the state can collect to keep up with existing obligations. Any plan for I-270 that includes financing from the authority would likely involve toll increases.

The existing facilities the authority could look to for funds are the Kennedy Highway (Interstate 95 northeast of Baltimore), the three Baltimore Harbor crossings, the Bay Bridge, the Hatem Bridge (U.S. 40 at the Susquehanna) and the Nice Bridge (U.S. 301 at the Potomac River).

The last major nontruck toll increase came during the Ehrlich administration in 2003. Money from bonds based on those tolls provide the single biggest source of money to pay for the Inter-County Connector and the express toll lane project on Interstate 95. The harbor crossing tolls went from $1 to $2. The Kennedy Highway and Hatem Bridge went from $4 to $5. The Bay and Nice bridges were exempted.

For the full coumn, go to,0,122207.story

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:13 PM | | Comments (1)

Tour du Port event set for October


One Less Car will hold its 16th annual Tour du Port bicycle ride on Sunday Oct. 4 starting at Canton Waterfront park.

The event offers a choice of routes ranging from 12 to 52 miles. Proceeds go toward supporting the group's pro-transit, pro-bicycle agenda.

Rides begin at 7:30 a.m. The cost ranges from $35 for those who register before Aug. 18 to $60 for those who register the day of the event.

 Riders can register at

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:33 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Bicycles

Man killed on D.C. Metro tracks

A man who intentionally positioned himself on the tracks at the West Falls Church Metro station in Northern Virginia was struck and killed today, according to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Administration. The man, identified as Sangjin Lee, 45, of Arlington, Va., was hit by an Orange Line train bound for New Carrollton at 11:18 a.m.

This is shaping up as the worst summer ever for the D.C. Metro. There was the fatal Red Line crash June 22, reports of operators driving while distracted, a Metro worker killed on the job and more. Where will it end?



Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:58 AM |
Categories: WMATA/D.C. Metro

MARC locomotive explanations getting stale


Sun photo/Karl Merton Ferron

It iis now more than three months since Gov. Martin O'Malley chugged into Camden Station alongside the engineer of one of the Maryland Transit  Administration's new, $3.5 million locomotives that were supposed to make this summer a little bit better than last summer for MARC commuters.

At the time, MTA officials said three of the locomotives -- the first of 26 purchased for MARC -- would be put into service within four to six weeks. More than two months after the governor's photo op, The Sun ran an article (click below for fulll version) noting the delay and providing the MTA's explanation that it was simply putting safety first.

At the time, MTA spokeswoman Jawauna Greene said the MTA hoped to have the locomotives in service within 30 days.

Nearly a month later, the locomotives are still not on the tracks, MTA officials are delivering the same tired lines and customers are getting tired of delays caused by broken-down locomotives.

And what does the MTA have to say?

"We're trying to get them in service as soon as possible," Cheron Wicker, another MTA spokeswoman, said Wednesday. "We've got some really stringent safety regulations that have to be adhered to."

Wicker also supplied the following quotes, which seem quite familiar by now:

"We cannot compromise safety."

"We're not going to risk our customers' safety."

"These things just take time."

"We feel everyone's pain."

So, MARC riders, are you satisfied? Or are you beginning to think there's something amiss here that needs to be addressed?

Earth to MTA: It's time for senior management to stop hiding behind spokespeople and provide some detailed answers.

Following is the text of the July 16 article.

When the first of 26 shiny new diesel locomotives for the MARC system was unveiled May 6, it arrived at Camden Yards with television cameras shooting, Gov. Martin O'Malley riding with the engineer and assurances that the $3.5 million powerhouse would be on the rails in four to six weeks.

More than 10 weeks later, that locomotive and two others are still in a CSX maintenance yard, undergoing safety testing. A Maryland Transit Administration spokeswoman said the agency hopes to have the units in service within 30 days but offered no guarantees.Jawauna Greene, the spokeswoman, said the MTA has found no problems with the diesel engines and that it's just being rigorous in putting the new equipment through its paces.

 "It's just been a very arduous process," she said. "Our priority is safety."

But to some MARC riders it looks like another case of the MTA failing to deliver on its promises.

  "Any time things like this happen, it just reinforces the feeling they haven't organized things well," said Mark Brusberg, who commutes regularly on the Camden Line between Laurel and Washington. 

 The first three of the new locomotives will be deployed on the CSX-owned Camden and Brunswick lines, Greene said. Their delivery will permit the MTA to retire some of the older and less reliable locomotives on MARC's busiest service, the Amtrak-owned Penn Line, she added. 

 When the first new locomotive was presented to the public in May, officials boasted that the new $100 million fleet would help relieve overcrowding and improve service reliability on the MARC lines. At the same time, they were also backing away from an earlier estimate that the first of the engines would be put in service about May 18.

Greene admitted this week that the MTA's early estimates weren't very good ones.

 "Things happened. Schedule slippage happens," she said. 

 Greene said the delays reflect the fact that the MARC safety department is independent and won't let itself be rushed by artificial deadlines.

"Our priority is making sure that any piece of equipment out there is as safe as possible," she said. "We can't compromise safety for expediency. ... For $100 million, we're going to make sure there are no glitches."

So far, she said, none has been discovered.

The MTA had hoped to have all three of the locomotives in service by June 1 - in time for summer, when heat typically takes a toll on some of its aging equipment.

The agency missed the deadline but caught a break as the weather has remained cooler than the typical Baltimore summer. The relative scarcity of days in the 90s has meant fewer service problems on the Camden and Brunswick lines, where trains must slow down when the weather gets hot. 

 "We haven't had as many heat restrictions this year, and the trains have been - at least for my commute - pretty well-behaved," Brusberg said. 

 Greene said the MTA is optimistic that the new locomotives will be in service within the next 30 days. Some MARC riders are still skeptical. 

 "I'll believe it when I see it," said Eric Luebehusen, a Penn Line rider. "Call me a cynic about that."

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:05 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: MARC train

Delaware adds to E-ZPass appreciation

One trip on Delaware Route 1 on a summer weekend was all it took to justify keeping E-ZPass despite the $1.50-a-month fee Marylanders now have to pay for the privilege.

The Delaware highway, a toll road for most of the stretch between Interstate 95 and the south side of Dover, is equipped with toll collection devices that let you fly  by in the E-ZPass lanes without slowing down.

Meanwhile, last Saturday, there were backups at two cash toll plazas of a half-mile or more. For the record, traffic slows to a crawl on beach weekends on the part of Delaware 1 that is non-toll between Dover Air Force Base and the U.S. 113 split.  After  the split, Route 1 returned to normal highway speeds until hitting the outskirts of Lewes. Even with the backup, we found it a highly viable alternative to the Bay Bridge for a trip from Parkville to Rehoboth Beach.  With E-ZPass, of course.

The return trip Monday evening took about 2 1/2 hours, with one stop for gas.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:36 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities

Kraft opposes Red Line

Sun photo/Jed Kirschbaum

Defying City Hall and Gov. Martin O'Malley, Southeast Baltimore Councilman Jim Kraft will oppose construction of the $1.6 billion Red Line from Bayview to Woodlawn.

Kraft, a Democrat like O'Malley and Mayor Sheila Dixon, had been on the record favoring a plan that would have put the light rail line in a tunnel through Canton, announced his opposition  after the governor chose a plan last week that would  put the transit line on the surface through much of Canton on the east side and along Edmondson Avenue on the west side. Administration officials said plans that included more tunneling would have been to expensive to qualify for federal funding.

In an emaiil to city NAACP chief Marvin L. "Doc" Cheatham, Kraft cited strong opposition to surface Red Line in Canton.

"The number of folks who have requested that I support an above-ground alignment on Boston Street appears to be less than 50, while those who are opposed to it seems to be around 500," Kraft wrote. "This is not inclusive of, what I believe to be, over 1,500 signed post cards in opposition that were collected door-to-door throughout the greater Canton area and presented to Governor O'Malley."

The plan O'Malley selected is known  under federal transit law as the ""locally preferred alternative" -- a term that does not mean all the neighborhoods in a transit line's path prefer it. That plan is the only one that will be sent to the Federal Transit Administration for a decision on whether it is eligible for funding of up to 50 percent of its cost.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:48 AM | | Comments (15)
Categories: Red Line

August 11, 2009

MARC 'newbie' needs veteran help

A reader, who will remain unnamed due to the sensitivities of his federal employer, posed the following questions to me. I thought there would be far more qualified people to answer his questions: my MARC-riding readers. Could any of you spare some sage advice for this self-described MARC newbie? His destination is near the Medical Center Metro station on the Red Line.

I wonder what your best advice (i.e. reality-based) on how best to work a 7:30 to 4 schedule & catch the MARC train Penn line at Halethorpe to Union Station Metro & back?

 I started my job last week & have been driving about an hour each way so far, but am eager to try the trains & see what is best. I’m curious about how often MARC trains are delayed in the AM & evening, best advice on parking at Halethorpe station, and best ticket purchase advice for absolute commuting newbie, best advice on navigating Union Station transfer to Metro Red Line, etc..

I am also a bit squeamish about Metro safety after the Red Line accident & recent reports in the Post on how there have been other, earlier unreported issues w/ track warning systems/circuits. As for trying the train tomorrow, if I show up at the station tomorrow AM with credit card in hand, can I just snag a ticket or would it be wiser to purchase Metro here this afternoon & MARC ticket on way home today to minimize chance of missing my 6:08 train tomorrow AM?

They have a reimbursement program at (my workplace) which sounds nice, but you have to give up your parking pass to join & I want to try rail before I commit. I appreciate any advice you have & your patience for all these direct questions.

So please, battle-scarred MARC mavens, post away.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:32 PM | | Comments (8)

Paging Daniel Gooden

The Maryland Transit Administration sent out this curious email Tuesday, passed on by a reader:

 August 11, 2009 12:05 PM

MARC is trying to reach Mr. Daniel Gooden in connection with a lost and found item. Mr. Gooden if this notice reaches you please contact us at

I'd say that's a pretty activist lost-and-found department.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:41 PM |
Categories: MARC train

MTA provides some Red Line answers

Last week I wrote that opponents of the proposed Red Line had raised some pertinent questions that deserved answers from the Maryland Transit Administration. 

One had to do with revised ridership projections in the plan Gov. Martin O'Malley chose for the so-called "locally preferred alternative," which came in about 28 percent higher than in the draft environmental impact statement. That revision helped bring the project within federal cost-effectiiveness guideline so that it could qualify for 50 percent U.S. funding. Red Line foes have implied that the magnitude of the change suggests the MTA had been cooking the books to get that result.

The other has to do with the decision to go with a single track in the one mile of light rail tunnel to be built under Cooks Lane. Opponents raiised the spectre of a catastrophic head-on, high-speed crash in the tunnel.


I put both questions to Henry Kay, the MTA's deputy administrattor for planning, during an interview last week.

On the revised numbers, Kay said the environmental statement relied on 1996 data because those were the most recent available at the time. He said the final plan relied on data from a 2007 on-board ridership survey.

Among the changes found in the newer survey, Kay said, were a siignificant increase in the number of people living in downtown Baltimore and a greater concentration of households without autos than was reflected in the older data. Both findings increased the number of potential riders, he said. Kay further noted that the Baltimore Metropolitan Council has, since 1996, revised its forecast of population and households in the region.

Kay said the MTA has been checking its methodology with the Federal Transit Administration continuously through the process and is confident it will stand up to the agency's scrutiny.

"It would be very foolish of us to publish numbers and recommend a locally preferred alternative we've not (had) vetted by the agency that will actually provide funding," Kay said.

On the single-tracking, Kay agreed it is not the ideal configuration for the Cooks Lane corridor. But he insisted that single-tracking a portion near one end of the line can be done safely and without serious delays.

Kay said trains can share a single rack as long as there is in place a well-desgned signaling system. He noted that the current  Central Light Rail system include a singe-tracked segment near the north end of the line that has never has a head-on collision.

The MTA officials said any such system would include multiple levels of safeguards, including protocols for human operators  and an electronic "trip stop" system.

Kay said it is by no means sure that the Red Line would eventually operate with a single-track tunnel, He said that if ridership numbers or funding levels increase, such a move might not be necessary.

I asked Kay aboout some of the MTA's previous statements about single-tracking when it came under pressure from some Montgomery County Council members to consider that option along three  miles of the Purple Line in order to save more trees from being cut down.

The MTA wrote:

In sum, introducing a single-track segment between Bethesda and Connecticut Avenue would significantly compromise travel time savings, service frequency, passenger carrying capacity, and the maintenance and operating reliability of the Purple Line, thereby reducing the effectiveness, efficiency, and the return on a $1.3 billion investment. The reduction in the amount of tree clearance hoped for from building a trail and single-track segment would not likely be achieved. For the many reasons stated above the MTA strongly recommends against single-tracking any portion of the Purple Line.

To some, this is evidence proving that the MTA is saying one thing in suburban Washington and another in Baltimore. But Kay said the circumstances  are not  comparable.

"What's different is the setting," he said.

Kay said the segment the where  the Council members were interested in preserving trees was 3 miles and included a station. That, he said, would have created more operational difficulties than the 1-mile stretch under Cooks Lane, which would not include a station. What Kay did not say, but I will, is that there's a big difference between accepting single-tracking to accommodate a few trees and doing the same thing to make a project viable.

It should be noted that the reasons the MTA cited for opposing single-tracking on the Purple Line did not include safety. So no inconsistency exists on the most important issue raised by the single-track plan.  I don't see a smoking gun here.

I don't expect these answers to change minds on either side of the Red Line issue, but I thought they belonged on the record.

It seems to me there's not much point stressing over the ridership estimate. Those numbers will soon be in the hands of the FTA, and  they will either pass muster ot they won't.

The single-track issue is more serious. The burden is on the MTA to show it can design a signaling system that can defeat Murphy's Law: the proposition that anything that can go wrong will. And it will have to make its case in a way that  legislators and other lay persons can understand.











Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:44 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Red Line

Blair Lee bashes 'knucklehead' Baltimore Guy

It is a source of great pride that Blair Lee, the longtime rabid Baltimore-basher from Montgomery County, has seen fit to bestow on me -- or at least my alter ego Baltimore Guy -- the title of "knucklehead" for blowing the whistle on that county's $4.6 billion plan to raid the state's coffers to widen Interstate 270. I thus join a long line of distinguished Baltimoreans who have been vilified by Lee. I am not worthy.

One can only imagine the schoolyard taunts Lee will dredge up if he reads the Monday Getting There column  explaining how Baltimore-area toll payers (and others from eastern Maryland) could end up stuck with much of the bill for a project that contributes nothing to prosperity outside the I-270 corridor.

It's distressing, however, to see Lee and other Montgomery County observers working themselves into a lather about Baltimore's Red Line. There has been little opposition voiced in Baltimore to the Washington region's Purple Line -- perhaps because our political leaders realize the two transit projects move forward most easily in tandem rather than seperately.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:05 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

August 7, 2009

Baltimore bicyclist has his say


"ghost bike" for John R. Yates
Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun photo

Every once and a while I get an email that's worth a blog post of its own. This, written by Baltimore bicyclist Jeffrey Marks, is one of them:

After returning from a wonderful bicycle trip in the bicycle friendly cities of Seattle WA and  Victoria, BC; I was saddened by the tragic death of long time bicyclist John Yates.  Yes, it appears John was riding on Maryland Ave where many motorists expect bicyclists to ride - as far right as possible -  when he collided with a truck making a righthand turn onto Lafayette Ave.  However, from  personal experience of having nearly had a similar tragic accident on Charles Street when bicycling close to parked cars; I find it safer to take the lane, rather than ride as far right as possible. Speed limits are low to moderate, and overtaking traffic can use the passing lane.  My behaving like a vehicle encourages right turning motorists to treat me like one by slowing down, signaling, moving behind me or to my right near the curb, and turning right when safe. - rather than being tempted to rush by and cut me off.

Other reasons for bicyclists  taking the lane include (but aren't limited to) riding the same speed as traffic, avoiding the risk of an opening car door, and substandard width lanes that are too narrow for a bicycle and a motor vehicle to safely share side by side.  The free Yellow  Booklet, "Safe Bicycling in Maryland", endorsed and distributed by the Md Dept of Transportation, gives these and many other  helpful tips on how to bicycle safely in traffic.
          Bicyclists have all the rights granted to and are subject to all of the duties required by the driver of a motor vehicle. Road courtesy is most important. On highways where bicyclists are moving slower than the speed of traffic, cyclists should use smooth bikelanes or shoulders when available and  share those outside lanes that are wide enough to accommodate a bicyclist and a motor vehicle side by side.  Drivers should allow bicyclists 3 feet when passing.  Sharing  narrow two lane roads requires extra cooperation and courtesy.  Motorists should exercise patience and good judgment in waiting until it's safe to pass a bicyclist.  If traffic stacks up, a slow moving bicyclist should use a righthand pullout or driveway, if available, to allow faster traffic to safely pass.  Safety, not speed, comes first.
         Sharing the road and encouraging safe bicycling offers many rewards ranging from better health by reducing obesity, independence, reduced congestion, cleaner air, and equality for those people who don't own cars.  Be safe.
                                                           Jeffrey H. Marks
                                                            Baltimore City

As a once and (I hope) future bicyclist, I endorse Marks' remarks. People driving large motor vehicles have an obligation to look out for the more vulnerable users of the road -- whether on foot, scooter, bike or motorcycle. I don't care what sins of the road they commit. Metal must yield to flesh.

I would add one comment: If you're riding a bicycle -- in the city as much as anyplace else -- wear a helmet. I'd like to think you're as invested in your life as I am. It didn't save Yates but it could save you.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:18 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Bicycles

No charges in Light Rail deaths

The Baltimore County State's Attorney's Office will bring no criminal charges against operators of Light Rail trains that killed two boys near Lutherville July 5 after Baltimore County police determined it was an accident.

Media briefng scheduled for 2 p.m.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:11 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Light rail

Three city lawmakers back Red Line

Three Baltimore legislators from a district along the route of the proposed Red Line will not support any attempt to scuttle the project in Annapolis, one of them said today.

Del. Sandy Rosenberg said he and two district colleagues, Del. Jill Carter and Sen. Lisa Gladden "will not support any legislation that would jeopardize or delay funding for the Red Line." The fourth member of that delegation, Del. Nathaniel Oaks, has not yet weighed in on the matter.

The 41st District delegation had previously publicly supported an alternative light rail plan that would  have  run trains in tunnels under Edmondson Ave. and Boston St. But after Maryland Transit Administration studies showed that the cost of that plan would have exceeded federal funding guidelines, Gov. Martin O'Malley decided to support a plan that would keep trains on the surface on those streets.

Rosenberg said he and his two colleagues regretted that the federal guidelines prompted that decision but did not blame O'Malley for reaching the conclusion he did. Rosenberg pointed to earlier concessions won by lawmakers, including a guarantee that the project would not displace anyone from their homes and a tunnel under narrow Cooks Lane in West  Baltimore.

No residential displacements were in the MTA's plans for the Red Line but the lawmakers' success in writing that guarantee into law has immense significance in West Baltimore, where many residents have vivid memories of being ousted from their homes to make way for eventually aborted highway projects.

Rosenberg noted that Mayor Sheila Dixon and School Superintendent Andres Alonso have pledged to develop a new career and technology curriculum at the Edmondson High School and Westside Skills Center on the Red Line.

"This is a direct result of our request for job training for residents along the Red Line.  Transit-oriented development along the Edmondson Ave. corridor will also provide jobs and community development," Rosenberg wrote.

Gladden's support for the Red Line, along with that of 44th District Sen. Verna Jones mean that two of the three city senators whose districts are most affected by the transit line would line up in favor of it. Sen. George Della, who represents the Boston Street corridor, is opposed.

The city's other three senators have yet to be heard from but their constituents would have far less reason to object than those of the others.

Any members of the Baltimore city delegation who want to contact Getting There to make their positions known are invited to do so.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:36 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Red Line

Della weighs in on Red Line: No

UPDATE: I just got off the phone with Sen. George Della. He says he will oppose funding for the Red Line if it gains federal approval. He also acknowledges the error noted below.

Maryland Politics Watch, a Montgomery County-oriented blog, has begun to take a curiously intense interest in the Red Line controversy in Baltimore. As part of its new focus, MPW has  posted a letter from Baltimore state Sen. George W. Della to Gov. Martin O'Malley opposing surface light rail through Canton, which Della represents.

It's an interesting letter but one that glides over the most obvious problem -- that a tunnel all the way through Canton would have pushed the project over the limit for federal funding. Like several other Baltimore lawmakers, Della has so far taken the out of endorsing a gold-plated Red Line that couldn't be built. Now he and others are going to faced with a yes-or-no decision. Do they try to scuttle it or fall in line with City Hall and the governor? It's not a an easy answer because there are neighborhoods along the Red Line corridor -- including Greektown in Della's district -- where many residents see advantages in being on the Red Line.

If you click on the link to Della's letter, look out for one obvious whopper that the senator should have known better than to include. Henry Kay is not on loan to the MTA from the Greater Baltimore Committee, his former employer. He's the deputy administrator for planning at the MTA and thus as much a Maryland state employee as the senator himself.

Sun file photo 2007

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:10 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Red Line

August 6, 2009

Hi-ho, Bereano! Yet another speeding ticket

In a June 8 column, Getting There recounted how super-lobbyist, convicted felon, disbarred lawyer and anti-speed camera activist Bruce C. Bereano had harvested 22 tickets for moving violations in Maryland over the past 13 years.

Make that 23.

On July 15, Bereano was pulled over once again -- this time for going 76 mph in a 55-mph zone on Route 413 in Somerset County. From the time and location it appears he was in a hurry to get to the J. Millard Tawes Crab and Clam Bake in Crisfield.

The new ticket is the 15th he has received on the Eastern Shore --  his personal dragstrip -- in the past 13 years. One can only speculate that he enjoys the company of rural state troopers.

Bereano's court date is Sept. 1. But before then, the lead-footed lobbyist has another appointment Aug. 18 to answer charges that he was going 85 mph in a 55-mph zone in Montgomery County. Kinda makes a ticket for going 21 mph over the limit seem kind of nitpicky, doesn't it.

Anyway, Bereano has pretty good luck over the years in beating the rap -- either through not guilty findings or probation before  judgment. His most  recent District Court date -- in Dorchester County in June -- didn't turn out so well though. A few more guilty findings and he could be looking at some steep insurance bills on that Mercedes and that Porsche. But on last year's earnings of $806,250.01, he can probably swing it.

I left a message for Bereano in order to ask him about his troubles with the traffic laws, but he hasn't been returning my calls for better than five years now. I'll let you know if that changes. (And, Bruce, you can always just post to this blog and avoid that conversation.)

Baltimore Sun file photo 2006

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:29 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: On the roads

Red Line foes raise some good questions

O'MalleyGov. Martin O'Malley's decision on a "locally preferred alternative" has just opened up a new round in the continuing struggle over the Red Line. Battle lines are now drawn over a specific plan, not a fuzzy set  of alternatives (most of which were obvious non-starters).

And the increasingly organized opposition is asking some questions that need to be answered -- especially about single-tracking in the Cooks Lane tunnel and on the revised ridership estimates in the Maryland Transit  Administration's current  plan. Single-tracking certainly raises questions, especially in view of the MTA's opposition to the notion for the Purple Line in suburban Washington. And the rosier scenario adopted for ridership assumptions beg for an explanation.

Rest assured, The Sun is seeking answers to both these questions.

And as a housekeeping matter, this blog is going to refer to those  who continue to oppose Alternative 4C as Red Line foes, opponents, whatever. Alternative 4C is now officially the only game in town. To build anything else, you have to kill the Red Line in its current form. So let's keep it simple. If you loved Alternative 4D or 3B or whatever, you now have to choose whether you're for or against the locally preferred alternative.

And, yes, we're aware the chosen plan isn't preferred in some neighborhoods. "Locally preferred," in this case, means the choice made by regional elected officials after a process prescribed in law. Quibbling over the term won't move the debate forward.

Baltimore Sun file photo 2009

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:22 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Red Line

August 5, 2009

Good discussion of I-270 widening

There's a very good extended discussion of the $4.6 billion Interstate 270 widening project after a July 17 article on the excellent blog Greater Greater Washington. The folks in the chat aren't talking about roads Baltimore folks use regularly, but they are talking about the disposition of Maryland  tax  dollars.

If you do read it to the end, notice  how commenters on both sides of the issue fail to address the effect such a project would have in other traffic corridors such as Interstate 95. That isn't because there are none; it's because people are thinking narrowly about one corridor rather than one state.

These Montgomery County traffic debates can usually be left to residents of that county. But this project is  so huge and has such environmental impacts it deserves a  statewide debate. It would be a shame if Baltimore leaders woke up one day to fins it was already a done deal.




Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:14 PM |
Categories: For policy wonks only

Here's some red meat for Red Line foes

Adam Pagnucco of Maryland Politics watch has matched up the Maryland Transit Administration's arguments against single-tracking on a Washington area transit project against its decision to go with a single-track solution for the Cooks Lane tunnel on the Red Line and has come up with interesting results.

It turns out the MTA vehemently rejected single-tracking when pressed to use it on a portion of the Purple Line to reduce the number of trees it would have to cut down. Here's the agency's language:

In sum, introducing a single-track segment between Bethesda and Connecticut Avenue would significantly compromise travel time savings, service frequency, passenger carrying capacity, and the maintenance and operating reliability of the Purple Line, thereby reducing the effectiveness, efficiency, and the return on a $1.3 billion investment. The reduction in the amount of tree clearance hoped for from building a trail and single-track segment would not likely be achieved. For the many reasons stated above the MTA strongly recommends against single-tracking any portion of the Purple Line.

While Red Line foes will certainly find that language useful, there's a big difference between single-tracking to save a few trees  and single-tracking to make a project economically viable. With the Red Line, the choice came down to single track or nothing at all because the  double-tracked tunnel it wanted pushed the cost beyond federal funding guidelines. But MTA officials are going to have to get used to explaining its decision to single-track the Red Line through that mile-long tunnel. 

Pagnucco's conclusion:

You heard it here first: if the Red Line is built as the Governor is now recommending, MTA will soon return with a multi-hundred-million dollar request to widen the Cooks Lane tunnel. The feds will never pay for it. That means the rest of the state will be on the hook.

Pagnucco is likely at least partly correct here. The MTA is  likely to eventually seek to add  a second bore -- and is fact leaving room at its portals to accommodate a wider tunnel. But Pagnucco's statement that "the feds will never pay for it" assumes the current transit formulas remain in effect in the new transportation reauthorization bill. Maybe they will, maybe they won't.

Even if that eventual project must be built with state funds, it  will have to compete with the other priorities around the state at that time. Chances are, Montgomery County will have an item equally expensive on its wish list in the 2020s. There would be a  trade-off.

To some extent, Pagnucco seems to be trying to gin up a little conflict here pitting the Red Line against the Purple Line. I don't think he'll get very far with the Montgomery County legislative delegation, except for a few lonely Purple Line foes who would be happy to see both projects go down. It's well understood that the two projects balance out neatly in political terms. The hallowed Annapolis principle of "you kill my dog, I'll kill your cat" will deter proponents of both projects from going after  the other.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:27 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Red Line

Red Line foes exaggerate a tad

A press release just came my way from the West-East Coalition against Red Line Alternative 4C in which the group boasts that its members "shouted down" Gov. Martin O'Malley at the Tuesday morning press conference in West Baltimore at which the governor announced his choice of that light rail alternative.

I was there. That isn't true.

Opponents of surface Red Line in their neighborhoods certainly made their presence known. Their banners were quite visible and their voices were loud. They were, however, far outnumbered by supporters of the Red Line plan. The governor may  have been thrown a little off-stride by the yelling, but he finished his remarks without a significant interruption. He was not "shouted down."

I'm not sure why any group would want to brag about what is essentially rude behavior. Red Line foes certainly have every right to oppose the governor's plan and fight his re-election. But "shouting down" an official at a public event doesn't persuade others that the shouter is right, only that the shouter should have learned bettter manners.

Most of those doing the jeering appeared to be folks from Canton. As I was leaving the event, I was walking behind some West Baltimore Red Line opponents who were bemoaning the lack of civility shown by their east-side allies. This may be an alliance of  convenience for now, but it's far from a  comfortable coalition.

For a look at the full release from the opposition coalition, click below.



Enraged Citizens Shout Governor Down at Rail Project Press Conference

Opposition to Controversial Red Line Project Voiced -- Loudly

Governor O’Malley’s support for a surface train line through Baltimore neighborhoods was loudly shouted down by Baltimore residents at his Tuesday Press Event held at the West Baltimore MARC station.

The Governor has ignored our concerns about this project, if this is the only way to get him to hear us, this is what we will have to do,” said Jon Hyman, a member of the West-East Coalition, a volunteer citizen group supporting a properly designed mass transit system.

In his speech, the Governor spoke of jobs and Federal money the project would bring, but failed to mention that $1 billion would have to come from the state itself.

Congressman Elijah Cummings also proudly proclaimed that no one would have to be relocated from their homes for the project, but did not mention that it would cause roads to encroach closer to the homes people are staying in, that a network of wires would appear overhead, or that it would prevent people from taking direct routes to their homes because left turns will be prohibited.

To try to get costs down low enough to qualify for the federal funds the project has cut corners, including a proposal for a “death trap tunnel,” that would accommodate high speed two-way traffic on a single set of rails. It would be the only such project ever attempted in the country.

“The city is so desperately focused on Red Line Alternative 4C that it has ignored more sensible, less expensive and less disruptive alternatives, some of which had been proposed by the MTA itself,” said Nancy Braymer of the Canton Square Homeowners Association. “We all want what is best for Baltimore, not a project that is barely good enough.”
The West-East Coalition against Red Line Alternative 4C is a volunteer organization representing community leaders, neighborhood groups, and citizens from all parts of Baltimore concerned by the negative effects of the Red Line as currently proposed. The Coalition supports mass transit and the Red Line, including several alternatives proposed by MTA project engineers.
Learn more about 4C and its detrimental effect at
Press Inquiries contact

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:52 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Red Line

August 4, 2009

Hampstead Bypass completed

Joy knows no bounds in Hampstean, where work on its long-awaited bypass is now complete, according to the State Highway Administration. A ribbon-cutting on the $83 million project, which carries Route 30 around downtown Hampstead, is planned Thursday -- with State Highway Administrator joining local elected officials for the festivities.

This is the project where the SHA employed goats to control vegetation and thus protect the endangered bog turtle. Instead of having a bunch of officials hack away with a scissors, wouldn't it be more fun to let the goats have a ribbon-chewing?



Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:08 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: On the roads

"Minor" MARC problems return with the heat

Having sweltered outside today for Gov. Martin O'Malley's twin transit press conferences, it comes as no surprise that there are heat restrictions on the tracks of both the Camden and Brunswick lines. Riders on those lines know they've enjoyed a mild summer to date and that they'd have to pay the pipe sometime.

If the delays are no more than the Maryland Transit Administration is advertising, they could amount to no more than "minor" disruptions. But the MTA, if it had any sense about customer relations, would stop using the word "minor" on its web site -- as it is currently doing at 5:30. Just calll them "disruptions," folks. Nobody likes to hear their own headaches described as minor.

When will they ever learn?


Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:23 PM |
Categories: MARC train

Purple Line could be Baltimore asset

For Baltimore readers, Gov. Martin O'Malley's announcement of a choice of plans to build the Red Line far overshadowed his support for light rail on the Purple Line from New Carrollton to Bethesda. But for some Baltimore residents, the Purple Line could be an important part of their commuting future.

If it comes to fruition, the Purple Line will connect with the MARC Penn Line at New Carrollton and the MARC Camden Line  at Colllege Park. From those points, riders  will be able to travel to various employment centers along the east-west line without having to go into downtown Washington.

 It might not be a vast number of Baltimore-area residents  who benefit. The Maryland Transit Administration did not  have an estimate on how  many might make the transfer from MARC to the Purple Line. But certainly there will be hundreds, if not thousands, who end up  making that connection after it opens (2016 at the earliest).

The estimated one-way travel time of 56 minutes from New Carrollton to Bethesda makes it unlikely that many Baltimore-area riders would travel the  full length of the line. But the Purple Line will certainly improve access to the University of Maryland College park campus, as  well as Takoma Park and Silver Spring.

So unlike that goofy proposal to wiiden Interstate 270  at the cost of $4.6 billion, this is a true One Maryland project that will bring the state together and open up job opportunities that otherwise might be out of reach. The $1.5 billion project also balances out politically with Baltimore's $1.6 billion Red Line aspirations. The only way I can figure to balance that I-270 boondoggle with a Baltimore project would be to gold-plate the Key  Bridge.




Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:52 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: WMATA/D.C. Metro

August 3, 2009

Tuesday is 'Red Line, Purple Line Day'

Gov. Martin O'Malley is going to bite the bullet on two major transit projects Tuesday with announcements on the state's plans for Baltimore's east-west Red Line and suburban Washington's Purple Line. It appears almost certain he will choose the Red Line alternative known as 4C -- light rail in tunnels under downtown, Harbor East, Fells Point and Cooks Lane but otherwise on the surface.

Whatever he announces, the governor is going to make some people mad. The most likely choices for both projects have both fervent supporters and ardent detractors.

O'Malley will start his transit tour with a news conference in New Carrollton  at 8:30 a.m., the eastern terminus of the proposed Purple Line to Bethesda. He will follow that with a MARC train ride to West Baltimore, a stop on the proposed Red Line from Woodlawn to Bayview, where he will make a second  announcement  at 10:15 a.m. 

For both lines, the choices of mode officially on the table are rapid bus service and light rail, but if the choice were anything but rail in either case it would be a huge surprise.

The leading alternative for the Red Line, supported by Mayor Sheila Diixon and Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith, is 4C. That alternative has been the subject of vocal protests from residents on the Edmondson Village area and Canton.

UPDATE: Mayor Dixon is on vacation out of town and won't be attending the news conference, but members of her administration will be there  and are expecting  no surprises. The same is true for Smith. Also on the guest list is Donald C. Fry, president of the Greater Baltimore Committee and a public backer of the plan Dixon and Smith have endorsed. It would be quite a  shock if the governor invited Fry only to choose some other plan. Also, the governor's office -- while  not tipping its hand on its choice -- acknowledged that  the Maryland Transit Administration managed to bring the leading option within federal cost-effectiveness guidelines.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:21 AM | | Comments (44)
Categories: Red Line

Ocean City to vote on scooter helmet law

The Ocean City Council will cast a final vote tonight on a proposal to require people who ride rental scooters at the beach resort to wear helmets while operating them on city streets.

The measure, which would exempt, scooters operated by their owners, has already received preliminary approval and is expected to win final passage.

Under state law, motorcycle riders are required to wear helmets, but operators of motor scooters and their passengers are exempt.

City Councilman Douglas Cymek said the move was prompted by some serious accidents involving scooters.

"We've had a remendous amount of scooter-related accidents in Ocean City," Cymek said. "I attribute that to the proliferation of rental businesses."

Under the proposed ordinance, renters of motorized minibikes or mopeds would be required  to provide helmets to customers. Operators of the vehicles and their passengers would be required to wear them.

The measure also calls for rental firms to clearly display the business' name and telephone number on the vehicle.

Cymek said the exemption for owners was based on the premise that they are likely to be more experienced in the use of the vehicles than renters.

Council President Joe Mitrecic acknowledged  that the exemption  could lead to a scenario in whichtwo people riding together -- one on a rental scooter and another on his or her own -- would be treated differently.

A police officer "would in fact stop one and  let the other  one go," Mitrecic said.




Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:34 AM |
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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