« August 2009 | Main | October 2009 »

September 30, 2009

Officials say cameras are all about safety




Sun photo/Barbara Haddock Taylor                     

The most common complaint about speed cameras -- besides the tired nonsense about Big Brother -- is that they're just  a "money grab" by the government that will have no effect on safety.

Several high-ranking transportation and law enforcement officials in state government addressed that issue Wednesday at a news conference called to outline Maryland's plans to deploy the cameras in highway work  zones.

Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley (at podium), State Highway Administrator Neil J. Pedersen (the tall man on the right) and Maryland Transportation Authority Police Chief Marcus Brown (right center background) all vigorously argued that the camera program is all about safety.


Pedersen said he would be "absolutely delighted" if so few motorists violated the law that the  fines couldn't cover  the cost of the enforcement program. He said his agency will do all it can to make sure drivers are not surprised by a speed camera zone -- with oversize signs and electronic readers that tell motorists how fast they are going.

"It will be very difficult for a motorist not to realize a speed enforcement zone is ahead," he said.

Swaim-Staley said simply that she would be happy "if no  one has to pay a  fine because of this program."

Brown said the cameras will help officers with enforcement in work  zones, where closed shoulders and altered traffic patterns can make it  dangerous for officers to make a traffic stop.

"For law enforcement, this is not a  money matter. The ultimate goal is to affect behavior," he said.

Speed camera foes are not likely to be persuaded. To them it's an article of faith that public officials  couldn't possibly be interested in saving the lives of highway workers, motorists and passengers.

One person at the news conference who didn't share the opponents' cynicism was Lairie Moser, whose SHA employee husband was killed by a negligent  driver on a highway ramp in Frederick County. She said Rick Moser was 57 when he was hit  at 60 mph and thrown 175 feet through the air. His widow has since become an activist on work zone safety and testified before the General Aseembly in support of the law now taking effect.

Moser said criitics of the law might take a different view if they shared her experiences.

"If these people were living my llife they might place a different value on speed cameras," she said. "I would  ask them to imagine telling a 10-year-old boy that he'll never  see  his father again."

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:40 PM | | Comments (12)
Categories: On the roads

State closes Ocean City bridge to trucks

The State Highway Administration closed one of the two bridges leading into Ocean City to truck traffic Wednesday afternoon after inspectors found deteriortaion of one of the girders that supports the structure.

Highway Administrator Neil J. Pedersen said he ordered the emergency restrictions, which will bar vehicles heavier than 6,000 pounds from using the Route 90 bridge, after receiving recommendations from staff and outside consulting engineers. He said the bridge remains safe for passenger vehicle traffic but that anything larger than a pickup truck would be diverted to the U.S. 50 bridge.

Pedersen said the highway agencies will make  repairs to the structure over the winter. The administrator said the repairs will require lanes closings -- and perhaps the temporary shutdown of the entire bridge -- but he said the structure will be fixed in time for next summer.

According to Pedersen, inspectors found that the concrete shell of one of the 85-foot girders had eroded, exposing the underlying steel.

"It's the fact that it's exposed -- especially with all the salt water  and salt air," he said, stressing that engineers had not found problems with the other girders.

The, 1.4-mile foot-long, 38-year-old bridge carries an estimated average of 18,000 vehicles a day over Assawoman Bay and feeds into Ocean City at 60th Street -- making it a vital link for the north end of the resort.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:08 PM |

No law, few helmets in sunny Florida

During a recent weekend in Florida, one thing that was particularly striking for a Maryland visitor was the almost total absence of helmets on the heads of motorcyclists in that state.

In Maryyland, you see, motorcycle helmets are the law. In Florida they were once the law, but  the statute was repealed. So now, virtually every motocyclist you see in that state is riding bare-headed. I would estimate that fewer than 20 percent of the bikers I saw wore protective headgear. There was absolutely  no sign that Florida motorcyclists were compensating for their unprotected skulls by driving any safer than Maryland bikers.

My guess is that in the absence of a law, fashion takes over. Nobody wants to be the dweeb wearing a brain bucket.

I'm aware of all the arguments about freedom of choice and yaddah-yah, but as the driver of a passenger vehicle I want the lives of the people I share the road with to be protected from the possibility that I will make a mistake -- or fail to respond to the mistake of another quickly enough. Call its selfish on my part, but I don't want to be carrying around the burden of killing someone. I'm happy to do my part to  look out for motorcyclists but I also appreciate motorcyclists loooking out for themselves. On this issue at least, Maryland's got it right.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:35 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: On the roads

September 29, 2009

Susquehanna bridges need hurry-up repairs

You can read more about this in The Sun tomorrow, but the Maryland Transportation Authority has found serious underwater deterioration on the bridges carrying Interstate 95 and U.S. 40 over the Susquehanna River.

The finding has forced the authority to put repairs to the bridges' foundations and pillars on a fast track for completion in the 2012-2013 time frame. The cost of underwater repairs at the two bridges is estimated at $53.3 million. The work includes measures to combat "scour," the erosion of the pillars as a result of the river's flow.

The authority says the bridges are safe to travel on but that the work needs to be done as quickly as possible to keep them safe. Engineering for the projects is under way.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:29 PM |
Categories: Maryland toll facilities

September 28, 2009

Transportation till tapped

This is the time of the year when Maryland Department of Transportation officials usually tour the state -- going from county to county describing the wonderful projects coomiing to them in tthe six-year Comprehensive Transportation Program.

This year the meetiings are taking place but the message will be virtually the same in every county, according to Transportation Department spokesman Jack Cahalan: "In terms of projects, there are none. There's nothing new because there's no money to do anything new."

Such has been the drop in revenues from decreased collection of gas tax, titliing  and registration fees Don't look for any proposals to raise new revenue anytime soon: Next year is an election year.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:39 PM | | Comments (1)

BWI chief retires, MTA boss moves over


While I was out on vacation (and then spent nearly a week on the sick list), one story that slipped through the cracks came Sept. 18 when Maryland Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley announced that Timothy L. Campbell, executive director of the Maryland Aviation Administration, was retiring and that MTA Administrator Paul J. Wiedefeld would take his place when the change becomes official Dec. 31.

For Wiedefeld (right), the shift will bring him back to a position he held from 2002 to 2005, when he left to take a job in the private sector. During his tenure at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, Wiedefeld was credited with successfully managing the largest capital expansion in the airport's history, including construction of the Southwest Terminal.

Campbell (left), who has spent a 35-year career in aviation management, has been credited with maintaining the level of air service at BWI in the face of industry cutbacks. Swaim-Staley hailed him as "one of the best aviation professionals in the country."

Wiedefeld took over at MTA in 2007 at a time when there was confusion over who actually ran the agency -- the administrator or the secretary of transportation -- and quickly made it clear he was in charge. Among other things, he outlined a long term plan for the expansion of the MARC commuter train system and pushed for expedited delivery of a new 26-locomotive fleet for the rail service.

He led the agency through several crises: including a train wheel cracking problem that nearly brought the light rail system to a halt last year and  this summer's fatal collision wiith two teenagers near Lutherville. He has also had to deal  with a budget crunch that has forced painful cutbacks  in both core bus service and popular commuter routes.

The transportation department said Wiedefeld will remain with the MTA through November, after whhich he will begin a gradual transition into his new/old job. Swaim-Staley said she hopes to have a new administrator in place before Wiedefeld's departure.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:43 PM | | Comments (1)

State begins work on widening beach route

If you ever travel over the Bay Bridge on U.S. 50 and take a left onto Route 404 to reach the Delaware beaches or the north end of Ocean City, you're probably familiar with the backups that plague the two-lane stretches of that road.

So it may come as some relief that Maryland has begun the process of widening 404 with the  launch today of a project to widen a mile-long segment of 404 between Tuckahoe Creek (the stream that separates Queen Anne's County from Caroline) to Hillsboro. The $15 million job -- funded thhrough the federal stimulus program -- is the first segment of a planned widening of an 11-mile segment of 404 between U.S. 50 and the Denton Bypass.

That's all the good news for now, because two-lane segments east of Denton are on the back burner because of Delaware's reluctance to widen its part of the road. There's hope, though, that by the time the 11 miles are completed in late 2012, we be able to get to the traffic jams a little faster.

The price  of progress is construction delay, and motorists  traveling 404 can expect to encounter lane closings Mondays from noon to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Fridays from 8 a.m. to noon.  Crews wiill not be working on Saturdays or Sundays.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:35 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

Where the trucks crash

Where are you most likely to run into a backup caused by a truck crash in Maryland?

Here's some answers from the State Highway Administration, taken from its recently released Maryland Statewide Freight Plan. The figures also include crashes of other commercial vehicles such as buses.

The section of the Capital Beltway in Prince Georges' County is the champ, though the segments of Interstate 95 between the Baltimore and Capital beltways in Howard and Baltimore counties rank way up there.


These figures do not prove one way or another that more capacity is needed on any of these roads. Reducing truck crashes is only one of many considerations going into the evaluation of any highway project. But those who want to widen highways that rank relatively low on this list -- such as No. 11 Interstate 270 in Montgomery County -- may need to muster other arguments.

Some stretches that don't make the top 15: Interstate 68 in Western Maryland and Interstate 97 in Anne Arundel County.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:14 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

When an option isn't optional

Until his retirement, Buz Winchester was one of the most savvy lobbyists in Annapolis. As the chief advocate for the Maryland State Bar Association before the Maryland General Assembly, he kept a close eye on a wide range of bills and developed a keen nose for "snakes" -- those deceptive little bills that conceal their true purpose but inevitably line the pockets of some special interest.

Winchester was always a vigorous advocate for his client, but he sometimes found time to lend his skills as a legislative herpetologist to reporters, including this former member of the State House Bureau.

It is thus with great pleasure that I pass along Winchester's account of his recent foray into the jungle of car-buying, where there is also an abundance of reptiles.

Recently my wife and I decided to buy a new car after our trusty 1994 Volvo croaked after 208,000 miles.  As you may remember, my wife has worked for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation for over 35 years and I’m the Chairman of the Maryland Green Building Council, so it should come as no surprise that we agreed to look for a hybrid vehicle, specifically the Toyota Prius.

Since we are both in our 60’s, and drive our vehicles well beyond their normal shelf life (Question:  Do cars have a shelf life?), we decided to go for broke and buy the top of the line- a brand new Toyota Prius V!   We did the necessary research and found that we could get this baby for under $30,000 if we bought the basic car without all the optional bells and whistles.  By far the most elaborate bell or whistle was the NAVIGATION PACKAGE which would give us a DVD system with JBL AM/FM, 4 disc CD Changer, USB Port w/I Pod, Music Streaming via Bluetooth Blah, Blah ,Blah.  Now Mike, my wife and I are simple  folks.  Give us a reasonably priced good bottle of wine, some cheese, a baguette, and some soothing music on a sunny Saturday afternoon and we’re happy.  What is even more important when we are in the car together after 40 years of marriage we actually enjoy talking with each other without unnecessary distractions.

 There were three other considerations that we factored into our decision: (1) Over 90% of the miles that we would put on our new car would be between our home in Galesville and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation near Annapolis; (2) Both my wife and I are part of a diminishing breed of drivers that actually use and know how to read a map; and, (3) Given my unfortunate disability that prevents me from understanding how to operate all these new and wonderful technological innovations (This E mail is about as complicated as it gets for me),  having all of these doo dads only would give me something more to break.  We agreed that the NAVIGATION PACKAGE was not something that would enhance our driving experience.

So there we were in a local car dealership right in the middle of the “Cash for Clunkers” extravaganza.  A very nice young man approached and asked if he could help us.  We said yes he could  and told him we wanted to buy a Toyota Prius V.  After the test drive and about an hour of hearing about things we already knew because we had done our research we placed down a $500 deposit and were told it may take a few weeks to find a Prius V because they were “selling like hotcakes!” (Well, maybe he didn’t actually say “hotcakes” because nobody under 50 years ever says “selling like hotcakes”.)  We said that’s OK we’re patient people, after all we’ve waited 15 years to get a new car, so a month or so more wouldn’t be a problem.  Before we left the dealership we made it clear in no uncertain terms that we did NOT want the NAVIGATION PACKAGE. 

Over the past few weeks we heard from our nice young salesman on several occasions who with some excitement informed us that he had found a Prius V in the color we wanted.  Then his tone changed.  He told us unfortunately the vehicle he found had the NAVIGATION PACKAGE.  We said “Sorry, please keep looking.”  Finally, this week I decided to pay the dealership a visit.  The nice young salesman saw me arrive and politely arranged a meeting with his manager so we could plot a strategy to locate and get us the car we wanted. When told of the dilemma, the manager frowned and shook his head.  “I’m very sorry sir,” he said “ it may take us up to a year to get you a Prius V because they’re not making them without the NAVIGATION PACKAGE and we will have to special order one from Japan which will involve an additional shipping expense.”  I replied “ Wait a minute isn’t the NAVIGATION PACKAGE an option.”  He answered “Yeah it is, but it’s a mandatory option.”

In the next few days I intend to visit some used car lots.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:22 AM | | Comments (5)

Fatal crash brings reminder of driving tip

Reports of a  recent fatal crash on Route 32 in Howard County reminded Matilda Falck of Pikesville of something she learned in her 55 Alive defensive driving course at her senior center.

"When attempting a left turn, never turn your front wheels (until you are ready to make the turn). Always keep them straight, so that if you are rear-ended, your car will not go into the oncoming traffic."

There's no way to be sure that advice would have made a difference in the outcome of this month's Howard County crash, which did involve the rear-ending of a motorist attempting to make a left turn, but it's a good practice anyway.

Falck said that even though  she has been driving a long time, that tip was news to her. Nor was it covered in my late-1960s driver's ed class.

Maybe we could all use a refresher course.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:02 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads

September 27, 2009

Walk/run to honor victim of driving while texting

(Repeating item to add web site information.)

Russell Hurd, whose testimony about the death of his daughter helped win General Assembly passage of the ban on driving while texting that goes into effect Oct. 1, asked me to pass along that his family and Harford Community College will host a 5-kilometer walk and run Nov. 21 in honor of Heather Hurd. I'm happy to do so.

 Heather Hurd was killed Jan. 3, 2008, in Davenport, Fla., when the car in which she was riding was hit by a tractor-trailer driver who had been texting. His daughter's loss prompted Russell Hurd, who lives in Abingdon, to become involved in efforts to pass legislation addressing issues of distracted driving in Maryland and other states.

Enrollment fees for the 8 a.m. event -- $20 for the general public and $15 for HCC students and staff -- will go toward Remembrance Scholarships to honor those killed on Maryland roads.  Information and registration forms can be found online at

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:54 PM |

Ad swats point home on protecting motorcyclists

The blog Greater Greater Washington does us all a service by passing along a  public service ad campaign from Norway reminding drivers to keep an eye out for motorcyclists.  The spot, entitled "We are Small but We're Not Bugs," reflects a rather grim Norse sense of humor that may  not be to everyone's taste. But this blogger is part Norwegian and thinks it's spot-on.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:05 PM |
Categories: On the roads

September 25, 2009

Charm City Circulator makes cameo appearance

Charm City circulator

Guest post from my colleague Tim Wheeler, who writes about the environment and green living over at the B'More Green blog.

Your eyes aren’t deceiving you – yes, that’s the Charm City Circulator Bus. It made a cameo appearance today in Harbor East, where workers and residents got a chance to kick the tires and board it during a lunchtime rally at the Katyn Memorial to promote alternatives to driving in the bustling, at-times gridlocked neighborhood.

But no, the long-promised downtown shuttle still is not ready for prime time. City officials say that the global recession and problems getting parts have delayed the delivery of the 21 hybrid electric buses the city is acquiring. City officials had said a month ago they still hoped to get it running by the end of summer – which was Monday – but now talk about "fall/winter."

"We’ve got to get it right and get the right product," says Laurie Schwartz, director of the Waterfront Partnership, a coalition of businesses, residents and city officials. Still, Schwartz acknowledged, "It’s taken way longer than anyone ever expected and hoped."

Undeterred, officials launched a new campaign today aimed at getting folks who work, shop or live in Harbor East to try walking, biking, taking a water taxi or riding another bus – anything to cut down on the traffic that often clogs the streets.

Whole Foods, whose supermarket there is a huge draw, was on hand to give out healthy snacks and water. Others stood by with bikes, free advice and information about urban bike safety and the other transportation modes officials hope will ease the area’s traffic woes.

The new campaign, "A Smarter Way to Get There," is aimed at the thousands of workers in the new offices and stores there, or their bosses. A survey of major employers found something like 60 percent of the workers reported they drive alone to and from their jobs, while only 14 percent take transit and 4 percent walk or bike, Schwartz said.

The Partnership, one of the sponsors of the initiative, along with the city and area businesses, has unveiled a Web site meant to give workers and residents an easy guide to all the travel options they have.

Photo courtesy of Mark Dennis

Posted by Michelle Deal-Zimmerman at 5:04 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Local bus lines

ICC tolls set to maximize revenue

For an interesting take on the Maryland Transportation Authority's plans for toll rates on the Inter-county Connector, check out this article in Toll Road News.

For those unfamiliar with the online publication, Toll Road News is the  authoritative source for information on U.S. tolled transportation facilities. Whether you agree with his conclusions or not, editor  Peter Samuel, knows the field as well as anyone in the country.

Samuel reports that the authority faithfully followed a consultant's report that suggested that toll rates be adopted with the goal of maximizing revenue. In general, Toll Road News finds that the tolls are high by national standards but not unreasonable given the cost of the project and the affluence of the communities it serves.

Whether the Maryland public will agree is highly questionable.

Previously, I had expressed doubt about the usefulness of public hearings on these toll rates, but having read this article I've changed my mind. It's clear the authority is exercising a considerable amount of discretion in proposing these rates and not just following market forces.  The off-peak rates of 20 cents a mile seem particularly aggressive.

So by all means, show up for the public  hearings  Beltsville Oct. 28 in Beltsville and Oct. 29 in Gaithersburg. Better yet, contact the authority and demand that a third hearing be scheduled in the Baltimore area. The decision to treat the ICC as a strictly local project is a disgrace.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:24 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities

September 24, 2009

Blog outlines state's transportation woes

When Adam Pagnucco of Maryland Politics Watch steps out of his Montgomery-centric shell, he does some superb reporting on Maryland transportation issues. I highly recommend his deconstruction Monday of the state of the state's transportation program.

It looks like time for a grownup discussion of revenue needs and spending priorities. The chances of that occurring before the next election are dim.




Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:21 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

WMATA sacks driver who hit pedestrian

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority announced it has fired a bus operator who struck and seriously injured a pedestrian Sept. 3 and Florida and Connecticut Avenues. The agency said the eight-year veteran driver had beeen found to have violated the agency's operating procedures.

It's great to see some accountability at WMATA, but it would be better if that concept were applied to those in managerial ranks as well.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:42 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: WMATA/D.C. Metro

Maryland ranked No. 3 in transit gains

The advocacy group Environment Maryland reports that Maryland ranked No. 3 among the states in 2008 for its gains in transit ridership over the previous year. The group estimated that state residents saved 60.7 million gallons of gasoline as a result of the more than 15 percent gain in the use of transit.

The gain obviously reflects the huge jump in gasoline prices between 2007 and 2008, but it still reflects well on regional transit agencies that they ranked so high nationally. Only Louisiana and North Carolina reported greater gains as both posted 16 percent increases.

The group's full press release follows:

Maryland Third in Nation for Increased Transit Ridership

Record-breaking transit ridership saved fuel equal to the amount consumed by 105,200 cars in Maryland last year

Baltimore -- In 2008, people in Maryland saved 60.7 million gallons of gasoline by riding transit in record numbers – the amount consumed by 105,200 cars in Maryland. Transportation is responsible for more than two-thirds of our dependence on oil, and about one-third of our carbon dioxide pollution Environment Maryland outlined in their new report Getting On Track: Record Transit Ridership Increases Energy Independence.

”People are voting with their feet by driving less and taking more public transportation,” said Mike Sherling of Environment Maryland.  “Congress should listen to these voters and invest more in public transportation, which will increase our energy independence and reduce global warming pollution,” Sherling added.

Maryland  ranks third in the nation for percent increase in transit ridership, which increased by more than 15 percent above 2007 levels.

People in Maryland drove less, with 1.8 billion fewer miles driven in 2008 than in the year before - a 4 percent decrease. People drove less due in part to volatile fuel prices and decreased economic activity, and many of these car trips were replaced by transit.

“Increased funding for public transit would generate jobs and provide transit services that Marylanders clearly want and need,” said David McClure, President of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1300.

In 2008 increased national transit ridership saved more than 4 billion gallons of gasoline, the equivalent of the fuel nearly 7.2 million cars – almost as many passenger cars as are registered in Florida – consume in one year.

“Despite the huge potential for transit to reduce oil consumption and pollution, the vast majority of transportation funding is spent on roads,” said Sherling.  “Instead of wasting money to build new highways that only increase our dependence on oil, our leaders here in Maryland and in Congress should drive more money to transit, rail, and better biking and walking options,” Sherling added.

These figures do not take into account the other benefits of increased transit ridership – benefits that include reduced congestion, fewer hours stuck in traffic, reductions in smog and soot pollution or money saved by households regularly taking transit. 

“Environment Maryland's report could not have come at a better time.” says Otis Rolley, President and CEO of Central Maryland Transportation Alliance. “In this time of statewide economic hardship, an investment in transit makes dollars and sense. This report provides evidence that not only are more Maryland residents taking transit, but that those trips are helping to protect one of Maryland's greatest resources, its environment.”

In addition to fuel savings, public transportation reduced global warming pollution in Maryland by 547,000 tons in 2008.  

“This report serves to underscore the value of building the light rail Red Line and, beyond that, further strengthening rail transit resources in the Baltimore region,” said Donald C. Fry, president & CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, a leading business advocate for expanding rail transit.

“Modern light rail transit would not only enhance mobility in our region, it would have economic benefits as well. Transit-oriented development along the Red Line corridor alone would create an estimated 33,000 jobs,” Fry said.

In order to maximize public transportation potential to save energy and reduce pollution, Environment Maryland is asking our local, state, and federal leaders to:

+ Issue overarching goals for reducing oil dependence and pollution through transportation, which will guide better policy.

+ Increase investment in cleaner public transportation, to include transit, high speed rail, and better walking and biking options.

+ Level the playing field in terms of funding and approving transit projects, relative to road projects. Approval of transit and highway investments should be governed by an equivalent set of rules and matching ratios.

+ Increase funding for transit maintenance and day-to-day operations, in addition to improving and expanding capacity. Federal, state and local funds should allow for greater flexibility in funding operations - new buses and trains are useless without drivers to drive them and mechanics to maintain them.

In the near term,  Environment Maryland is calling on Congress to incorporate the full provisions of CLEAN TEA (the Clean, Low Emissions, Affordable New Transportation Equity Act, S.575 ), into the climate bill being debated now in the Senate. CLEAN TEA would direct 10 percent of climate bill allowances to clean transportation efforts that will save oil and reduce emissions.

“We applaud Senator Cardin for co-sponsoring the CLEAN TEA bill. We hope Senator Mikulski will support this forward-thinking legislation to save oil and reduce pollution,” Sherling added.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:09 PM |
Categories: On the roads

I-95 overnight closings set for ICC project

The State Highway Administration will conduct periodic closings of northbound and southbound Interstate 95 in the Beltsville area during the early morning hours starting Monday, Oct. 5 for construction if interchanges linking I-95 to the Intercounty Connector.

The closings, which are scheduled to last no more than 15 minutes at a time between Routes 198 and 212, will continue through spring, the highway agency said. The northbound closures will occur between midnight and 4:30 a.m. while the southbound closings will be confined to the midnight-3:30 a.m. period.

The SHA said there could be up to four such closings a night. According to the highway agency, the closings are necessary to let work crews saely install the structural steel for three new ICC bridges over I-95. Meanwhile workers will also raze the Old Gunpowder Road bridge over the interstate.

Highway officials are urging overnight travelers to use U.S. 1 and Maryland 295 (the Baltimore-Washington parkway) as alternative routes.

The SHA's full release follows:



(September 24, 2009) Beginning early morning Monday, October 5, the Maryland Department of Transportation’s (MDOT) State Highway Administration (SHA) will temporarily stop traffic and close all lanes of north and southbound I-95 between MD 198 and MD 212 in 15-minute intervals.

The temporary 15-minute closures on I-95 are permitted ONLY between midnight (12 a.m.) and 4:30 a.m. on northbound I-95 and between midnight (12 a.m.) and 3:30 a.m. on southbound I-95. Each night, there could be up to four temporary closures. Crews will allow all delays to clear before permitting any additional closures.

The closures, which will occur periodically through spring, allow crews to safely set structural steel for three new ICC Bridges over I-95. Simultaneously, crews will demolish the Old Gunpowder Road Bridge over I-95, utilizing the lane closures for the ICC bridge steel installation.

In the case of inclement weather, work may be delayed until the next weeknight.

In addition to the 15-minute temporary closures, workers are permitted to close one or two lanes of I-95 between MD 198 (exit 33) and MD 212 (exit 29), Sunday nights through Friday mornings. SHA approved lane closures on northbound I-95 between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. and on southbound I-95 between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. Crews began single and double-lane closures Monday night, Sept. 21 to start the demolition and reconstruction of the Old Gunpowder Road Bridge.

The contractor will maintain traffic on the bridge by shifting lanes and rebuilding one-half of the structure at a time. The work on the Old Gunpowder Road Bridge over I-95 will also impact traffic on that road. Construction activities are underway Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. and include removing the concrete deck (roadway) and the bridge girders on the east side of the bridge. Flagging crews are alternating traffic on Old Gunpowder Road during off-peak daytime hours.

Drivers should use extra caution and allow extra time when traveling through the area. SHA will post traffic information on electronic variable message signs along I-95, I-495 and other interstates to alert motorists prior to any lane closures or temporary total closures along I-95.

Drivers traveling along I-95 during the early morning prior to morning rush hour should allow extra travel time and consider using the Baltimore Washington Parkway or US 1 as alternate routes. For more information about the project, please call the ICC Community Outreach staff toll-free at 866-462-0020, or visit the ICC project web site,

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:47 AM |
Categories: On the roads

September 23, 2009

The ICC toll plan: What it means

So at long last the Maryland Transportation Authority has put some numbers behind its plan for tolling on the Intercounty Connector, the first phase of which will open next year. The agency estimates that at peak times, the tolls will range from 25 cents to 35 cents a mile. It scheduled public hearings to get comments on the plan.

What's the significance of this? Nada. Zilch. Zip. Less than nothing.

Under the congestion pricing plan the state adopted for the ICC, neither the authority's estimates nor the public's opinion carries much weight. The market rules with an iron fist. To keep the lanes free-flowing, the tolls have to be high enough to deter a significant number of motorists from using the road. If traffic clogs up at 35 cents a mile, the toll has to rise to 40 cents a mile. Or 50. Or 60. You get it.

The other key to understanding the ICC tolls is that they have nowhere to go but up. The capacity for congestion-free operations is finite. Demand for jam-free roads in the Washington suburbs is seemingly limitless. It's Economics 101.

So people can turn out and holler all they want about the proposed rate ranges -- which are really no more than estimates. The market will overrule both the authority and the public. The hearings are mostly dog-and-pony shows staged for the federal government.

Even given the essential hollowness of the public comment process, Baltimore commuters may feel it's a slap in the face that the only two hearings on the pricing plan are scheduled in Beltsville and Gaithersburg -- Oct. 28 and 29 respectively.

Folks at the authority must have forgotten that the ICC was sold as a project of statewide significance and that Baltimore-area residents are paying a disproportionate share of the ICC's costs in higher tolls. And while the authority likes to emphasize that only 5 percent of the trips on the ICC will be end-to-end, common sense suggests that a disproportionate number of Baltimore motorists will be using it to reach destinations in the I-270 corridor and thus will pay the full end-to-end toll.  

So Baltimore-area lawmakers might want to yank the authority's chain and force it to schedule a hearing in the city or its nearby suburbs. If only just to remind them that Baltimore can't be taken for granted.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:07 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: On the roads

State announces ICC tolling plan

The Maryland Transportation Authority has unveiled a tolling plan for the Intercounty Connector under which passenger vehicles would pay as much as 35 cents a mile for travel on the highway when the first phase of it opens next year.

The authority also announced a series of public hearings next month to gather coments on the plan.

Since the ICC's revival under the Ehrlich administration, the state has planned to set tolls for the highway at levels that would keep the highway running free of congestion by pricing a certain amount of the east-west traffic onto free local roads. But until now, the Maryland Department of Transportation has balked at providing estimates of what that cost will be.

In its announcement Wednesday, the authority estimated that the cost per mile for two-axle passenger vehicles at peak hours -- 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. -- would likely vary from 25 to 35 cents a mile. It put the cost per mile at off-peak periods at 20 to 30 cents a mile. The agency said the peak periods could be adjusted by as much as an hour earlier or later once the road opens and traffic patterns are established.

The 18.8-mile toll road will link Interstate 270 in Montgomery County with the Interstate 95-U.S. 1 corridor in Prince George's County when it fully opens by 2012. The first phase, a 5.65-mile segment between Georgia Avenue and Shady Grove (Interstate 370), is expected to open next fall.

If the estimates prove accurate, they indicate that a passenger vehicle traveling the full length of the ICC from Laurel to Shady Grove -- or the reverse --would pay about $6.10 for the 17.5-mile tolled portion of the trip at peak times. The authority, however, estimated that less than 5 percent of drivers will travel the full distance. It put the average estimated trip length at 6.6 miles.

The authority said it would accept public comments on the plan until the close of business on Nov. 23. It said it would hold informational meeting to answer the public's questions at open houses Oct. 19 at High Point High School in Beltsville and Oct. 21 at John F. Kennedy High School in Silver Spring. Public hearings, at which citizens can offer testimony, will be held Oct. 28 at High Point High School and Oct. 29 at Shady Grove Middle School in Gaithersburg. All of the meetings are scheduled from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Comments can also be submitted at the web site or sent to ICCTolls, 11710 Beltsville Drive, Suite #200, Beltsville, MD 20705.





Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:28 PM | | Comments (21)
Categories: On the roads

September 22, 2009

NTSB finds track signal flaw in June 22 Metro crash

The National Transportation Safety Board has identified a flaw in the Washington Metro's train control system as the likely culprit in the June 22 crash that killed nine people on the Red Line. The agency also has made nine safety recommendations, six of them classified as urgent.

The NTSB said it discovered that a "spurious" signal had been generated by a transmitter in a track circuit. It recommended that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and the system's manufacturer, Alstom Signaling, work together to eliminate the problem. The agency recommended that federal regulators notify other transit agencies that use similar systems about the problems that arose on the Washington subway.

A copy of the full release appears below:

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) today issued nine safety recommendations, six of which are urgent, to  address concerns about the safety of train control systems  that use audio frequency track circuits. The recommendations  are the result of NTSB's ongoing investigation into the  collision between two Washington Metropolitan Area Transit  Authority (WMATA) trains on the Red Line near the Fort Totten station in Washington, D.C., on June 22, 2009.   

During the investigation, the NTSB has discovered that a  failure occurred in which a spurious signal generated by a  track circuit module transmitter mimicked a valid signal and  bypassed the rails via an unintended signal path. The  spurious signal was sensed by the module receiver which  resulted in the train not being detected when it stopped in  the track circuit where the accident occurred.

The NTSB made specific recommendations to the Washington  Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and to Alstom Signaling,  Inc., the manufacturer of the track circuit modules at the  Fort Totten station, to examine the WMATA track circuits and work together to eliminate adverse conditions that could  affect the safe performance of these systems. Additionally,  the NTSB called upon WMATA to develop a program to  periodically determine that the electronic components in its  train control systems are performing within design  tolerances.

Although the NTSB's investigation is not yet complete and no determination of probable cause has been reached, the NTSB  is concerned about the safety of train control system  circuitry used in comparable rail and transit operations in  other parts of the country. Therefore, the NTSB recommended  that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) advise all rail  transit operators and railroads that use audio frequency  track circuits in their train control systems about these  findings from the Fort Totten accident investigation.

The NTSB also recommended that the FTA and FRA have transit operators and railroads that use audio frequency track  circuits examine their track circuits and work with their  signal equipment manufacturer(s) to eliminate adverse  conditions that could affect the safe performance of these  systems, and to develop programs to periodically determine  that the electronic components in their train control  systems are performing within design tolerances.

"After only 3 months, this complex investigation is far from  complete, so we are not ready to determine the probable  cause of the accident on WMATA," said Chairman Deborah A.P.  Hersman. "However, our findings so far indicate a pressing  need to issue these recommendations to immediately address  safety glitches we have found that could lead to another  tragic accident on WMATA or another transit or rail system."     In accordance with NTSB protocol, the letters were addressed  to the heads of each organization with a request for a  response from each organization within 30 days on the urgent  recommendations, addressing the actions taken or planned in  response to the Board's recommendations.

The NTSB has made its recommendation letter to the WMATA available, as well as its recommendation to Alstom Signaling Inc., its letter to the FTA, and its recommendations to the FRA.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:59 PM |
Categories: WMATA/D.C. Metro

Regional board backs O'Malley Red Line choice

The Baltimore Regional Transportation Board, a group made up of the leaders of the region's local governments, today unanimously approved Gov. Martin O'Malley's plan for building the proposed east-west Red Line as a light rail system located partly on the surface and partly in tunnels.

The endorsement comes as no surprise but is an important step toward securing approval for the state's application for federal funding. The vote provides backing for the governor's designation of the plan as the region's locally preferred option" even though it faces fierce opposition from some residents of West Baltimore and Canton.




Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:35 PM | | Comments (2)

September 21, 2009

Thanks to City Paper for blog award

Today was the day I was supposed to return to the Blog World with a vengeance -- kick-starting the conversation on Maryland transportation matters after a week of decompression in Florida.

 Those plans, alas, have been waylaid by a virus that is forcing me to post from home.

I was pleased, flattered an humbled to return to the news that the City Paper had named Getting There as Baltimore's Best Newspaper Blog. Thanks to Maryann James for posting the news in my absence. My hope is to continue providing readers with the latest in news and opinions about how Marylanders get around. I hope you'll all keep weighing in with your views.





Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:18 PM |

September 17, 2009

Walk/run to honor victim of driving while texting


Kim Hurd dries her eyes as husband Russell Hurd testfies in support of SB 143.
Sun file photo 2009


Russell Hurd, whose testimony about the death of his daughter helped win General Assembly passage of the ban on driving while texting that goes into effect Oct. 1, asked me to pass along that his family and Harford Community College will host a 5-kilometer walk and run Nov. 21 in honor of Heather Hurd.

I'm happy to do so.

Heather Hurd was killed Jan. 3, 2008, in Davenport, Fla., when the car in which she was riding was hit by a tractor-trailer driver who had been texting. His daughter's loss prompted Russell Hurd, who lives in Abingdon, to become involved in efforts to pass legislation addressing issues of distracted driving in Maryland and other states. (Russell and his wife Kim are shown in the photo above during General Assembly testimony earlier this year.)

Enrollment fees for the 8 a.m. event -- $20 for the general public and $15 for HCC students and staff -- will go toward Remembrance Scholarships to honor those killed on Maryland roads.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

September 16, 2009

It's an honor to be nominated ...

... It's even better to win.

It's Maryann here, doing my occasional drop-in while Dresser is away for the week. And I'm happy to present a nice little gift for our intrepid transportation blogger's return: The City Paper picked Getting There as the best newspaper blog for 2009.

I can't speak for Mr. Dresser. But I'd venture to say that he couldn't have won without the help of you, dear readers, especially since you all -- the drivers, riders, walkers, bikers and commuters -- are the reason why he's writing and why this blog is great. 

So, go head and pat yourself on the back.

Posted by Maryann James at 9:34 AM |

September 14, 2009

Road noise near home harms health, study says

Can traffic noise near your home kill you? And are the folks at the State Highway Administration who put up those noise barriers that line our highways health care workers? A recent article from the Los Angeles Times suggests it can and they are.

The article points to a Swedish study written up in the journal Environmental Health showing that road noise levels of 60 decibels or more near one's home are associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure among young and middle-aged adults.

I've sometimes wondered whether those noise barriers were a good use of highway money. Now you can make a good case for them as a preventive health measure. Go figure.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:11 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads

September 11, 2009

Gas prices dip below $2.40 in places

Gas prices have been a non-story since the July 4 weekend as the statewide average has remained amazingly stable -- bouncing aroound between $2.50 and $2.60 for the most part, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic.

But when I was out and about on Route 2 in Pasadena Thursday, I saw a number of stations offering gas for around $2.35. A check of  on Friday shows quite a few stations in Laurel, Pasadena, Catonsville and Bel Air with prices under $2.40.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:29 AM |
Categories: On the roads

That wet stuff out there? It means slow down

It was an interesting commute this morning -- with one near-miss when a fellow driver decided he'd waited long enough to wait to make a left turn onto U.S. 1 and wouldn't be deterred by an oncoming Hyundai. Fortunately nobody was tailgating when emergency braking became necessary.

I couldn't help noticing that while most drivers take a little off their speed in deference to a driving rain and slick roads, there are others who appear entirely oblivious to the weather. They zoom along at the speeds you would expect on a dry, sunny day. Ice and snow get at least some respect in Maryland, but mere rain seems to be greeted with contempt.

It seems every time there's a heavy rain, you see  road closings and delays cause by drivers running into each other. One colleague of mine reported seeing three separate accidents on her way into work this morning.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:50 AM |
Categories: On the roads

September 10, 2009

Montgomery not a monolith on I-270

Maryland Politics Watch reports that 18 Montgomery County delegates have signed a letter authored by Del. Sheila Hixson -- the Ways and Means chairman and arguably the county's most influential legislator -- supporting study of an all-transit option for relieving congestion on Interstate 270.

Such a study would examine transit alternatives to the $4.6 billion widening of I-270 endorsed by the county planning board but opposed by many environmental groups.

The Action Committee for Transit has proposed an all-transit alternative that deserves a fresh look in light of the escalating costs of Sprawlway project. It might not all be feasible but there are elements that look promising, including a new rail connection to Hagerstown. I mention that because Hagerstown is one of those places in Maryland that really could benefit from growth. It's a great small city that could become as vibrant as Frederick if it catches a few breaks.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:42 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads

D.C. Metro worker struck by train

A Washington Metro was struck by a train in Northern Virginia Thursday, causing major delays on the Blue and Yellow lines in the morning and early afternoon. According to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Administration, the worker was taken to a local hospital with what are apparently serious injuries.

The accident took place about 10:40 a.m. between the the Ronald Reagan National Airport and Braddock Road stations. Full service on the Blue and Yellow lines was restored at 12:43 p.m. According to WMATA, the incident is under investigation.

The latest injury is one in a long list of safety-related problems to crop up within WMATA in recent months -- most notably the June 22 Metro collision that killed nine. Problems have included fatal accidents, cracked rails and employee misconduct.

It appears that WMATA has a way to go in creating a culture that emphasizes safety.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:53 PM |
Categories: WMATA/D.C. Metro

Naked trespasser delays MARC train

A MARC Penn Line train was delayed for about a half-hour Thursday morning by a naked man who was trespassing on the Amtrak tracks near Bowie.

Penn Line rider Jon Morgan, a former Sun colleague, said he was told by a conductor that a fellow conductor and a couple of federal agenct on the train -- one from the Secret Service and one from U.S. customs -- "hogtied" the unclothed individual.

MTA spokeswoman Jawauna Greene said the delay occurred on Train 509 to Washington about 7:15 a.m. Greene said the man was subdued and arrested, allowing the train to resume its journey.

The incident shows that "anything can delay a MARC train," she said.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:11 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: MARC train

Marxism (the Chico kind) in Montgomery


Adam Pagnucco of the Maryland Politics blog, in the fourth and so-far funniest part of his opus on the proposed widening of Interstate 270, outlines the truly outrageous strategy being adopted by some Montgomery County Council folks to sell their pet $4.6 billion project to widen Interstate 270 between Shady Grove and Frederick: Call its transit.

Some might describe this approach as Orwellian. I see it more as Marxian -- Chico in this case. You know the old saying that if it walks likes a duck and quacks like a duck, your chances are pretty good that it's a duck? Well, the 270 project walks like a wasteful 1970s-style highway boondoggle and quacks like a wasteful  1970s-style highway boondoggle. So certain members of the Montgomery council have heeded the words of Chico: "Vy a duck? Vy not a  chicken?"

Thus, in the poultry logic of Rockville, duck is now chicken and highway is now transit.

Earth to Montgomery: You can sell a dedicated bus lane as transit, but not express toll lanes. Express toll lanes are all about the cars. More specifically, cars driven by those with the means to pay what would certainly be some of the highest tolls in the country so they can live on 5-acre lots on what is now farmland as far away as Pennsylvania.

Pagnucco, by the way, comes close to getting my position on the ICC right. I do think environmentalists ought to advocate for maximum bus use on the ICC. But the ICC is for all intents and purposes existing infrastructure. I don't see how it could be converted now to Bus Rapid Transit with dedicated lanes.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:47 AM |
Categories: On the roads

September 9, 2009

Blog weighs in on Yellow Line idea

I just stumbled across the Transport Politic blog, which gives some extensive coverage to a recent proposal to advance the proposed Yellow Line from Towson to Columbia ahead of an extension of the Green Line.

I share the concerns that light rail to Columbia may be too slow to compete with autos. The public transit solution I'd suggest for Columbia is an express bus between the BWI Business District Light Rail station and Columbia Town Center. I don't see that it would kill the 310 or 320 commuter  bus routes, as one reader suggested, though it might lead to their being reconfigured. I see the express bus serving a much broader group of riders with seven-day-a-week service that would extend the existing light rail without the expense of an actual rail line.

Any thoughts?




Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:48 PM | | Comments (8)

This is getting old on MARC

It's more of the same-old on MARC that's been going on for the last three weeks. With working electric locomotives in short supply on the Penn Line, MARC has had to use less powerful diesel engines that can pull fewer trains. As a result, the Maryland Transit Administration is putting out messages like this one -- passes on by a reader -- on a daily basis:

Attention, Penn Line Passengers--

Due to a shortage of electric locomotives, the following trains will be operating with one car less than usual: This afternoon--train 426 (3:27pm departure from Washington), train 436 (5:34pm departure from Washington), and train 538 (6:05pm departure from Washington).

Tomorrow morning--train 401 (4:40am departure from Baltimore Penn), train 411 (7:00am departure from Baltimore Penn) and train 513 (6:30am departure from Perryville / 7:15 departure from Penn Station).

MARC regrets the inconvenience.

Penn Line riders who want to weigh in on recent service for an article in The Sun are invited to do so. Send email to and enclose a phone number where you can be reached during the day Thursday.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:00 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: MARC train

WMATA to put NTSB concerns at top of its list

Top leaders of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority say they are giving compliance with National Transportation Safety Board recommendation top priority as they lay plans for capital spending for the next decade.

The system's managers, under pressure to put safety first after the June Red Line collision that killed nine, presented the Metro board with a 10-year, $11 billion capital improvement plan that they said would address concerns raised by the NTSB after that crash and other fatal incidents involving WMATAin recent years.

Among the items listed in the plan were rehabilitation of the subway's aging track system and replacement of older rail cars that the NTSB has repeatedly called unsafe. The plan calls for elimination of all 290 of the  the remaining Series 1000 rail cars in the fleet.

The plan also calls for replacement of three venerable bus garages, the oldest of which opened 87 years ago. The capital program is contingent on WMATA receiving the full $11 billion in funding it is seeking. If WMATA does not get the money its is seeking, plans for expanding its busiest downtown stations could be deferred past 2020, the agency said.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:38 PM |

AAA to offer free car care checkups

With the economy in the tank, people are holding onto their cars longer and longer -- and many owners haven't exactly been keeping up with maintenance.

That's why AAA Mid-Atlantic is offering a series of free 40-point checkups for motorists in Maryland, including an event Tuesday in Rosedale.

"Our intention is to help motorists navigate these tough economic times with their cars intact," said AAA spokeswoman Ragina C. Averella. The free AAA program is open to any motorist, not just AAA members, Avarella said.

At the events, technicans will evaluate each vehicle's belts, pulleys, radiators, defroster and heater. They will check power steering, brake and transmission fluids and check the tires and batteries. Each motorist will receive an evaluation reoort.

The closes  event to baltimore will be held Tuesday from 8 a.m. until 10:30 a.m. at

This sounds like a reasonably good deal. You can get more information at the Wawa store at 8731 Pulaski Highway in Rosedale. Information on other events can be found here.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:14 AM |
Categories: On the roads

September 8, 2009

New, wider Nice Bridge should be top priority


Harry W. Nice Bridge


There comes a pointed reminder from the Southern Maryland Newspapers that Maryland has huges transportation needs outside the Baltimore and Washington areas.

The Harry W. Nice Bridge is perhaps the most out-of-the-way major bridge in Maryland. Many Baltimore and Washington residents can live their entire lives without crossing it. But if you live in Southern Maryland, it is a critical lifeline to the South -- crossing the Potomac from the southern end of Charles County to the Northern Neck of Virginia on U.S. 301.

It's a 70-year-old, two lane structure, and the last time I crossed it, the old span was showing its 70 years. The Maryland Transportation Authority, which owns and operates the bridge, is now studying various plans for a new, wider bridge. Cost estimates range up to $1 billion.

There are all kinds of projects clamoring for the authority's toll dollars and bond-issuing power, but this one richly deserves to be at the front of the line. Since this is infrastructure our great-grandchildren will likely  be using, it doesn't make sense to skimp when choosing alternatives.

By the way, even as narrow  and old as it  is, the Nice Bridge is a good route for Baltimore motorists seeking to avoid the truly horrendous holiday weekend traffic jams on Interstate 95 in Northern Virginia. A four-lane bridge would help uncork the existing bottleneck.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:40 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities

Beltway loop to close for overnight work

The inner loop of the Beltway will be closed at Charles Street Wednesday and Thursday nights to allow crews to work on a new bridge over the highway.

The State Highway Administration said it will close two lanes of eastbound Interstate 695 Wednesday at 10 p.m. All lanes will be closed at 11 p.m., with traffic to be detoured onto Charles Street, and the lanes will be reopened by 5 a.m.

Another round of closings with the same hours is scheduled Thursday night and Friday morning,

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:12 PM |
Categories: On the roads

MARC woes drag on

A three-day weekend for Labor Day apparently failed to give MARC the respite it needed to deal with its equipment problems on the Penn Line.

The problems that afflicted the line all last week -- and the week before -- continued Tuesday and will apparently drag into Wednesday with no relief in sight. Meanwhile, Maryland Transit Administration officials are doing little to explain the issues to frustrated riders.

Here's the latest message, for what it's worth:

Due to a continued shortage of electric locomotives, the following trains will be operating with one car less than usual:

This afternoon--train 426 (3:27pm departure from Washington), train
436 (5:34pm departure from Washington), and train 538 (6:05pm departure from Washington).

Tomorrow morning--train 401 (4:40am departure from Baltimore Penn), train 411 (7:00am departure from Baltimore Penn) and train 513 (6:30am departure from Perryville / 7:15 departure from Penn Station).

MARC regrets the inconvenience.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:33 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MARC train

Ex-WMATA executive gets No. 2 MDOT post

Gov. Martin O’Malley has named Harold M. Bartlett, a former top executive at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority, to the No. 2 post at the Maryland Department of Transportation. 

Bartlett succeeds former deputy secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley, who was promoted to secretary after  John D. Porcari left to join the Obama administration. Bartlett worked in high-level positions with WMATA from 1983 to 2006 before joining the Maryland Transportation Authority as deputy executive secretary. He is a resident of Montgomery County.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:28 PM |
Categories: For policy wonks only

Bolt offers option to D.C.

Martin Johnson of Baltimore  notes an everyday option for getting to and from Washington without a car that might not be familiar to most readers.

Bolt Bus offers seven buses a day from Penn Station to the Greenbelt Metro Station each day at a cost of $15 on weekdays and $16 on weekends.  Once you're in Greenbelt, you can reach almost anywhere you'd want to go in the Washington area via subway and Metrobus.

Whether this is a good deal depends on how you value your time and how easy it is to catch the bus. The Bolt Bus ride takes 45 minutes. Greyhound takes 55 minutes to deliver you to downtown D.C. at a prevailing cost of $13.50 nonrefundable, $17.50 refundable. It has many more trips but a poorly located station in an industrial area south of the stadiums.

The most economical 7-day-a-week option is still the combination of the light rail ($1.60) to BWI and the B-30 bus ($3) to Greenbelt Metro. That trip (measured from Mount Royal station to Greenbelt) can take anywhere from an hour and a quarter (roughly) to an hour and three-quarters depending on whether you catch the train that's synchronized with the B30. Checking the schedules is well worth the time.

Of course, the MARC train remains the best way to get between the two cities on weekdays -- except during periodic service meltdowns. It's a wise MARC rider who prints out the Bolt Bus,  Greyhound, light rail and B30 schedules and keeps copies in a purse or briefcase. You never know.







Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:31 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Light rail, Local bus lines, MARC train, WMATA/D.C. Metro

Yellow Line may not be golden

Dave Murphy has an insightful article on the Greater Greatter Washington blog criticizing the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance's call to jump the Towson-Columbia Yellow Line ahead of a northeastern extension of the existing Metro subway (Green Line).

Briefly, Murphy questions the usefulness of the southern part of the proposed Yellow Line between Columbia and BWI. As much as I like the idea of rail  transit serving my neighborhood -- not that I'd still be mobile by the time it's built -- he might have a point there. Columbia could probably be served faster and more economically with the creation of an express bus route between the BWI Business District light rail station and Columbia Town Center. That would be about a 30-minute run on Route 100. If the light rail and bus schedules were properly synchronized, that could be a robust transit alternative that wouldn't have to wait decades to become a reality.

Howard Transit's Silver Line already makes the BWI-Columbia run but its many stops make for a long, long trip. An express version of that route would increase the usefulness of the entire system.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:14 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore Metro, Light rail, Local bus lines, MTA bus system

Blog broods over I-270 but misses key point

NOTE: An earlier version of this posting indicated that Adam Pagnucco made an error in Part One of his Interstate 270 coverage. He has since convinced me he was correct on that point.

Adam Pagnucco has published more of his musings on the proposed widening of Interstate 270 on the Maryland Politics Watch blog. If you have an  interest in Maryland's transportation future, they're well worth reading -- not so much because they're wise but because they provide an insight into  thinking in Montgomery County these days. It would be funny if they weren't talking about doing all of this promiscuous paving with our money.

In Part One, Pagnucco provides a fairly straightforward background to the project. It's Part Two where Pagnucco really misses the point.

He outlines three challenges he thinks proponents of the project face: 1) The opponents are louder.  2.) Montgomery is disadvantaged in Annapolis. and 3) Project cost. Alas, he leaves out the big 4.) It's a very bad project.

All of the other problems flow from that one. The opposition is loud because the Sprawlway would encourage the worst sort of Dumb Growth. Montgomery County, with the largest delegation in Maryland, is only disadvantaged in Annapolis because some of its leading lawmakers know it's a bad project. And the cost is a particularly galling issue because widening I-270 to accommodate more private passenger vehicle would only attract more private passenger vehicles. You don't have to be a parochial Baltimorean to dislike the idea of throwing away 4.6 billion 21st Century dollars on a 20th Century solution to a transportation problem.

One point on which I do agree with Pagnucco is that it's not too early to start talking about financing such a project. It's clearly a topic that state transportation officials want to avoid for now, which is all the more reason to force the issue. Pagnucco notes that about half the financing for the ICC came from toll-backed bonds (backed by tolls paid disproportionately by Baltimore-area residents) and one-third by GARVEE bonds. GARVEEs, by the way, aren't Green Stamps. They have to be repaid out of future federal aid that could otherwise have been used for other priorities.

Until state officials show us a different financing structure for the I-270 express toll lane project, Baltimoreans should remain suspicious that they will attempt to replicate an ICC model that would be highly disadvantageous for  people who live around Baltimore.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:41 AM |

September 4, 2009

Taxi rides offered for holiday revelers

You can't beat this deal: Go out to a bar this Labor Day weekend, drink like a fish and get a taxi ride home. Free. No lawyer fees, no bail, no alcohol  education classes, no fines, no jail time.

That's the offer being made by AAA Mid-Atlantic, the State Highway Administration and Yellow Cab this weekend. It's the return of the Tipsy? Taxi! program that was launched to combat drunk driving on major holidays when the booze typically flows freely.

This weekend's program runs from 4 p.m. Monday through 4 a.m. Tuesday. Passengers must be at least 21 and must have been drinking at a restaurant in Baltimore. The rides are free up to a fare of $50.  

Last year, the program provided only 32 Labor Day rides. Surely the boozers of Baltimore can do better than that. You can get a ride by calling 1-877-963-TAXI.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:19 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: On the roads

September 3, 2009

Could MARC relief be in sight? Not quite yet

The MARC follies wiill drag into yet another day Friday as equipment shortages continue to hamper service on the Penn Line. Thursday evening's 5:34 train out of Union Station will run one car short, as will Friday's 6:30 a.m. departure from Perryville and the 7:15 a.m. train out of Penn Station.

MTA spokeswoman Jawauna Greene said the problem is siimply aged locomotives. She added, however, that a disagreement between the agency and the manufacturer of 26 new locomotives that are expected to hustle some old units into retirement has been resolved.

The catch, she said, is that it could take a few weeks to get the locomotives' safety documentation together. The modified agreement will alo have to go to the Board of Public Works for approval, she said.

 "There's light at the end of this long tunnel," she said. One can only hope.

By the way, the Odenton station will not be staffed Friday beccause of a budget-related furlough. But the station platform will be open and MARC will be running a full schedule -- minus whatever breaks down.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:46 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: MARC train

Nobody blogs it better

Thanks to David Alpert of Greater Greater Washington for his excellent deconstruction of Montgomery County highway advocate Rich Parsons' case for the $4.6 billion proposal to widen Interstate 270.

Alpert deftly exposes the flawed premises Parsons relies on to argue for more of the same old 20th Century highway-centric policies that made metropolitan Washington the commuters' nirvana that it is today.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:55 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

Brewing up interest in the Red Line

The Baltimore Brew blog has been giving a lot of coverage to the proposed Red Line lately -- ranging from the truly informative to the plainly misleading.

Well worth reading is city official Jamie Kendrick's attempt to dispel what he calls myths about the Red Line. For the most part, Kendrick sticks to the facts, but he's a little too glib in dismissing concerns about a single-track Cooks Lane tunnel. Some of the rhetoric about it being a "death tunnel" strikes me as overblown, but the Maryland Transit Administration does bear the burden of proving  such an arrangement is safe. That doesn't mean they can be expected to do so this week. The signaling and fail-safe systems haven't even been designed yet. But at some point the MTA will have to specify exactly what it will do to prevent a head-on collision from ever happening. The jury is out on that, and many of those weighing in with great certainty have no credentials to support their assertions.

Nathaniel Payer of the Transit Riders Action Council does a good job of making the case against the Red Line but he loses me when he talks about how the state could scrap the current proposal at a cost of only 18-24 months' delay. That's an ultra-rosy scenario.  Also, the notion that the Red Line could go it alone -- with no use of federal financing -- shows a naivete about state politics. Try explaining that decision in Annapolis or Rockville.

Payer's attempt to demonize "the developers" also strikes me as shallow. Cities need developers. Some are jerks; some are civic heroes. Either way, they have a vital part to play in the transit planning process. The populist rhetoric detracts from the credibility of Payer's other arguments.

I'm frankly puzzled by the fact the Brew would publish a Neighborhood Voices artticle perpetuating the falsehood that the Red Line would displace residents. You can criticize the project on any number of valid grounds, but that article did  nothing more than spread disinformation. Correcting that impression in a separate article doesn't cut it. Giving a lie and the truth equal time isn't fairness.

The best of the Brew's coverage comes from my former colleague Ann LoLordo, whose profiles of Dan Tracy and Ben Rosenberg -- two Canton residents on opposite sides of the debate -- accurately reflect the views and passions of people in the community.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:34 PM |
Categories: Red Line

Toll agency predicts holiday travel increase

Traffic counts at state toll facilities this Labor Day weekend are expected to increase 3 percent over previous totals, the Maryland Transportation Authority predicts.

The authority is calculating the percentage increase based on 2008 figures for most toll facilities but 2007 totals for the Bay  Bridge, where repair work in the wake of a high-profile fatal crash skewed last year's totals.

The busiest facility, as usual, is expected to be the Fort McHenry Tunnel, with a projected 473,000 users. Close behind would be the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway (Interstate 95 northeast of Baltimore) with 467,000. The Bay Bridge,  with three fewer lanes than the eight-lane McHenry Tunnel, is expected to carry 366,000 vehicles.

The agency is warning of significant delays on the Bay Bridge. It advises that the best times to cross the bridge this weekend are:

Thursday: Before 3 p.m. and after 10 p.m.

Friday: Before noon and after 10 p.m.

Saturday: Before 7 a.m. and between 5 p.m. and 10 p.m.

Sunday: Between 7 a.m. and 11 a.m. and after 10 p.m.

Monday: Before 11 a.m. and after 10 p.m.

Depending on your destination, starting point and expected congestion level at the bridge, it is also worth considering a route around the head of the bay. For residents of Baltimore and its northern suburbs, such a route can be faster than using the Bay Bridge and U.S. 50  -- especially when headed for the Delaware beaches.




Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:57 AM |
Categories: Maryland toll facilities

Bay Bridge lane closings planned

The Maryland Transportation Authority will close the westbound span of the Bay Bridge for deck replacement work four nights next week, requiring two-way operations on the two-lane eastbound span.

The agency announced that it would close the newer, three-lane westbound bridge Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursdays nights at 9. p.m. -- reopening at 5 a.m. the following mornings. On Saturday, the span will be closed at 10 p.m. and will reopen at 7 a.m. Sunday.

The westbound span will be the site of daytime work Wednesday when one lane will be closed between 9 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. for maintenance.

The authority is urging motorists to slow down where steel plates are being used as part  of the bridge's surface. There may also be periodic lane closings of up to 30 minutes during off-peak hours as workers inspect those plates, the agency said.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:29 AM |
Categories: Maryland toll facilities

September 2, 2009

Free commuter water taxi gaining riders


Water taxi at Fells Point


Sun photo/Michael Dresser                     

Jamie Kendrick, deputy director of Baltimore's Department of Transportation, passed along some figures showing that the city's commuter water taxi service between Locust Point and Fells Point has been building up some more-than-respectable numbers.

Kendrick said the city's goal for the service was to have 75 boardings a day until it could supplement the service with a land-side shuttle, with the expectation that would grow to 150 once that service was in place. But Kendrick said that even without the shuttle, the weekday water taxi is getting more than 150 boardings a day.

The city inaugurated the service in early May. Ridership figures provided by the contractor, Harbor Boating Inc., show that the service has regularly exceeded 800 boardings a week since late June. One day in July, it reported an astonishing 327 boardings for the less-than-five-minute crossing between Fells Point and Tide Point.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:29 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Afloat

MARC lacking loco-power

The Maryland Transit Administration could use a locomotive if you have one you could spare for the MARC Penn Line.

The beleaguered commuter rail line is groveling in the direction of its ridership as it moves into the third straight day of running short one car on some trains because of a shortage of locomotives to pull them.

According to the MTA, the 5:43 p.m. train out of Union Station will be short one car (and likely jam-packed as a result). On Thursday morning, the trains departing Perryville at 6:30 a.m. and Baltimore Penn Station at 7:15 will also be a car short.

The MTA told riders it is working with Amtrak to get more of its locomotives out of the shop and back on the tracks so that it can handle its usual load.

The agency's web site, naturally, is describing the matter as a "minor disruption."


Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:49 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MARC train

Group would speed Yellow Line, slow Green Line

The Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, a group that brings together the movers and shakers in the Baltimore region, has endorsed what could be a critical change in the metropolitan area's long-term plans by urging that the proposed Yellow Line from Lutherville to Columbia be made the top transit priority after connstruction of the proposed Red Line.

The alliance's recommendation, which represents a consensus view of Baltimore business and ciivic leaders, would jump that project ahead of the proposed extension of the current Metro subway beyond Johns Hopkins Hospital toward Morgan State and eventually White Marsh. It came as part of a report relleased Wednesday on Baltimore's prospects for transit-oriented development.

Both projects lie far in the future, but the effect of such a change of priorities could be profound for today's young workers and future generations. If adopted by government leaders, the new priority could accelerate job growth and transit service in such places as Towson and Columbia in the 2020s while delaying an expansion of transit in the Harford Road and Bel Air Road corridors until later decades.

Otis Rolley, president of the transportation alliance, said the Yellow Line -- part of a 2002 comprehensive regional transit plan -- offers better prospects for connecting major residential and employment centers than the Green Line plan.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:03 PM | | Comments (9)

September 1, 2009

SHA takes on another big nuclear move

Fresh from its recent move of a giant transformer to the Peach Bottom nuclear power plant across Harford County last month, the State Highway Administration plans to take on another oversize move next week.

On Tuesday, the first of two million-pound steam generators will be taken off a barge at Port Deposit in Cecil County to begin an almost three-week journey to the Three Mile Island Nuclear Facility outside Harrisburg. The next day, a second 510-ton generator is expected to arrive.

For both humongous cargoes, the first legs of their journey will take them over the roads of Cecil County to the Pennsylvania state line. The equipment will first be transported along Route 222 to the former Bainbridge Naval Training Facility. From that staging area, they will be moved starting Sept. 13 along Route 276, through the roundabout at Route 273, then up U.S. 1 to Pennsylvania.

The SHA said the top speed of the convoy will be 3 mph. The full SHA release can be found below:

(September 1, 2009) – Beginning the week of September 7, the Maryland Department of Transportation’s State Highway Administration (SHA) will assist AREVA with a major oversized vehicle transport through Cecil County.  Specially designed oversized vehicles will haul two one-million pound steam generators on a 20-day journey to the Three Mile Island Nuclear Facility in Middleton, Pa.

 Crews will off-load the generators from a barge, which will occur during high tides at Port Deposit, MD.  On Tuesday, September 8, the first 510-ton generator will be off-loaded at Tomes Marina and transported a short distance along MD 222 (Bainbridge Road) to the former Bainbridge Naval Training Facility.  The move will begin at approximately 4:30 p.m.  The next generator will arrive on Wednesday, September 9 and arrive at the same location.  The move for the second generator should begin at approximately 5:30 p.m.  SHA has coordinated the moves carefully with Maryland State Police, Cecil County, the Town of Port Deposit, local police and fire and AREVA and their contractors for the move.

 Weather permitting, on Sunday, September 13 beginning at 10:30 a.m., a time that area churches services will be concluded and traffic volumes lighter, the large convoy consisting of both steam generators, SHA, Maryland State Police, AREVA and their contractors will begin moving out of Bainbridge.  The generator hauling routes include MD 276
(Jacob Tome Memorial Highway) and US 1 (Conowingo Road).   Although there will be rolling closures and brief temporary detours, local access to homes and businesses will be maintained throughout the hauling route as the slow-moving vehicles proceed through the route.  The top speed of the convoy will be approximately 3 mph.

 To ensure safety, expedite the large move and temporarily relocate or drop utilities and traffic signals, SHA will close several roads in advance of the transport convoy and create rolling detours for local traffic.  The following roads will be closed, including side street traffic, as the convoy moves through Cecil County.   SHA will re-open the roads accordingly and when safe behind the transport convoy.  The steam generator convoy should make it to the Pennsylvania line by 7 p.m.

• MD 276 between Bainbridge and MD 273 (Rising Sun Road);
• Roundabout at the MD 276/MD 273 intersection;
• MD 276 between MD 273 and US 1; and
• US 1 between MD 276 and the Pennsylvania State Line.   
             In the event of severe weather delays, the move will take place on Monday, September 14 beginning at 9 a.m.  If the alternate day becomes necessary, the steam generator convoy will make it to the Pennsylvania line by 6 p.m. 

For more information about the generators at Three Mile Island, please contact AREVA’s 24 hour toll-free generator move hotline at 1-800-201-2282.  A map and detailed timeline of the generator hauling route and other information about is available on AREVA’s website,

For more information about state roads within Cecil County, citizens may contact SHA’s District 2 Office at 410-810-3200 or toll free at 1-800-637-9740.  For more information about detours along US 1 or PA 272 or other Pennsylvania state highways, citizens may call PennDOT’s District 8 Office at 717-787-6653.

   For your safety, SHA strongly advises motorists to avoid the hauling route.   Please plan ahead for these temporary road and bridge closures, detours and extra travel time along MD 222 on September 8 and 9 and MD 276, MD 273 or US 1 on September 13.

   This hauling route is considered a rolling work zone.  Please slow down, stay alert and expect the unexpected.  Choose to make work zone safety your business at


Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:27 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

MTA seeking volunteers to test smart card

The Maryland Transit Administration is still seeking about 250 volunteers  to help test its new MTA CharmCard, what it calls a “smart” fare card that it hopes will expedite the fare collection process. The MTA plans to introduce the cards in a movfe that would finally match a  technology that has been familiar on the Washington Metro system for years.

The folks the  MTA is looking for are full-fare cash customers who ride Metro Subway more than other MTA services and who will agree to purchase your fares during the test period from a ticket vending machine at a Metro Subway station Ticket Vending Machine. Riders on senior or disability fares and  Commuter Choice Maryland voucher recipients are not eligible to participate in the initial field test. MTA spokeswoman Jawauna Greene said about 250 of the 500 volunteers originally sought have signed up.

Would-be participants can sign up electronically by clicking this link.

The test will run 60 days (Oct. 1 – Nov. 30). At the end of the test period, participants must return their cards to  the MTA Transit Store  at 6 St. Paul St. Volunteers will receive a free January 2010  monthly pass as a bonus.

UPDATE: In response to a reader's question, no, the CharmCard will not be interoperable with Washington Metro trains and buses during the beta test. But the two systems' cards  are expected to be compatible once CharmCard (hate that name) is in full operation.

By the way, this test does mean the MTA is pushing back full introduction of the card its earlier goal of October to the beginning of the year, Greene acknowledged. Better they get it right, I suppose.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:57 PM | | Comments (9)

Toll agency fumbling E-ZPass refunds

Readers of this blog know I have no problem with thye Maryland Transportation Authority's deciision to impose a $1.50 a month E-ZPass account fee, but it's ridiculous when those who choose to close their accounts get the run-around. Here's a report from David Gosey of Towson on the troubles he's been having:

While EZ-Pass is good for some motorists, getting a refund from them is anything but EZ. On 6/22/2009 I both e-mailed and called EZ-Pass to try to close our account. I received a return e-mail confirming that, along with a request #. On 7/2/2009 I received another e-mail saying our request had been resolved and we would get the funds owed us once closure was completed (approximately 30 business days). According to their web site as of last Friday, our account is still open and they took out a $1.50 service charge fee on July1st. I called EZ-Pass earlier today and got a run-around. The lady at EZ-Pass told me the we would get the refund 30 business days from the 7/2 e-mail. When I said it was over 45 business days from when we asked them to close the account and well over 30 business days from 7/2, she said the same thing. 30 BUSINESS DAYS, as though I didn't hear her the first time. When I explained once again that it was well over 30 BUSINESS DAYS, she said there was a back-log, but we should get our money in 30 business days. I gave up and said goodbye. I would like to get the $46.80 due us before the State of Maryland decides that the state is in such bad shape that they will not be giving refunds. Or perhaps giving us an I.O.U., ala California. I know this is small potatoes in the over-all scheme of things but it must be a very large sum of money if they are holding out on all of the 5,000 people who tried to close their account. Thanks for letting me vent.


You're welcome. Here's what Teri Moss, spokeswoman for the authority, had to say about the foot-dragging:

As you know, there has been a greater volume of account closure requests than normal.  This has resulted in delays in processing the requests.  We are currently processing requests from mid-July and a few from late June.

To address the anticipated higher volume of inquires and closure requests, we began supplementing staff in May and have continually added to the staffing levels as needed. We apologize for any inconvenience to our customers and appreciate their patience.   We are processing as expeditiously as possible.

We are waiving the $1.50 account fee during the closure process if there has been no activity since June 30.

Does this seem like a  lame excuse to you? Do you think the authority could have anticipated an uptick in cancellations? You're not alone.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:07 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities

Email duel in Montgomery over I-270

Adam Pagnucco of Maryland Politics Watch is reporting on an interesting exchange of emails as Sen. Brian Frosh and Montgomery County highway advocate Richard Parsons compete for allies in the county Senate delegattion over the future of the Interstate 270 corridor.

It's worth noting the tone of urgency in Parsons' appeal. He clearly sees a need to get decisions locked in quickly as the process moves toward a Final Environmental Impact Statement. So far, this project has been examined almost entirely within the I-270 corridor -- with little debate over its statewide implications.

Parsons does make one point that rings true. Express bus service is likely a critical part of the solution. But you don't need two new lanes in each direction to make that possible. And if there's anything that would make express bus service popular, it would be the contrast between free-flowing traffic in the bus lanes and congestion in the general purpose lanes.




Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:03 PM |
Categories: On the roads

Have Metro operators learned how to stop?

Jed Weeks, a frequent poster to this blog, is keeping a close eye on the workings of Baltimore's Metro, which is seldom seen by many of us. Here's his observation:

 I've noticed recently that MTA is running two-car trains on the weekends. This is combined with the increased 20 minute headway due to track work, according to the website. I don't see it as a problem really, because the system is so deserted on the weekends, but operators have yet to choose a method of stopping at stations. Some trains are stopping mid platform, and others are pulling to the end of the platform, causing confusion for riders.
On the DC Metro, 4 and 6 car trains pull to the end of the platform, and announce this somewhat frequently (though the announcements are somewhat confusing). Perhaps MTA should do the same here?

I ran this by MTA spokeswoman Jawauna Greene, who responded without delay:

Each station has designated stops depending on the size of the train. The platforms are approximately 450 feet which is the length of a 6 car train. The stop locations, which are marked in the track bed, have been set so that a train berth or stops an equal distance from the front and rear of the platform. The only one that is different is Lexington Market where the two car marker is set between the escalators because this is area where most customers wait for the train.

When operating in Automatic Train Operations, the operator programs the length of his train into the train's system. The train's system reads the information from the track circuits which indicates the stopping location in the station.
In manual mode the operator stops the train at the proper car marker.
Essentially, the stop locations can vary. Operators always try to make sure they don't inconvenience the riders.

The operative word, it seems, is "try."



Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:30 PM |
Categories: Baltimore Metro

Clarifying the clarification on I-270

It was gratifying, upon returning from a vacation at wonderful Deep Creek Lake, to learn that the esteemed heads of the State Highway Administration and Maryland Transit Administration have been reading the Getting There columns about Maryland's planning for the Interstate 270 corridor. The two worthy gentlemen actually got together to write a letter to The Sun seeking to "clarify" some matters about I-270.

What's also gratifying is that nowhere in the letter did SHA chief Neil J. Pedersen or MTA top dog Paul J. Wiedefeld point to anything that was incorrect about the columns. It's very clear that they are uncomfortable with the emphasis on the most expensive of the options under consideration -- so uncomfortable that they avoid actually mentioning the $4.6 billion price tag.

Unfortunately for state bureaucrats who would like to study their options at leisure, the Montgomery County Planning Board has jumped the gun and endorsed the gold-plated plan to add two express toll lanes in each direction. It wasn't Getting There that put the issue in play.

Here, for reference, is the officials' letter:

The study of transit and highway improvements to the I-270 corridor has recently attracted some media attention. However, the coverage demands clarification. The state is conducting a long-range planning study that includes a variety of transportation options for the I-270 corridor; we haven't reached the point where a specific proposal will advance and others will retreat. With any comprehensive technical study, some options may prove viable in the future, while others may not. This exercise is comparable to other highway, transit and rail studies under way in regions throughout Maryland. It is important to put a range of planning concepts on the table for consideration, if we aim to address the state's serious transportation challenges.

Unfortunately, certain reports have suggested the state is simply proposing to widen the highway lanes along I-270. This suggestion does not serve the public well when, in fact, there are actually a variety of transit and highway options being examined. Transit alternatives include the Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT), a rapid bus or light rail system between Shady Grove and Clarksburg. The cost of the CCT ranges from $450 million to $777 million. Park and Ride improvements and improved bus service also are under study. Highway alternatives range from interchange improvements costing up to $500 million to construction of Express Toll Lanes that could potentially reach into the billions of dollars.

Contrary to the premise promoted by some, there is no multibillion-dollar decision pending. The displacement of residents is not imminent, inevitable or desired. Decisions whether to actually construct any of the alternatives are years, if not decades, away. Implementation of any alternatives would require the approval of local and regional governmental authorities and a full environmental review by regulatory agencies.

The reality is that, given the current economic environment, the state must concentrate on funding its existing transportation projects with the scarce resources available. However, while we may be financially constrained today, we must continue to plan so that every region of the state is prepared for tomorrow.

Paul J. Wiedefeld and Neil J. Pedersen
The writers are administrators of, respectively, the Maryland Transit Administration and the State Highway Administration.

Good letter, guys, but folks should note what it doesn't say.

It doesn't take any of the options off the table, even those that are the most expensive and environmentally destructive. It doesn't say that 251 families won't be displaced -- only that they could be kicked out of their homes with great regret sometime in the future.

For those who question the wisdom of the $4.6 billion plan, the time to speak up is not sometime way down the road. That time is now -- before it can gain traction. Opponents should put Montgomery County leaders on notice now that their grandiose plans can't be financed and won't win the support of other jurisdictions. That way, their leaders can start thinking outside their 20th Century asphalt box and arrive at more economical, less destuctive solutions with a greater degree of regional equity.

Readers who object to this proposal for the most expensive transportation in Maryland history have no reason to be deterred from protesting by this "we're still studying it" argument. Believe me, the proponents aren't waiting to weigh in.







Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:09 PM |
Categories: On the roads

Bowie family left in the lurch by MTA

Neil Ottenstein of Bowie wrote this plaintive note after a particularly grim experience with the Maryland Transit Administration's light rail service on Saturday night.

I don't know whether either of you are the appropriate people to notify, but I thought I'd write in case you are and you didn't know about the transportation situation last night after the Orioles game.

It had been my understanding that Light Rail service would run through one hour after an Orioles game, so that in situations like last night when there was a rain delay which made the game end shortly before midnight there would then be service until about 1 AM. Unfortunately, this was not the case last night. My son and I arrived at the light rail station at midnight and shortly thereafter a light rail train to BWI arrived. We expected that there would be one to Glen Burnie/Cromwell station shortly after this, but there was no train. If we had known this was going to be the case we might have tried the BWI train and at least traveled closer to Cromwell. We continued to wait another 40 minutes before calling home to wake my wife to pick us up. We also gave a ride to a couple who were there and who couldn't contact someone to pick them up. When we arrived at Cromwell there were at least a half dozen other cars there whose owners presumably were stranded in Baltimore or at some stop on the way down on the BWI train. I will be contacting the MTA on Monday and contacting the Orioles later today asking them about the situation. This was a most distressing situation and I hope that this will never happen again.

I asked MTA spokeswoman Jawauna Greene to loook into what happened, and she delivered a prompt -- if not entirely satisfactory -- reply.

I just spoke to Light Rail operations.  As you are aware, we are under very strict budgetary constraints related to overtime. Our customers are now feeling the pinch as we maintain core service during our peak ridership hours. On this occasion, Light Rail couldn't run the train because there was no one available to work. The MTA should have sent a supervisor to inform riders and help them find rides, but they didn't. It was an awful oversight on our part. Please know that MTA management has advises and admonished staff to make sure this doesn't happen again

"Awful oversight" is putting it lightly. Budget constraints are a headache, but there is never an excuse for leaving riders stranded. Somebody in MTA operations  should have a big, fat letter of reprimand in his or her personnel file by now.

It also strikes me that the MTA should have some type of arrangement with the Orioles to put vital announcements regarding light rail, MARC and other services over the public address system. What do you say, MTA? A little consideration doesn't cost much money.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:50 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Light rail
Keep reading
Recent entries
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.

Live traffic updates
Most Recent Comments
Baltimore Sun coverage
Traffic and commuting news Subscribe to this feed
Michael Dresser's Getting There column Subscribe to this feed
Michael Dresser How-Tos

How to avoid Delaware traveling north
Obscure third route between Baltimore, D.C.
Better routes for I-95 north
How to avoid the Bay Bridge
Find cheaper gas
Check prices at area gas stations by ZIP code and find the lowest rates in the region with our new interactive gas map.

Baltimore-area lowest gas prices
Historical gas price charts
Sign up for FREE local news alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for local news text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Breaking News newsletter
When a big news event breaks, we'll e-mail you the basics with links to up-to-date details.
Sign up

Charm City Current
Traffic Resources
Baltimore Metropolitan Council (Regional transportation planning)
Maryland Department of Transportation (State transportation policy)
Maryland Transit Administration (Buses, light rail, Metro, Mobility)
State Highway Administration (Maintains numbered routes)
Motor Vehicle Administration (Licenses, permits, rules of the road)
Maryland Transportation Authority (Toll bridges, tunnels and highways)
Maryland Aviation Administration (BWI and Martin Airport)
AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Report (Track Maryland average gas prices.) (Find the lowest and highest prices.)
SafeRoadMaps (Find out where the crashes happen.)
Roads to the Future (Scott M. Kozel on Mid-Atlantic infrastructure.)
WMATA (Washington metropolitan buses and Metro)
Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (D.C. regional planning)
U.S. Department of Transportation (federal transportation policy)
Stay connected