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November 30, 2009

Maryland called driver 'hell' -- but consider source

In its January 2010 edition, Automobile magazine ranks the best and worst states for drivers -- and Maryland comes in as the second-worst in the country.

The Free State can take a certain satisfaction in its 49th place showing -- only California ranked lower -- because many of the criteriia for a poor ranking are patently juvenile. According to the editors of Automobile, the ideal state is one with lax traffic laws and little enforcement. Maryland gets dinged for its relatively high ranking in such measures as "how many cops are prowling the highways." In adult-speak, that translates into how many police officers are enforcing traffic laws to ensure the safety of the magazine's readers.

Maryland also gets demerits for speed cameras and red light cameras, which the publication classifies as "harassment." Funny, when camera laws are debated the opponents fall all over themselves insisting that nothing but a real cop on the street will do. The editors also don't like the fact that Maryland takes part in a driver's license compact that ensures that out-of-state lawbreaking is reflected on a driver's record. Helping  propel Maryland onto the list of "most aggravating" states is the onerous requirement that auto owners have front tags mounted on their cars. That certainly is a form of  hell for drivers who don't want to be identified when committing crimes.

One area in which Maryland did not fare badly was the cost of driving. Its "cost index" was computed at 13 -- a middle-of-the-road score. By contrast, the index  in California and Indiana stood  at 25.

It will be interesting to see how the editors of Automobile conduct such surveys after they grow up.

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:00 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: On the roads
        

A backdoor into College Park? Who knew?

Jim Struder of Edgewood isn't one of those folks who finds a new route to a difficult destination and then keeps it to himself. He found a way to bypass the Interstate 95 madness last Wednesday and is sharing.

 

Last Wed I had to drive from Harford County to College Park and back to bring home my son for Thanksgiving. His last class did not end until 4:00 PM, so even though southbound I-95 was a fairly easy drive, I knew we were doomed on the return trip.

After considering the traffic, I decided to try an alternate return route. I hopped on Rte 201 (Kenilworth Ave) up to the capital beltway and headed towards Andrews AFB, getting off at Rte 50 and taking it over to Rte 3, then I-97, then the beltway over the Key Bridge. Finally I finished by going up Rte 7 versus I-95. It worked like a charm. The trip took maybe 10 more minutes then the usual route up I-95 normally takes during heavy traffic hours.

I think there were two keys. The first is that holiday traffic passing through the area would have no clue that this alternate route exists, and the second is that – surprisingly – motorists on both Rte 50 and I-97 did not exhibit the “electronic sign phenomenon” I’ve witnessed repeatedly on I-95. The traffic barely slowed for the signs as opposed to the brake jamming which (during peak hours) results in a stop and go situation for several miles before each electronic sign on I-95.

Just thought I’d pass this on. Take care.

Jim, you're a great dad. But one of these years, take it easy and let the kid find his way back to Edgewood on the MARC train annd light rail. That'll cut down on the amount of laundry coming home. And let's face it, you've done your  share of schlepping over the years.

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:54 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads
        

I-81 in Virginia: a great road to avoid

I just noticed some news from the Roanoke Times about one of my least favorite roads -- Interstate 81 in Virginia. It seems a series of crashes along that interstate led to ferocious backups Sunday just as many people were heading back from Thanksgiving visiits.

I-81 is a particularly scary road because of its heavy truck traffic. It is one of the top truck routes in the country even though it has only two lanes in each direction for much of its length. With many severe curves and steep hills, the highway accounts for a large number of truck-involved crashes.

For Baltimoreans traveling south toward Charlotte, N.C., and other destinations, I strongly recommend U.S. 29 as an alternative. Once you get past Warrenton, Va., 29 moves as briskly as in interstate all the way through Virginia -- and with much lighter traffic than I-81. For travelers to the Shenandoah  Valley who aren't in a rush, a leisurely trip on historic U.S. 11 can make more sense that playing tag with tractor-trailers on I-81.

There  are various proposals in the works too upgrade Interstate 81 and to finance the improvements with tolls. With the recession, they all seem to be on the slow track.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:12 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads
        

'Horrible' MARC seats prompt modest suggestion

Brenda Edmonds of South Baltimore, a MARC rider who boards in Halethorpe, has a suggestion for the "horrible" rail cars that recently made their debut on the Penn Line.

If we are stuck with them. I wish MARC would put them in the rear of the trains where the people who get off at the earlier stops would use them. Because only certain doors open at Halethorpe and West Baltimore we have no choice but to sit in the first three cars of the train. That extra half hour between Bowie State and Halethorpe is enough to make my rear and legs go numb in the new cars.

I could not even imagine sitting on one of those seats all the way to Perryville! But more often than not they are placed in the front of the train and I am stuck using them. I am not usually a complainer, I go with the flow when the trains are not running on time, but this is asking a lot when my legs and back are killing me by the time I get home.

Now I have a question: These rail cars, which MARC acquired from Virginia Railway Express, were in service on the Camden Line for months and I heard not a peep. But once they were put on the Penn Line, I'm hearing lots of complaints. Is there some kind of cultural divide  between Camden and Penn? Are the backsides of Camden riders tougher after years of riding freight rails?

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:38 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: MARC train
        

Montgomery plans for $89 million garage decried

Montgomery County has a weird, wacky political culture. Voters there consistently elect Democrats who profess to be liberals and dedicated environmentalists, but county elected officials and planners there are strangely obsessed with transportation mega-projects that elevate the singly occupied personal vehicle to iconic status. It's a bit like Houston with GS-15 jobs but no decent barbecue.

Ben Ross of the Action Committee for Transit provides a welcome counterpoint to this autocentric group think  that seems to dominate Montgomery County government. One has to wonder why more people there aren't questioning plans to spend $89 million on a Bethesda parking garage in an area that is slated for a Purple Line light rail station.

From a Baltimore point of view, Montgomery is a faraway land where people are welcome  to all the boondoggles thay want to pay for out of their own pockets, but  there are valid concerns that the county will try to backfill some of the money it plans to spend on this project with state transportation dollars.

One can only hope that the Maryland Department of Transportation and the General Assembly budget committees will be vigilant in seeing this doesn't happen.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:51 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: On the roads
        

November 27, 2009

Road subsidies grow as 'user fees' stagnate

SubsidyScope, a publication of the Pew Charitable Trusts, reports that “user fees” such as gas taxes, registration fees, titling taxes and tolls account for only 51 percent of U.S. highway costs – compared with 71 percent 40 years ago. The rest must be subsidized out of general accounts.

So the private vehicle owner is as much a ward of the state as the city bus rider. It’s just a matter of degree.

Fundamentally, there's nothing wrong with paying for transportation out of general revenues. Whether we remain rooted in one place all our lives or travel the world like Marco Polo, we collectively benefit from the mobility that modern transportation systems bring.

What's useful about  the SubsidyScope report is that it debunks the notion that auto travel is robust, libertarian, market-driven transportation and that mass transit is a socialistic boondoggle. Clearly, any healthy modern society needs a mixture of both roads and transit -- paid for by any means the public finds to be the least unpalatable.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:04 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: On the roads
        

November 25, 2009

The Schwartzbergs have landed

Sun photo/Karl Merton Ferron             

After a journey of 6 hours and 47 minutes, the Schwartzberg family of Pikesville has arrived safe and sound -- if a  bit road-weary -- at their Thanksgiving destination in North Hills, Long Island, New York.

According to Michael Schwartzberg, who drove the final leg of the trip, the family covered 263 miles through Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. Avoided along the way were the dreaded Delaware and New Jersey turnpikes -- the scourge of East Coast travel.

The 7:20 p.m. finish makes Michael the winner of the family game of predict-the-arrival time. He had forecast 7:45. His wife, Stacey Needle, said 6:30. The boys, 9-year-old Jordan and 6-year-old Brandon, were way out of the running -- both having prognosticated a finish of 9 p.m. or later.

Sometimes Dad is right after all.

Thanks to the Schwartzbergs for allowing us to follow their American journey. Happy Thanksgiving to all. You won't catch me on those roads.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:27 PM |
Categories: Holiday travel
        

"Are we there yet?'

The Schwartzberg boys, 9-year-old Jordan and 6-year-old Brandon, managed to hold out until about 6 p.m. before their parents heard the first cry of: "Are we there yet?"

Since then, Michael Schwartzberg and Stacey Needle have been hearing the question every 15-20 minutes as the entyer the final stretches of their journey from Pikesville to North Hills on Long Island, Needle said.

Brandon insisted that it was his younger brother who kept repeating the classic refrain of the tired juvenile traveler. But Needle said Brandon has been chiming in with his share of "are-we-there's."

The boys seemed to be holding up pretty well overall, Needle said, thanks in no small measure to their hand-held Nintendo games.

Meanwhile, their father had escaped the bumper-to-bumper of the Long Island Expressway and was drawing on his knowledge of the local roads. Arrival imminent.

And what is the first thing Brandon plans to do when he arrives at the grandparents' house?

"Eat," he said.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:09 PM |
        

Bay Bridge crossing becomes an ordeal

Sun collegaue Liz Bowie reports the trip from the Interstate 97-U.S. 50 interchange to the Bay Bridge took about an hour this evening as the fog-bound bridge operated with only two eastbound lanes.

At peak eastbound travel times, such as the evening rush hour, the Maryland Transportation Authority usually opens one lane of the westbound span to eastbound traffic. However, when weather conditions are bad, iit does not run two-way traffic on the westbound bridge.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:51 PM |
Categories: Holiday travel
        

The Schwartzbergs take Manhattan

The Schwartzberg family of Pikesville scored a coup of sorts in their trek to Long Island today: crossing Manhattan in a mere 15 minutes.

Stacey Needle reported the achievement about 6:15 p.m., sortly after she turned the wheel over to her husband, Michael Schwartzberg, in Jersey City after having driven all the way from Pikesville though Pennsylvania and across New Jersey.

As she spoke, the family was about 20-25 miles from their destination in North Hills, Nassau County. But they still faced heavy traffic on the Long Island Expressway.

The Schwartzbergs make the trip to Michael's parents' home every other year. Next Thanksgiving is their year to stay home.

"For me it's actually easier to prepare a meal for all 15 people at my house," Needle said. "I have been looking forward to next year before we even got in the car."

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:21 PM |
Categories: Holiday travel
        

Weather causing more delays at BWI

If you flew out of town earlier today, you probably had a smooth trip. But as the afternoon wears on, things look just a tad more bumpy on the arrivals/departures board at BWI-Marshall. It's nearly all due to weather problems, including a bunch of thunderstorms in Florida that have backed up flights to/from Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach. Bad weather (fog, clouds, rain) is also responsible for the delays piling up in Philadelphia - averaging more than 2 hours. New York is experiencing slightly less severe delays, but when those airports get backed up, everything gets backed up. Keep your fingers crossed. You can check delays by airport here.
Posted by Michelle Deal-Zimmerman at 5:32 PM |
Categories: Holiday travel
        

The Schwartzbergs reach New Jersey

When Michael Schwartzberg and his family set out from their Pikesville home to visit his parents in Long Island, they hoped to avoid the congestion of Interstate 95 by taking a route through Pennsylvania. It didn't look like such a good plan when they got caught up in Harrisburg traffic, but they finally saw daylight on Interstate 81 and made good time all the way to New Jersey.

Schwartzberg, media relations manager at Greater Baltimore Medical Center,  reported in from the vicinity of Bloomsbury, N.J., in the hilly northwest corner of the state, shortly after 4 p.m. The family, with his wife Stacey Needle at the wheel, drove straight through from Pikesville in Stacey's new Honda Pilot.

Michael said he just spotted a sign saying they were about 87 miles from their destination. (Unfortunately, those 87 miles will largely be through Greater New York.)

Jordan, 9, and Brandon, 6, were amusing themselves in the back watching a DVD of "Spongebob Squarepants." Jordan said it's been a long trip but the scenery is "nice." Jordan said the visit to the paternal grandparents takes place every other Thanksgiving. "So next year we're staying home," he said. No knock on the grandfolks, but Jordan said he that's the way he likes it.

Meanwhile, Michael has been using his Blackberry to track traffic conditions on the route he didn't take. He's watched with satisfaction the reports of backup after backup on I-95. The inland route is longer in terms of miles, he said, "but I'd rather be moving."

He's still betting it will take less time to get to their destination than it would have taken on 95.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:28 PM |
Categories: Holiday travel
        

I-95: better watching than driving

I've been tuned in to the State Highway Administration's CHART system live camera feeds from major highways, and it sure beats being on the road. Sitting in a nice warm newsroom at a nice dry desk, I have a great view of traffic crawling up northbound Interstate 95 between Baltimore and Washington.

If you're coming to Baltimore from Washington, this may be the day when you're better off taking U.S. 1/Alt. U.S. 1.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:59 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Holiday travel
        

Schwartzbergs break loose

For Michael Schwartzberg and family, the strategy of avoiding Intertstate 95 is having mixed results. They're avoiding toll booths, but paying a toll in other ways. Here's Michael's account, courtesy of his Blackberry:

2:21 pm - Jordan (9 yo) - "why is there so much traffic"?

2:30 pm - exited 83 ... Turned the corner to merge onto I-81 and .. Wow!! Bumper to bumper and heavy rain....

2:45pm - first full length dvd (CARS) ended ... Kids arguing about nintendo ds games again ...

2:47 pm - traffic opening up along I 81 .... 60 mph or so ...

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:25 PM |
Categories: Holiday travel
        

D.C. to Baltimore in only two hours

The Sun's Paul West reports that northbound travel between Washington and Baltimore is severely jammed on both Interstate 95 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. West left Washington at 11:40 a.m. and arrived in Baltimore at 1:30 p.m. on what is normally about an hour's trip.

Traffic.com just recently awarded the parkway an 8 on its 10-point traffic jam scale.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:39 PM |
Categories: Holiday travel
        

The Schwartzberg saga: Halted in Harrisburg

                                                                Sun photo/Karl Merton Ferron

Michael Schwartzberg and his family (above) figured they'd avoid the backups on the Interstate 95 corridor on their trip from Pikesville to Long Island, so when they reached Interstate 83 they headed north through Pennsylvania.

Alas, the family veered off the Getting There Northeast Passage route (York to Lancaster to Reading to Allentown) and stayed on Interstate 83. Michael Schwartzberg reports that it was clear sailing until they hit Harrisburg. That's where they hit a patch of 10-mph traffic worthy of the Delaware Turnpike.

"It's brake lights as far as you can see," said Stacey Needle, Michael's wife, who got stuck with the first leg of the driving.

 (If you're about to leave Baltimore for northern New Jersey or metro New York, trust me. You can get on U.S. 30 at York and enjoy interstate-like travel most of the way to north of Reading. From there U.S. 222 moves pretty briskly unless you get behind an Amish buggy. Just cut over to Interstate 78 before you get into Allentown traffic. It's shorter than the Harrisburg route.)

Meanwhile, back with the Schwartzbergs, Michael's hoping for better traffic on Interstate 81. The boys, Brandon and Jordan, are doing fine and just asked for their first snack. No reports of "Are we there yet?"

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:13 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Holiday travel
        

Northern Virginia looking grim

As bad as traffic gets in Maryland, we need only look across the Potomac to find worse. Interstate 95 between the Capital Beltway and Triangle is already 8/10 on the traffic.com jam scale. If you're leaving for Richmond or points south, consider taking U.S. 301 through Southern Maryland. It's not great but it's not as bad. Scroll down a ways on this blog and you'll find tips for getting around Waldorf traffic.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:00 PM |
Categories: Holiday travel
        

BWI has few delays, smaller crowds, short lines

At BWI-Marshall Airport, things appear to be calm this afternoon, with flights mostly arriving on time. A few flights arriving from perennially busy airports like Atlanta, Phoenix and Chicago, are delayed. But reporter Sam Sessa, who spent a hour or so at the airport this afternoon, reports thin crowds, short- to no-wait security lines and little traffic backup. More Americans may be hitting the road or taking the train to save money this year. AAA forecast air travel would dip about 7 percent compared with last year. Also, with Thanksgiving and Christmas about a month apart, some families may be choosing to travel for one or the other, but not both.
Posted by Michelle Deal-Zimmerman at 1:55 PM |
Categories: Holiday travel
        

Avoid Delaware Turnpike at all costs

The average traffic speed on the Delaware Turnpike is about 23 mph, with two crashes and congestion between the Maryland state line and Interstate 295. Tell me you're not going to pay $4 for this! Use U.S. 40. At least you can stop for coffee and a bathroom break.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:47 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Holiday travel
        

It's getting ugly out there

The traffic.com Jam Factor is up to 8 on a scale of 10 between Route 24 (Bel Air) and Route 22 (Perryville) as the flow becomes increasingly sclerotic. Traffic is oozing across the Bay Bridge at well under the speed limit, and there was an accident jamming traffic at the Severn River Bridge. And we're far from the worst.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:40 PM |
Categories: Holiday travel
        

Tracking the Schwartzbergs

The intrepid Schwartzberg family is on the road.

Michael Schwartzberg, who was unable to get an early jump on Thanksgiving travel because of work obligations, reports that he and his family departed their Pikesville home at 12:43 p.m. bound for North  Hills, Nassau County, Long Island, New York.

Traveling with Michael are his wife, Stacey Needle, and their sons Jordan, 9, and Brandon, 6. Schwartzberg reports that the boys began fighting even before they got on the road over which movie they would watch on their portable DVD player.

Schwartzberg reports  that traffic is already heavy on the Inner Loop of the Beltway between Reisterstown Road and Interstate 83. Schwartzberg, wiith the encouragement of Getting There, is avoiding the Interstate 95 congestion and tolls and venturing through rural Pennsylvania to New Jersey. Once he gets to Interstate 287, however, he's on his own.

Schwartzberg's predicted arrival time is 7:45 p.m. His wife, ever the optimist, says 6:30. Brandon says 9 p.m. and Jordan predicts 9:15.

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:59 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Holiday travel
        

Signs of the times

How many ways can you say "major delays?" Here's a link that helps answer that question. It shows the various electronic message signs being flashed by the State Highway Administration and the Maryland Transportation Authority at travelers this soggy day before Thanksgiving.

The link is courtesy of Dave Buck of the SHA, who observes: "This little drizzly stuff is going to be difficult throughout the whole day."

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:37 PM |
Categories: Holiday travel
        

All is quiet at Penn Station - for now

Reporter Sam Sessa took a quick trip over to Penn Station and called in to let us know that it wasn't too crowded. Only about half the benches were filled with waiting travelers and most of the trains were on time, except for Train 20 (the Crescent) from New Orleans, which was running about 2 hours late arriving in Baltimore. If you're taking Amtrak's Empire Corridor service north of Manhattan to Albany, there is a significant delay on that stretch. Trains from Baltimore/Washington to Boston and NYC - the Northeast Corridor - are not affected.

Outside Penn Station, Sam reports several travelers waiting for the BoltBus headed to New York. They didn't have to wait long, the bus arrived just as he was starting to talk to folks. Guess things are going smoothly there too - for now.

Posted by Michelle Deal-Zimmerman at 11:44 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Holiday travel
        

Crash at Tydings Bridge slows traffic

Well, it's started. A crash at the Millard Tydings Bridge on Interstate 95 at the Susquehanna is backing up northbound traffic. It's not too late to call Mom, tell her you're sick and stay home.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:31 AM |
Categories: Holiday travel
        

Let the games begin. . .

As Yogi Berra might say, nobody travels on the day before Thanksgiving because the roads are too crowded. Fortunately, I'm that nobody. My plan is to survey the progress of pre-holiday travel from my secure perch on Baltimore Street in downtown Baltimore.

Using the various resources at my disposal, I hope to provide updates through  the day on travel in the mid-Atlantic region. Helping out will be Michael Schwartzberg, a Pikesville resident who willl be providing updates on his journey to the worst possible destination (Long Island) at the worst possible time (ths afternoon) under the worst possible circumstances (transporting two young boys).

OK, I exaggerate, but not much.

An 11 a.m. check of Baltimore  traffic shows no particular problems, but trouble is already brewing on Interstate 95 in Northern Virginia, where the traffic.com jam-o-meter is already registering 8 on a scale of 10. Southbound travelers would be well-advised to consider taking U.S. 301 through Southern Maryland, even though Waldorf is an ordeal under the best of circumstances.

Here's a tip that Bill Snitcher of Linthicum offered last year for ggetting around the worst of the Waldorf traffic: "From the north side of town just stay on Route 5 South (Mattawoman-Beantown Road). When Route 5 makes a sharp left toward St. Mary's County, just stay straight on St. Charles Parkway. Follow that till the end and you'll merge back onto U.S. 301 just north of La Plata. You will bypass the entire Waldorf commercial district. Most of it is wide-open highway."

He estimates that it will save about 10 minutes compared wiith staying on U.S. 301.

 

 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:50 AM |
Categories: Holiday travel
        

November 24, 2009

Holiday traffic survival guide

If you're headed out on the roads Wednesday here are a few  ways to avoid the worst of the worst backups. No promises that these routes will be hassle-free, but at least you  can avoid the routes with the most miserable track record.

Below are links to previous columns I wrote about holiday travel.

Detour around Delaware: How to avoid to avoid the dreaded tolls when traveling northbound

Interstate instinct: Headed to northern New Jersey, Westchester County or Connecticut? Here's how you can bypass I-95

A Nice way to bypass Northern Virginia: Instead of taking I-95 toward Richmond, try U.S. 301 via the Nice Bridge, with a nifty Waldorf bypass suggested by Bill  Snitcher of Linthicum. "From the north side of town just stay on Route 5 South (Mattawoman-Beantown Road). When Route 5 makes a sharp left toward St. Mary's County, just stay straight on St. Charles Parkway. Follow that till the end and you'll merge back onto U.S. 301 just north of La Plata. You will bypass the entire Waldorf commercial district. Most of it is wide-open highway."

-Michael Dresser

 

Posted by Michelle Deal-Zimmerman at 6:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Holiday travel
        

November 23, 2009

Route 90 bridge to Ocean City to reopen

The Route 90 bridge to Ocean City, closed since mid-October for emergency repairs, will reopen about 10 a.m. Tuesday -- just in time for Thanksgiving, the State Highway Administration has announced.

The bridge, one of two connecting the mainland with the ocean resort, had been expected to remain closed through mid-December.

The 38-year-old bridge over Assawoman Bay in Worcester County was closed after inspectors discovered deterioration in a girder on an 85-foot section of the span. While the bridge was being repaired, the U.S. 50 bridge was the only one serving the barrier island.

Contractors  on the project were McLean Contracting Co. of Glen Burnie and  High Steel Structures Inc. of Lancaster, Pa.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:39 PM |
Categories: Holiday travel
        

Semper lie? BWI fraudster is rotten to the Corps

Charles Beckman of Towson offers the following heart-warming travel tale for your Thanksgiving inspiration:

My 17 year old son and I got in from Colorado (at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport) about midnight on November 15, and I left him to get the bags and wait for me curbside while I got on the bus to go get our car.

When I drove around a few minutes later, he was standing with a guy with very short hair, a red windbreaker, and obvious dog tags, and both approached my car. The guy was in great shape with not an ounce of fat on him, with a brutally chiseled face that looked a little like the transformed Jim Carrey in Mask. He said he was a sergeant in the Marines, had just gotten back from Iraq, and had five other guys with him who needed to get back to Quantico, but he’d locked his keys in the van, and a cab trip to Quantico was going to run $250.

I asked him what he needed and he said he needed $21 for an airport locksmith to jimmy the window so he could get to his keys. While I was getting the money, he said, “You have a fine young man here, and I told him I’d buy him a steak dinner on the government if he could help us out.”

I gave him my money and my business card with the address on it and asked him to send reimbursement. That was eight days ago . . . I’m assuming I won’t see this money again. My son and I agreed that if he wasn’t a Marine, he ought to be in Hollywood, his acting skills were so convincing.

I offer this story just in case others traveling through BWI meet this same ‘Marine’ this holiday season.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving and make sure the turkey isn't you.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:49 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Air travel
        

Metro to resume full weekend schedule

The Baltimore Metro, which has maintained a diminished weekend schedule since June for track maintenance work, has resumjed its regular schedule of runing trains at 15-minute intervals on Saturdays and Sundays.

During the project, about a mile of  the system's main line had to  be single-tracked on weekends, forcing the Maryland Transit Administration to run trains less frequently.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:08 PM |
Categories: Baltimore Metro
        

November 22, 2009

MARC rider finds new seats rough--here's why

MARC rider Summer Gonter of Baltimore wasn't so happy with the new double-decker MARC cars the Maryland Transit Administration acquired from Virginia Railway Express. But as we'll learn, the MTA faced a tough choice:

 

I 've just had the unfortunate experience to ride in what I think may be the new MARC doubledecker cars. The seating is awful. It's all molded plastic, and the lush leg room MARC passengers are used to is gone. Individual armrests are gone. Space in general is gone. I was reading a hardback book and barely had room to open it. I could not lift my purse up from the floor without disturbing my seat companion. The aisles appear to be smaller too.

WHY? WHY? WHY? Are these the cars they bought from VRE? If so, I have no doubts now about why they sold them off.... But if this is the new trend with MARC seating (were they just new seats in an old car??) then I'm horrified by the direction we're going. 

 

 Jack Cahalan, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Transportation, provided the following explanation:

The 13 new bi-level cars are identical to 50 already owned by MTA because they were acquired by Virginia Railway Express (VRE) as part of MTA’s contract with the manufacturer.  When VRE decided to sell the cars as part of a program to increase the uniformity of its fleet MTA successfully negotiated to purchase them.  This was a rare opportunity because the coaches were built to MTA specifications, including the ability to travel at high speeds on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor as well as fit though the B&P Tunnels in Baltimore. MTA made safety and cosmetic improvements so they would match the existing fleet.  This work was completed in June 2009, and the cars were placed in service on the Camden and Brunswick lines.  MTA could not operate the cars on the Penn Line until they were approved for travel at 125 MPH.  MTA received this approval on November 1 and immediately began placing the cars in Penn Line train sets.  As of November 12 all Penn Line train sets are comprised of bi-level cars.  This has added 300 seats each day as well as additional standing room.

Your reader is correct that the spacing of the rows of seats on the new cars is tighter than the existing fleet.  The seats and aisles are the same width.  When VRE acquired the cars originally they requested tighter row spacing which yields an additional five seats per car compared to the MARC seating configuration.  While modifying the new cars for MARC service MTA did explore the possibility of replacing the seats and installing seating similar to the existing MARC cars.  This would have required a different configuration of bolts which would have meant considerable cost and delay getting the cars into service. This issue, when combined with the fact that VRE successfully operated the cars for nine years with the tighter configuration, MTA decided not to make these changes at this time.  We will consider reconfiguring the seats when the cars receive their mid-life overhaul in several years.  In the meantime riders get the benefit of additional seats.

So take your choice: Standing in the aisle or getting a seat that's a tighter fit.  On the face of it, I'd say MTA made the right call. Of course, I haven't actually occupied the new seats.

Here's the test: If you continue  to sit in them when there are no other seats to be found, the MTA is right. If they're  so bad you'd rather stand, the MTA is wrong.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:50 PM | | Comments (6)
        

November 18, 2009

Transportation takes hit in new rounds of cuts

With the state budget still on the ropes because of revenue shortfalls, Gov. Martin O'Malley is proposing a new round of budget cuts to take to the Board of Public Works. Transportation, once again, will take a licking, along with most every other area of state spending.

From what I can see, this list will translate into such things as higher grass and more litter along state highways, longer lines at the MVA and bathrooms at BWI that aren't cleaned quite as frequently. On the other hand, there's probably oother spending in here that won't be missed at all.

Here are some of the specifics, just as the GGovernor's Office described them:

Department of Transportation


The Secretary's Office

  • Reduce per diem payments, operating costs for utilities, advertising,
    building maintenance, public service announcements, consultant
    services and contractual services.                                                      $133,500
  • InformationTechnology--Reduce maintenance contracts, delay upgrade projects, delay ability to build out additional fiber for MDOT network, reduce training
    opportunities, reduce contractor services for FMIS operations and
    maintenance that mirror State mandated closings, limit funds for travel,
    delay rollout of Clarity application for project management.                  $2,200,000
  • State Highway Administration Reduce mowing costs, litter pickup costs, spraying, maintenance,
    sweeping cycles, pavement repair, joint filling, line striping, highway
    lighting maintenance, and consultant services.                                   $14,728,467
  • Maryland Port Administration Eliminate clerical PIN, reduce legal support, tuition reimbursements, cell phone costs, travel, motor vehicle maintenance and lease costs,
    advertising, equipment rentals and repairs, janitorial services, security
    services, training, trash removal, software maintenance contracts,
    stevedoring contract, office supplies, and maintenance.                           $ 8,124,553
  • Motor Vehicle Administration--Reduce overtime, contractual and temporary staff, telephone costs,postage, equipment repairs, extermination, janitorial, laundry, eliminate
    vehicle replacement, delay central Issuance program, reduce use of
    MSP troopers at select locations, reduce MDP fees for VEIP.                       $4,109,195
  • Maryland Aviation Administration--Reduce janitorial, BWI security, consultants, telephone costs, postagecosts, travel, utilities, software purchases, hardware maintenance,
    supplies, subscriptions, dues, rent, grants to non-government entities.        $8,296,217
Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:10 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: For policy wonks only
        

Montgomery Council wants others to pay for ICC

The Washington Examiner reports that the Montgomery County Council is asking the Maryland Transportation Authority to back off its plans for charging tolls on the Intercounty Connector in line with what the authority's consultant figures the market will bear.

The Council is also asking the authority to phase in a $3 fee for those who use the tollroad without an E-ZPass -- a charge intended to cover the extra cost of billing vehicles on the basis of license plate photos for use of the tollbooth-free road. On top of that, it wants a subsisized commuter rate that is at odds with the plan to use toll rates to eliminate congestion on the ICC.

These ideas certainly sound good to Montgomery County elected officials because they are nothing more than an added subsidy for use of a road that is already heavily subsidized. The problem, from a Baltimore point of view, is that an additional subsidy for the ICC means it will generate less revenue than expected. That means a greater share of the debt service on its bonds will have to be paid out of some other revenue stream.

There aren't a whole lot of other places for the authority to look for that revenue. Maryland now has seven toll facilities. None is anywhere close to Montgomery County. Except for one, the U.S. 301 bridge over the Potomac River, they are all located entirely or partly in the Baltimore region. (The Bay Bridge, the two Susquehanna River Bridges, the Francis Scott Key Bridge, shown above, and the two Baltimore Harbor tunnels.)

So if the authority gives ICC users a break, it's going to have to do so by socking users of those other facilities just a little harder when the next toll increase comes up in  2011-2012. There's really no way around it: The bond rating agencies are expecting a revenue increase in a certain range. If the authority wimps out about imposing sufficient toll increases to generate that revenue, Maryland risks a credit downgrade. That would cost us all  in future borrowing.

I can understand the Montgomery Council seeking a break for its constituents, who will likely be the most frequent users of the ICC. What I can't understand is why we aren't hearing an outcry from elected officials from the Baltimore region, the Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland warning the authority against shifting ICC costs to the people they represent.

 Users of Baltimore-area toll facilities are already paying a premium on their tolls to help build the ICC. Don't hit us with more of the bill because  the very people who begged the state to build the ICC are now shocked at the price tag.

Sun photo

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:15 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

AAA predicts rise in Thanksgiving travel

AAA is forecasting a 1.4 percent increase in Thanksgiving travel over last year's recession-battered holiday, pointing to what appears to be a modest improvement in economic activity.

According to AAA, about 38.4 million Americans will travel more than 50 miles from home between next Wednesday and the Sunday after the hoiliday. Travel by automobile is expected to increase by 2.1 percent to 33.2 milllion.

But air travel is expected to be off by 6.6 percent. Air travel is expected to account for only 6 percent of Thanksgiving travel, continuing a downward trend that has persisted for a decade.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:27 AM |
Categories: On the roads
        

November 17, 2009

Drill simulates train disaster responses (VIDEO)

CSX played host Tuesday as up to 150 first responders from fire departments throughout the region took part in drills simulating several disaster scenarios at the railroad's Washington Boulevard rail yard.

A Baltimore Fire Department spokesman, Capt.  Kevin Cartwright, said oorganizers were pleased with the "fluid" response of the multiple agencies that participated in the train wreck simulation.

Firefighterrs fromBaltimore, Anne  Arundel, Howard, Harford, Carroll and Cecil countiies joined thhose from the cities of Baltimore and Annapolis in the practice session. Cartwright said the first responders dealt with scenarios including an engineer trapped in a locomotive who needed extraction, a chlorine leak, a liquid propane gas release and an ethanol spill.

About 150 observers were on hand from the Environmental Protection Agency Region III Emergency Preparedness and Prevention & Hazmat Spills Conference, now taking place at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. Also there was The Sun's Algerina Perna, who took video of the exercise.

Cartwright said the drill went well. "Everyone was pleased -- especially EPA and CSX," he said.

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:54 PM |
Categories: Amtrak/intercity railroads
        

Traveling on day before Thanksgiving?

Are you one of those unlucky souls who will be leaving the Baltimore area by car about midday the Wednesday before Thanksgiving for a family gathering?

Is your destination someplace truly grueling  to reach at peak times such as Long Island, northern  New Jersey or Connecticut? Or, perhaps, Richmond, Raleigh or Charlotte?

Would you be willing to stay in contact by phone or email and describe your ordeal for this blog and an article in the Baltimore Sun?

We'd like to evaluate the different routes and strategies people can employ when they can't avoid the peak hours. If you're willing to participate, please drop a line to michael.dresser@baltsun.com. Make the subject line Travel so it stands out from the spam? Thanks.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:02 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: On the roads
        

November 16, 2009

Baltimore, CSX finalize agreement on bridges

The Dixon administration is expected to bring two contracts before the Board of Estimates Wednesday cementing its 2-year-old accord with CSX under which the railroad will pay roughly three-quarters of the cost of replacing two of the city’s most deteriorated bridges.

After years of wrangling, the city and CSX reached agreement in principle on the formula for paying for the replacement of the Fort Avenue and Sinclair Lane bridges in Oct. 2007. But it has taken two years to work out details.


The delay, according to city deputy transportation director Jamie Kendrick, was the result of “a thousand details and lots of lawyers but other than that it was easy.”

Under the contracts, which CSX has already signed, the railroad will pay 75 percent of the construction costs and 100 percnet of the engineering costs on the Fort Avenue bridge. The city willl contribute the other quarter of the building costs.


That bridge was the subject of public protests by a Locust Point woman named Karen Johns (above), who became well-known in the city as ‘The Bridge Lady.” Johns badgered elected officials to put pressure on CSX to replace the visibly crumbling bridge, which was built in 1920 and scored 36 points out of 100 – a failing grade -- on a recent inspection.

Sun photo/Kim Hairston

The same formula will apply to the construction costs at Sinclair Lane, except that the first $2.3 million will be covered by a congressional earmark secured by Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-7th.
The engineering on the Sinclair Lane bridge has already been completed, and construction is expected to begin in May or June, Kendrick said. The Nineteenth Century bridge, whose exact date of construction is unknown, will take 15-18 months to replace. It scored 33 points out 100 on its most recent inspection in 2007.


The Fort Avenue bridge bridge project, whic has yet to go through engineering, is expected to reach its construction phase in late 2010 or early 2011. Kendrick said the work on the bridge, on the route to Fort McHenry, will be reopened in time for the bicentennial of the War of 1812 in May 2012. Until then, visitors to the fort will have to take a detour.


Kendrick said the city and CSX are currently in negotiations over the railroad’s bridge over the tracks at Sisson Street near Charles Village and one of its crossings of Hanover Street in South Baltimore. The city and railroad are also discussing a series of stone arches on the crosstown Belt Line between Charles Village and Harford Road.


The agreements and the talks represent a sea change in the once-prickly relationship of the city and CSX, which publicly feuded in the aftermath of the 2001 Howard Street Tunnel derailment and fire.


Kendrick credited a change in CSX management’s attitude toward working with local governments.
“This is a whole new approach to doing things than has been the case for many decades,” he said.

Kendrick said Cummings and former Maryland Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari helped Mayor Sheila Dixon persuade CSX to address the bridge issue.

“For years the city has been trying get CSX to the table. It was indeed a convergence of forces that got them there,” Kendrick said.
 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:19 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: On the roads
        

Transportation authority keeps strong rating

The Maryland Transportation Authority has retained its coveted Aa3 rating by Moody's as it prepares to sell abbout $532 billion in bonds to hellp finance the Intercounty Connector and other projects.

Moody's pointed to the authority's long history of financial stability and to its independent board's ability and willingness  to raise tolls when needed.

In the bond rater's estimation, Maryland tolls remain "relatively low."

The good news: Moody's predicts the authority will be able to keep up its "strong financial profile" and reliable debt service.

The bad news: "Key to the forecast are assumed toll rate increases of 48% in 2012 and 23% in 2014. "

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:30 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

November 13, 2009

Ocean City mayor wants new span

After the experience of going through this week's nor'easter with just one bridge to the mainland, Ocean Mayor Rick Meehan said he's going to ask the State Highway Administration to add a second span to the Route 90 bridge (above).

The current bridge, which feeds into the barrier island at 60th Street, has been shut down last month for emergency repairs (below) to an eroded girder.

Adding a new two-lane bridge to supplement the existing span would be a very expensive project, and given the woes of the state transportation budget, the mayor may have a long wait ahead.

SHA spokesman Dave Buck said there are no plans in the works to add capacity to the Route 90 bridge, which at about 35 years old is a relative youngster in infrastructure terms. Buck noted that Worcester County already has some other big-ticket items higher on its priority list, including the rehabilitation or replacement of the U.S. 50 bridge, which is 66 years old and showing its age. If replacement is the option selected, that could be a $500 million project, he said.

                                                                         State Highway Administration photo                   

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:48 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: On the roads
        

If you're in the city, you're likely in a school zone

 

Since Oct. 1, state law has allowed Baltimore and other local jurisdictions to install speed cameras in school zones and to issue $40 tickets based on photographic evidence that vehicles were exceeding the speed limit by 12 mph or more.

 So Scott Levitan of Baltimore had this inquiry:

Since the City is stepping up enforcement of speed cameras in school
zones, could someone please clarify when school zones end?  School zone
signs post the commencement of the zone, but there is no sign posted to
indicate the termination.

I asked Jamie Kendrick, deputy director of the city's Department of Transportation, about this. Kendrick confirmed that it is not the city's practice to post "End School Zone" signs. That, he said, would be tantamount to posting a sign saying "Speed Up." Not only would it be a considerable expense, he noted, it would add visual clutter to the landscape.

Kendrick said the prudent course for drivers is to assume that if they're in the city, they are in a school zone. The state speed camera law defines the zones as being within a half-mile of a school. In Baltimore, that translates to roughly 86 percent of the city's land mass, he said. (See map above.)

So really, there are might few areas of the city where you can make like a NASCAR driver with any confidence you'll get away with it. You coould try the industrial Fairfield peninsula, but chances are you'd tear out your undercarriage on the roads down there. You could try Broening Highway, down by the marine terminals, but the Maryland Transportation Authority Police keep a close eye on speeders down that way. And unlike the city police, they're unlikely to be distracted by the homicide(s) du jour.  North Charles Street above Cold Spring looks to be camera-free, but there are generally plenty of cops out on that main drag.

So Kendrick advises that if you see a school zone sign, "slow down and stay slowed down."

Of course, if you're  on a two-way street, the end of the zone will be marked by a school zone sign pointing in the other direction. You could just keep glancing over your shoulder to tell when you've reached that point, but somehow that doesn't seem to be a great idea.

If you want to know where speed cameras are actually posted, here's a link to the city's locations:

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/baltimore-city/bal-cameramap0924,0,675233.htmlpage

And if it's Baltimore County that interests you, here's another:

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/baltimore-county/bal-baltoco-cameras,0,6219578.htmlpage

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:54 AM | | Comments (5)
        

November 12, 2009

Driver misses right turn on red

A colleague who works nights encountered a change in her commute  home and wondered what brought it about:

At one time you could turn right on red onto northbound Charles from westbound Mount Royal. Now you cannot do that. The two right lanes or so of Charles north of Mount Royal are torn up now with roadwork. But before that happened, the light was changed so that the two lanes of Mount Royal continuing west across Charles get a green light, while the two right-turning lanes still have a red light.

Is it this way because of the construction? Could (it be OK) to turn right on red after a certain time (7 p.m. seems most common)? Could the light be programmed to allow all the traffic to move thru the intersection at some time if it’s not safe to do so earlier in the day? Thanks. Any light you can shed on this will be appreciated.

Those questions were posed to Kathy Chopper, spokeswoman for the city Department of Transportation, who had this explanation:

At one time, motorists were able to make right turns onto Charles from westbound Mount Royal, but that traffic pattern was recently changed.  The City of Baltimore worked with the University to adjust signal timing and eliminate right turns on red at that intersection due to the heavy amount of pedestrian traffic. 

 The right turns on red were eliminated to provide enough time for pedestrians to cross in a safe manner.  These changes were not related to the construction that is taking place in the area.

My question would be how many pedestrians there are to protect around midnight, when my colleage passes through the intersection.

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:08 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: On the roads
        

Bridge out as storm nears Ocean City

There's a big nor'easter bearing down on Ocean City at a time when one of the two bridges into the city -- the one on Maryland 90 -- is closed for repairs. I wonder how that might complicate matters.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:57 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads
        

I-270 plan still faces big hurdles

When Adam Pagnucco is on his game, he does as good a job as anyone of explaining transportation politics in Maryland. His posting today on Maryland Politics Watch is a good example of that.

It seems the Montgomery County Council has achieved rare  unanimity in coalescing around an expensive scheme (in the billions though not definitively priced) to add two express toll lanes to Interstate 270 from Shady Grove to Frederick. Pagnucco notes that the idea of a wider I-270 has strong support from elected leaders in Montgomery County and Frederick County.

That should come as no big surprise. Express toll lanes would be a great bargain for residents of those areas. First of all, the tolls collected on I-270 would pay only a fraction of the costs. The up-front costs would probably have to be borne by users of the state's other toll facilities -- who tend to be residents of Maryland jurisdictions other than Montgomery and Frederick.

That's one of many reasons that Pagnucco's link to Baltimore takes you to this blog.

It's time the rest of the state put Montgomery on notice about this project: If you want  it so much, figure out a way to build it without money from the state's other toll facilities. Tolls are already likely to go much higher just to cover existing obligations and more worthy capital projects, and users of the Fort McHenry Tunnel and the Key Bridge aren't going to willingly pay even more for a bay-polluting boondoggle that brings them zero benefit.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:27 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: On the roads
        

MTA bus runs light on Charles St.

What was the rush this morning that compelled the operator of bus No. 9917 to run a red light on Charles Street at Saratoga Street this morning at about 8:50 a.m.? This wasn't a close-call yellow. It was red as blood when the bus crossed into the intersection (with a reporter right behind). Good thing nobody on Saratoga was making a jackrabbit start.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:14 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Local bus lines
        

November 11, 2009

Fewer rest stops open for holiday travelers

Carole Feldman of the Associated Press reports that there will be fewer rest stops open for travelers on the interstates this Thanksgiving weekend.

Some states have closed stops in order to cut budgets strapped by recession-related revenue declines. Especially hard hit has been Virginia, which closed 19 of its 42 rest stops.

In Maryland, the rest stops along Interstate 70 on South Mountain near the Frederick-Washington county line have been closed for remodeling and will reopen next year. The Bay Country Welcome Center on U.S. 301 in Queen Anne's County has been closed, along with the Sideling Hill Interpretive Center in Western Maryland, but the rest rooms at both facilities remain open. Other rest stops remain open.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:56 PM |
Categories: On the roads
        

Montgomery Council opens door for transit study

The Montgomery County Council, led by Chairman Phil Andrews, might just have opened a door they would have preferred to keep closed.

Ben Ross of the Action Committee for Transit points out that the solution Andrews suggested and the Council endorsed for relieving congestion in the Interstate 270 corridor -- the addition of two reversible express lanes between Shady Grove and Frederick -- is not  one of the alternatives included in the State Highway Administration's I-270 Corridor Study.

To move in the direction the Council suggests would require a new study of the plan's costs and feasibilty, Ross notes. So if transportation officials decide to reopen the study to examine one plan, Ross asks, why not open it up to other alternatives -- including ACT's suggestion of an all-transit option for relieving the corridor's stress?

It seems to me that Ross has a point. A lot has happened since transit was last  looked  at, including massive cost increases for some of the alternatives that have been studied. I'd also like to have them take a glance, at least, at my suggestion of a single reversible lane for buses and high-occupancy vans only at peak times. (Let trucks use it off-peak to separate them from cars.)

Some proponents of widening I-270 to the max have dismissed the notion of any further study -- insisting it will only delay the project. But all you have to do is look at the finances of the Maryland Transportation Authority and you'll see it may be a long time before any project of the magnitude of an I-270 widening can be financed.

So let's study away: the Andrews plan, the Ross plan, the off-the-wall-Baltimore-Guy plan, whatever.

 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:20 PM | | Comments (3)
        

November 10, 2009

Montgomery Council wants wider, not widest, I-270

David Alpert of Greater Greater Washington reports that the Montgomery County Council has reached an apparent consensus that a scaled-back plan to widen Interstate 270 between Shady Grove and Frederick is the way to go.

The council seems to like Chairman Phil Andrews plan to build two new reversible toll lanes -- southbound in the morning, northbound in the evening -- to relieve I-270's congestion, Alpert reports.

This is certainly less outrageous than the $4.6 billion plan to add four express toll lanes -- as the county planning board recommended. But it's still an other example of catering to the one-passenger car instead of seeking transit solutions.

What is disturbing about the report is the State Highway Administration announcing plans to build it in 30-40 sections before there has been a proper statewide discusiion of whether to build it and how to pay for it. Baltimore-area lawmakers need to ask questions sooner rather than later -- before their constituents end up paying the bill for a fait accompli.

Here's a counterproposal: A single, reversible lane for express buses only at peak times. (Let passenger vans use the lane to the extent there's extra capacity. Let trucks use it at off-peak hours as a safety measure.) Build it without toll financing when the state has sufficient transportation revenue to pay for it.

The best way to entice people out of cars is to present  them with the sight of buses whizzing along in an uncongested lane while they sit in bumper-to-bumper misery.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:27 PM | | Comments (1)
        

ICC project costs stay on course

 

                                          

AP Photo                       

The cost estimate for building the Intercounty Connector has held steady over the past year, with no change to last year's estimate of $2.566 billion.

The State Highway Administration and Maryland Transportation Authority  certified that figure last week in its annual report to the Federal Highway Administration. The agencies told the federal government the work on the thrre main contracts for the ICC -- taking it from Interstate 370 to Interstate  95 -- are all on time or slightly ahead of schedule.

Work on the western end of the ICC -- from Georgia Avenue to I-370 -- was 60 percent complete as of September and is expected to be completed in late 2010. (It will be interesting to see if the contractor can finish before the gubernatorial election.)

The other two segments leading to I-95, close to half complete in some places, are expected to open in late 2011 or early 2012.

A short segment leading to U.S. 1 has been delayed until 2013, while some work on the feeder routes from I-95 to the ICC has been pushed back to 2017.

There  are no big surprises here. It's a case where no news is good news.

 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:43 PM |
Categories: On the roads
        

November 9, 2009

Council chief backs modified I-270 plan

Maryland Politics Watch reports that Montgomery County Council President Phil Andrews has come out in favor of a more modest, somewhat less expensive plan to widen Interstate 270 -- the project this blog has dubbed the Sprawlway for its likely effect on northern Montgomery, Frederick County and places even farther from Washington.

Andrews is calling on his colleagues to seek construction of two additional lanes  on I-270 betweeen Shady Grove and Frederick. He would make them reversible, carrying southbound traffic in the morning and northbound  in the  evening -- and would finance them partly by charging tolls  on singly-occupied vehicles in the fast lanes.

To give credit where it's due, Andrews' proposal is less egregious than the county planning board's call to spend  $4.6 billion to add two express toll lanes in each direction. That gold-plated  proposal would be the most costly transportation project ever undertaken in Maryland by far.

Andrews' proposal is more on the order of silver-plated and earns the title of Sprawlway Lite. It would still be enormously expensive and it would still contribute to the outward expansion of McMansions. Also, the proposal would continue to  concentrate growth in an already saturated corridor far from Baltimore instead of leveraging the Intercounty Connector to bring more growth to the center of the state.

Anyone proposing such a project up front must also acknowledge that the tolls for those express lanes are likely to make the charges proposed for the ICC look like a bargain. They also can't relieve congestion too much, because the state can't make money if there are no traffic jams to escape.

Andrews proposes that constructiion of the Corridor Cities Transitway, a mass transit extension of the Metro Red Line through the I-270 corridor to Clarksburg,  take precedence. He is urging colleagues to  endorse Bus Rapid Transit as the mode of travel, a potentially controversial but fiiscallly prudent choice.

Going forward with that project separately from the I-270 widening is wise because the latter will be a hard sell to the rest of the state. Maryland faces a long list of much-needed toll-financed projects to preserve or replace exiisting infrastructure. Any scheme to widen I-270 would have to get in line.

The Montgomery Council could act on Andrews' recommendation as early as Tuesday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:22 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: On the roads
        

Roads pay for themselves? No way, says Texan

Folks for whom it's an article of faith that roads are paid for with the gas tax while transit bleeds the body public might want to ignore this article from DC.StreetsBlog.org on the high cost of highways and who ends up paying for them.

In short, Rep. Mike Kursee says roads cover only a small part of their costs in his state and that taxes raised in the cities go to extend roads out into rural areas. He has some  candid comments about the state of the nation's transportation finances.

The article doesn't say, but Krusee is a Republican.

 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:21 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: On the roads
        

November 6, 2009

Downtown blocks to close next week

The Baltimore Department of Transportation will close several blocks of Howard Street and Saratoga Street next week in order to rebuild that intersection.

The department announced that it would close Saratoga Street between Park Avenue and Eutaw Street and Howard Street between Fayette and Mulberry streets has from 9 a.m. Monday through 6 p.m. Friday. The light rail will continue to operate on Howard Street.

The cityt suggested that motoriists use alternate routes such as Franklin or Fayette streets instead of Saratoga. In place of Howard Street, it suggested Paca or Charles streets.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:21 PM |
Categories: On the roads
        

Beltway widening projects depend on finding funds

A reader posted  these questions to the Getting There  blog. I thought they were worth answering by going straight to the source -- Dave Buck of the State Highway Adminiistration. Here are the questions:

I recall hearing that (Gov. Robert L. ) Ehrlich passed a project to widen the West side outer loop of the Beltway to four lanes and it would start around 2009 or 2010.
What's the status on that?

Also, what about the triple bridges connecting I-70 to I-695? A ton of traffic just sits on the ramp from I-70 trying to get onto the Inner Loop of the Beltway. The bridges are also built in such a way that only three lanes in each direction can get through on the Beltway and there is no shoulder. What is the plan to fix that?

 

To which Buck replied:

 

SHA recently widened the outer loop of I-695 between Frederick Road and I-95, which has helped quite a bit on the west side.  This opened to traffic in August 2005.  However, I think the citizen is inquiring about additional widening on I-695 between US 40 and MD 144. 
 
$4.3 million has been committed to fully fund the design and right-of-way phases (not construction) for the widening of the outer loop between US 40 and MD 144, Frederick Road.  
 
Given the amount of construction funding needed (close to $100 million) to advance the widening of this section of the outer loop of I-695, a breakout project has been identified to occur in advance of the widening - the replacement of the I-695/Frederick Road Bridge.  If construction funding can be identified, our goal is to have this bridge replacement under way in the next few years.  Widening on the outer loop between US 40 and MD 144 could follow, dependent upon funding.
 
Regarding your reader's second question, any improvements to the triple bridges are going to be further down the line as Baltimore County has priorities in different areas along I-695, including the Frederick Road Bridge, outer loop widening between US 40 and MD 144 and inner loop widening between Perring Parkway and Harford Road.
 
In the area of the triple bridges, the ramps from I-70 to the outer loop toward Catonsville certainly will benefit from the eventual outer loop widening.  The I-70 ramps to the inner loop toward Liberty Road tend to back up for a few reasons:  both eastbound and westbound I-70 ramps to the inner loop merge together prior to the mainline of I-695; and volume during the peak hours can overwhelm the interchange ramps.   
 
As you can imagine, any reconstruction of the triple bridges is going to be quite complex and quite expensive.  

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:42 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: On the roads
        

November 5, 2009

Man charged with operating school boat while drunk

A man who ferries schoolchildren between their homes on Smith Island and their classes in the Eastern Shore town of Crisfield has been charged with operating the vessel while drunk.

According to the state Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Coast Guard boarded the 60-foot school boat Wednesday while the operating was taking five chidren to the island. The department said the operator tested positive for alcohol use and was detained until a DNR police officer arrived to arrest him and to take the children home.

Alan Wade Tyler, 49, of Smith Island was charged with operating a vessel under the influence of alcohol, operating a vessel while impaired by alcohol, operating a vessel while impaired by any drug or combination of drugs and alcohol and negligent operation of a vessel.

The department said the Coast Guard has temporarily suspended the operator’s license and will begin administrative disciplinary proceedings.

 “We take violations affecting passengers, especially children, very seriously,” said Cmdr. Kelly M. Post, chief of prevention at the Coast Guard’s Sector Baltimore.“I have initiated a detailed investigation and will take the appropriate measures to prevent and deter violations like this in the future.”

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:03 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Afloat
        

2 speed cameras, 1 month, 1,462 warnings

Here's an interesting tidbit from deputy Baltimore transportation director Jamie Kendrick's talk to the Downtown Partnership this morning:

More than 86% of Baltimore’s land area is within ½ mile of a school – and in one month alone, using just two cameras along 33rd street, we issued 1,462 warning citations to drivers going more than 12 mph over the speed limit. We are drop dead serious about reducing unsafe speeds in Baltimore.

Are the 1,462 who received the warnings...

a.) Oppressed victims of Big Brother.

b.) Hard-working Americans who were just in a little bit of a hurry.

c.) Negligent, irresponsible drivers who could have easily moved down a schoolkid and who are lucky to have gotten off with a warning.

Vote here:   

c. _____

c. _____

c. _____

It's good to be the blog king.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:09 PM | | Comments (21)
Categories: On the roads
        

Wide shoulders prompt Beltway questions

Zachary Zelefsky noticed something that appeared odd about the Baltimore Beltway. He had some questions. We found him some answers. Let's let him explain.


I live in Reisterstown and commute to Towson, where I work. The drive takes me about twenty minutes without traffic, but on days when traffic is heavy the trip can be over an hour long. As my car is creeping along in the far left lane, I am constantly distracted by all of the unused road space on the side of the highway. Traffic is backed up for miles in both directions of 695. All of the cars are packed into four lanes while the huge left shoulder is sitting empty. The image is always frustrating to me. I cannot understand why we have so much perfectly good road not being used. I understand the need for a shoulder in emergency situations (even though there are sections of 695 that have no left shoulder and function perfectly fine). But for a majority of 695, at least on the northern half, the left shoulder is two lanes wide. If one of these lanes were converted to a usable lane, the volume of traffic could be reduced while still leaving room for an emergency lane on both the right and left sides. Even if this was only done during peak traffic times, I believe it would be a simple and effective way to reduce the amount of traffic during rush hour.

I am not the first one to notice this simple solution. I was doing some research to see if this had been tried before and I found that in the UK “Active Traffic Management” has been implemented with considerable success. According to the UK’s Highways Agency, “Compared with road widening, Active Traffic Management is significantly more cost effective but provides comparable benefits including increased capacity, reduced journey times, increased journey time reliability, lower emissions and lower fuel consumption.” A pilot project on in M42 motorway decreased commute times by 26%. The Highways Agency surveyed drivers, stating that 84% felt confident using the hard shoulder, 68% felt better informed about traffic conditions and that around 66% wanted the scheme expanding to other roads.

It would be great if we were able to implement an easy was to reduce traffic during rush hour. The method has been proven both effective and popular. Anyone who has to drive on the highways during rush hour understands how frustrating it can be. This is just one way to make all of our lives a little easier. I am curious to know if utilizing the shoulder ever been considered in Maryland? Is there any reason why it wouldn’t work? Is there anything I can do to get something done?

Dave Buck, spokesman for the State Highway Administration, provided a brief history lesson:

Back in the late 1990's SHA widened the inner and outer loops of I-695 between MD 140 and I-83 south at a cost of about $60 million.
 
The left shoulder in this area was built to accommodate an eventual  an HOV lane along I-695.  
 
The left shoulder is wider in some areas (as much as 26 feet wide between Greenspring Ave and I-83 south) but closer to 12-13 feet in others.   
 
We do appreciate the writer thinking of new innovative ideas to reduce congestion.  However, the idea would not work for several reasons:
 
- With a wide shoulder only for a very short distance between Greenspring Ave and I-83 south, the merge/weaving condition that would occur in such a short distance would present a major safety issue.   
 
-  Using the 12 foot shoulder between MD 140 and Greenspring Avenue as a regular use lane as the reader suggests would eliminate any breakdown lane on an interstate, which is dangerous and a significant safety issue.
 
- In looking at the reader's example on M 42 in the UK which stretches more than 11 miles, several features on M 42 are included; breakdown lanes, overhead gantries and messages signs over every lane, variable speed limits, more than 200 cameras, sensors in the road ... not practical for I-695.
 
- SHA regularly uses right and left shoulders when available for incident management.  We take full use of every available inch of pavement in the event of a crash to keep traffic moving until more lanes can be cleared.

Meanwhile, as far as that intended HOV lane is concerned, Buck said it's still onh its way. He said that opening it requires the completion of several projects, including a rebuilding of the Charles Street interchange -- now under way -- and work on the Liberty Road bridge scheduled  to begin next spring. He said it will  also require a major widening of the Beltway between Interstate 83 and Harford Road as well as on the west side.

Buck explained that the highway agency can't open an HOV lane in one small area, though he said such a lane eventually will be opened on most of the westertn Beltway between the two interchanges with Interstate 95. That project is still well in the future, he said, but the agency decided it makes sense to add the pavement now rather than later.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:29 AM | | Comments (3)
        

November 4, 2009

MTA explains light rail limitations

Chikwe C. Njoku had a suggestion for the Maryland Transit Administration about its light rail service. He thought he saw a way to improve it. So we passed along this message to the agency:

(I) wonder if it would be prudent for the MTA to explore a Hunt Valley/Timonium to Camden Yard train that has a reverse direction stop at Penn? As Baltimore continues to become “DC centric”.. I see many people, including myself, disembarking at Mt. Royal and walking to Penn to catch the MARC. Few wait for the Penn Shuttle to funnel them into the Penn Station.

Granted, walking is a GOOD thing, but everyone may not share this ambition,  especially in inclement weather. A Hunt Valley/Timonium to Camden Yard Train could run at key times only during morning and evening rush. Ideally, there would be a dedicated switch track between North Ave and Mt Royal to carry the train into the existing Penn Shuttle Line into Penn Station.

However; that would cost $$ that the MTA doesn’t have. Why couldn’t the train reverse direction into Penn like the former Penn (only) Shuttle used to do? It could then become the “Penn Camden Shuttle” and continue its run to Camden Yards. The reverse trip from Camden would also include a trip over to Penn Station, before going back out on to the main line and up to Hunt Valley/Timonium.

It's not the perfect scenario but as the demand continues to grow.. it could eventually justify a switch being built above Mt. Royal for direct northbound access to the Central line. It could have a minimal impact on the Penn- Camden’s run since it could be inserted only during AM or PM rush.

For the answer, click below:

This is the response we received from MTA spokeswoman Jawauna Greene. I've taken the liberty of breaking it up into paragraphs.

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to your reader’s inquiry regarding the feasibility of adding a Penn Station stop for trains coming from Hunt Valley. 

 We agree that good Light Rail service to Penn Station is desirable, but geography makes this a challenge.  We have modified Penn Station service several times since the spur was constructed to find the right balance between good service to Penn Station and good service for the rest of the line. 

At the present time a train shuttles between Penn Station and Camden Station which has the benefit of making service in the Howard Street corridor more frequent, but riders coming from north or south of the downtown segment have to transfer to reach Penn Station. If, as your reader suggests, all trains coming from the north backed into Penn Station after stopping at Mt. Royal this would certainly be more convenient for riders from the north headed to Penn Station but it would significantly inconvenience the majority of riders who are destined not to Penn Station but to the Howard Street corridor (the highest ridership station in the system is Lexington). 

To make the move your reader suggested would take 10 to 15 minutes once the time for the operator to change ends at Mt. Royal and Penn Station is taken into consideration.  The current travel time from Timonium to Lexington is 32 minutes, so this would increase the travel time by nearly 50 percent. 

Second, if trains from the north went to Penn Station but trains from the south did not, it would create an imbalance in the schedule throughout the system. The reader also suggested building an additional track in the future so that trains from the north could go directly into Penn Station and then, I assume, continue south.  This is not possible because of the way the trains are configured.  The "A" end of a train must always face south and the "B" end must always face north which allows the motors to synchronize between cars. 

If a train went directly into Penn Station from the north it would have to return to the north to avoid becoming turned around.  With this service pattern any rider destined south of Mt. Royal would have to change trains. 

 The MTA continually examines service modifications that best meet the needs of our customers.  We thank your reader for the innovative (if unworkable!) suggestions.

Don't you just hate it when a government official has a logical explanation for what's being done?

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:10 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Light rail
        

750 lights out in Montgomery? Ouch

I pass this alert on just as it came in from my former Sun  colleague Jon Morgan. I see no way I can improve on it:

News Alert

03:30 PM EST Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Evening traffic backups likely in Montgomery

Technicians have yet to resolve a malfunction with the computerized system that

controls 750 traffic lights across Montgomery County, which will probably mean a

repeat of Wednesday morning's massive backups during the evening rush.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:40 PM |
Categories: On the roads
        

AAA warns that deer are out to get you

 

AAA Mid-Atlantic has issued a timely reminder that Maryland's deer population is in the amorous throes of late autumn, when the sex-besotted beasts are especially likely to jump into the path of your vehicle while in the single-minded pursuit of a mate.

The results can be deadly -- and not just for the deer. In 2007, the last year on recoord, two people died and 458 were injured in 1,962 animal-vehicle crashes, according to the Deer-Vehicle Crash Information Clearinghouse.

According to AAA, the average property damage claim from a deer-vehicle crash was $3,300.

“Keep in mind, with increased development, deer habitat has decreased and deer are interacting and living closer to humans,” saiid AAA spokeswoman Ragina Averella.  “Drive defensively and be alert, particularly near wooded areas along local roadways.  Most deer-vehicle collisions occur on two-lane roads bordered by natural habitat."

AAA  offered the following tips for dealing with deer on the road:

• Buckle up and do not speed.  A decrease in speed gives you more time to react. 

                                           AP Photo

 Be observant.  Look for deer-crossing signs indicating areas where deer frequently travel.  Deer are creatures of habit and may often use the same path again – remember where you see them.

• Be alert.  A deer standing near a roadside may suddenly run across the road.  Slow down and use your horn to scare the deer.  Never shine or flash your vehicle's lights. This can cause the deer to fixate on your vehicle.  Use high-beams for greater visibility.

• Look for groups. Deer travel in groups, so if you see one crossing the road ahead slow down, as there are probably others in the area but out of view.

 Never swerve.  Instead, slow down and brake.  Swerving can cause you to lose control of your vehicle and strike another vehicle or object along the roadway.

• Do not rely on devices.  There is no conclusive evidence that hood-mounted deer whistles and other such devices work.

• Slow down.  If a crash with a deer is unavoidable, AAA recommends slowing down and releasing your foot from the brake before impact.  This will raise the front end of the car during the crash and increase the likelihood that the animal will go underneath the vehicle instead of through the windshield.

• Do not try to move a deer.  An injured deer might panic and seriously injure a Good Samaritan.  Call police or animal control for assistance. 

I'll add a few of my own:

•Put away the cell phone. Talking on a cell phone while driving is never a good idea, but it's especially risky when traveling on roads where deer are likely to jump out. Avoiding deer collisions requires your full attention.

•Make a mental note of deer strikes. If you see a dead deer by the side of a road, that tells you something about that road.

•Don't get complacent on highways. Deer don't necessarily avoid interstates and other limited-access highways. The higher the speed, the greater the impact. Take it easy.

•Put your passenger to work. In especially high-risk areas, such as the back roads of the Eastern Shore or areas in transition from rural to suburban, ask a passenger to be alert for deer. Not only does that make that person a second set of eyes, it can deter driver-distracting activities and chatter.

One more thing:  If you're a parent of a teen who is close to getting a driver's license, you have a  great opportunity to raise  consciousness about a hazard they might not hear much about in driver's ed. If the teen is about to get a learner's permit, ask him or her to be your spotter in areas of high deer risk. If the teen is  driving on a permit with you in the car, calmly issue reminders to look out for deer when  in those areas.

The kid might think you're annoying or obsessive, but you'll plant a thought in his or her mind that won't go away. Think of it as Positive Parental Brainwashing.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:00 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads
        

November 3, 2009

Prince George's eyes Green Line to Fort Meade

The Greater Greater Washington blog reports that Prince George's County has added to its master plan a proposal to extend the Washington Metro Green Line to Fort Meade. This would be big news for Baltimore and even bigger for Howard and Anne Arundel counties.

Currently, the Washington Metro comes no closer to Baltimore than Greenbelt -- a destination that's difficult to reach on weekday mornings without slogging through fierce congestion on Interstate 95 and the Capital Beltway.

The proposal being batted around in Prince George's would take the Green Line as far north as Route 32 near Savage before it  would curve east toward Fort Meade and Odenton. That would make it a lot easier to get to Washington via Metro without getting mixed up in traffic jams.

The one thing that's striking about the proposal is how close it would come to Baltimore's light rail system without actually linking up to it. That is something that may need to be addressed jointly by the Maryland Transit Administration and WMATA. A robust, seven-day-a-week connection between the cities would be a tremendous advance for car-free mobility in the region. At the very least, as an interim measure if the MTA lags, it could allow the B30 bus from BWI to run much more frequent connections to the Metro by terminating at the nearest Green Line station.

A wild card in this plan would be how it would affect service on the MARC Camden Line. Is it possible the Green Line and Camden Line could meet at Savage or Laurel on weekends or off-peak times? That could be an even faster connection than light rail.

Fascinating possibilities. We should all live long enough to see what results.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:41 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: WMATA/D.C. Metro
        

Gazette weighs in on ICC tolls

Somewhat belatedly I came across this Sept. 30 editorial  in The Gazette of Montgomery County on the proposed tolls for the Intercounty Connector.

On the one hand, it's a hoot because the Gazette was an unabashed cheerleader for the ICC during the long debate over whether to build it. Yet, in the editorial, it seems to have just awakened to the realization that the state plans to finance it with tolls that would rise periodically to prevent congestion. That has only been public knowledge since 2003, when the Ehrlich administration first floated the idea.

On the other hand, this is a wake-up call that some folks in Montgomery are trying to renegotiate the terms of what should be a done deal. The financing package for the ICC was wrapped up and given the tacit approval of the General Assembly back in 2004-2005. The idea then and now was that users of the ICC would foot a large chunk of the bill. All parties to the deal knew then that the ICC would be an expensive ride. The only question was how much.

The question the Maryland Transportation Authority has to ask is where it will get the revenue to pay off the bonds if it overrules its consultant and grants toll relief to ICC users for purely political reasons. The danger for the Baltimore area is that it would begin looking toward other toll facilities to make up the difference. Those facilities are concentrated in the Baltimore region and are already being milked to help build the ICC.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:06 PM |
Categories: On the roads
        

State delays fines for speed camera tickets

Maryland is giving drivers who get caught by speed cameras going too fast in work zones at least  two more weeks to clean up their act before they face $40 fines.

The State Highway Administration, Maryland Transportation Authority and the Maryland State Police said they are extending the one-month grace period  that began when the state's new speed camera law took effect Oct. 1. According to the highway administration, more than 900 warnings have gone out to drivers who were exceeding the speed  limit in work zones by at least 12 mph.

"We are extending the warning phase because our goal isn't to 'catch' speeders, but to give citizens an opportunity to change dangerous driving behaviors" before the State Police and Transportation Authority Police begin issuing tickets, said state Highway Administrator Neil J. Pedersen.

SHA spokeswoman Valerie Burnette Edgar said that the warning period was extended because it took about two weeks after Oct. 1 for the first warnings to be processed  and sent out. She said officials wanted to make sure motorists had fair warning before sending out actual citations.

The extended warning period applies to work zones only and not to  violations  detected by speed cameras in school  zones.

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:58 PM |
Categories: On the roads
        

Barve protests ICC toll plan

 

Sun photo                     

Del. Kumar Barve, a Montgomery County Democrat, is one of the smartest (and funniest) members of the House of Delegates. Largely for that reason, Speaker Michael E. Busch chose him to be majority leader of the House of Delegates.

Barve is also a fierce advocate on behalf of his constituents in the Gaithersburg area and has been a consistent advocate of building the Intercounty Connector. Now, with that road closing in on the opening of its first phase next year, Barve has weighed in on the Maryland Transportation Authority's proposed toll rates. He sent me a copy of his recent testimony on those rates at a public hearing in Gaithersburg. For reasons, I'll state below, I think he's way off base. But first let's give the delegate his say:

For the record: I am Delegate Kumar Barve.  I represent Gaithersburg, Garrett Park and Rockville, Maryland.  I serve as the Majority Leader of the Maryland House of Delegates, but more importantly, I am the Chairman of the Revenue Subcommittee of the Ways & Means Committee.  This is important because state tax and transportation policy is under the jurisdiction of that committee.  It is about a major matter of undebated public policy that I wish to discuss.
 

The state of Maryland has many toll financed transportation facilities, but to my knowledge none of them employ variable pricing.   In my opinion, none of the primary factors that would justify charging higher tolls during rush hour exist with respect to the Intercounty Connector.
 
Stated simply, I am highly inclined to oppose any scheme that would allow for higher tolls during morning and evening rush hour.  I say highly inclined because, as I have said, the issue really has not been debated openly and exhaustively in the state legislature.  The former Secretary of Transportation did provide two very brief statements on the matter, but nothing approaching the kind of comprehensive analysis that would be required for any other major shift in public policy.
 
 
Congestion pricing or time variable pricing is intended as a means to moderate and accommodate the surge of demand that takes place during morning and evening commutes.  The ICC is probably the most inappropriate road upon which to use this tool.
 
Proponents argue that this kind of pricing will promote flex time, telecommuting and transit usage.  But for many ICC patrons, these will not be realistic alternatives.  Flex time really is not available to most employees, and even companies that have it tend to look down upon its use.  Telecommuting is fine for professional workers, but what about blue collar and working class employees?  And, of course, there is no transit alternative to the ICC precisely because the ICC is a suburb to suburb connector.
 
Heightened rush hour pricing does exist in the Metro system, but that is justified by the need to purchase additional buses and subway cars to handle rush hour loads.  No similar argument can be made in this instance.
 
In fact, to the contrary, it would seem to me that all drivers of the ICC receive a nearly identical benefit, which would justify a uniform toll.
 
The only alternative drivers will have will be either to wake up at 5:00 AM or continue to use the back roads -- the very same roads we want drivers to leave to local traffic.
 
Now, perhaps there are compelling reasons to justify higher tolls for people driving to work.  But in my view they have not yet been made.
 
It is my hope that the department defer any decision to implement variable pricing until the legislture meets in January.  It is my hope that you move forward with a toll that is uniform as to time of day and reasonable as to cost.  If, later on you are able to make a convincing case for variable pricing, you would of course be at liberty to implement it.
 
But, as of today, that case has not been made in the instance of the ICC.

So Barve is shocked, shocked that the state is planning to adopt a congestion pricing scheme for the ICC? The obvious question is where has he been since 2003, when The Sun first reported on the Ehrlich administration's plan to build the ICC as a toll road and use variable pricing to control congestiion.

For years, it was the opponents of the ICC who used the argument that tolls would be too high as a reason not to build the road. Proponents, anong them Barve, generally ignored those arguments. Now it turns out the ICC foes were underestimating the toll levels the state would charge. Suddenly ICC proponents are discovering philosophical objections to congestion pricing they never knew  they had. (For the record, congestion pricing is by definition a  scheme that prices less affluent or more frugal drivers onto the back roads.)

Years ago, before the ICC financing plan was in place, would have been a great time to have had a debate on whether congestion pricing was a good idea. A case could have been made that it made more sense to let the highway carry all the traffic that could bear -- even if it got clogged up from time to time. But then Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan made an articulate, well-reasoned  case for a congestion-free ICC, and hardly anyone raised a voice to dispute him. Sorry, but that ship has sailed.

If there's anything surprising about  the authority's proposed toll plan, it's that there aren't more pricing levels. I would have thought it made more sense to have a peak, an off-peak and a midday toll. Maybe somewhere down the road, that'll happen.

UPDATE: A reader wrote in to point out that Maryland Politics Watch reported that Barve was a signer of a letter in July supporting the construction of express toll lanes to widen Interstate 270. That seems at odds with the delegate's statement that he is "highly inclined to oppose any scheme that would allow for higher tolls during morning and evening rush hour." Express toll lanes are by definition priced to reflect peak-time demand. Otherwise, nobody would use them.

Unfortunately, the gentleman from Montgomery County is on vacation and out of touch via email, but I hope he will get in touch when he returns so we can schedule a Barve vs. Barve debate.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:34 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads
        

ICC tidbit: 20 percent will beat tolls without E-ZPass?

Those of you who have been following the never-ending saga of the Intercounty Connector probably know already that it will open as a toll road without toll booths. Money will be collected either through E-ZPass or by photographing motorists' license plates and sending them a bill.

But here's an interesting tidbit from the consultant's study used by the Maryland Transportation Authority to guide its decision on where to set toll levels: one in five of those who use the ICC without E-ZPass are expected  to be deadbeats.

That's right. Wilbur Smith Associates has adjusted its revenue projections downward to account for "leakage" because  of toll evasion or otherwise uncollectable tolls, It puts the level of leakage for video toll collections at 20 percent, compared with 2 percent of E-ZPass users. That may explain why the ICC bills are expected to include a $3 fee to defray the cost of collecting the toll. Besides encouraging the use of E-ZPass, it may be needed to plug some of that leakage.

 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:08 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads
        

8 Montgomery lawmakers question all-transit plan

Eight Montgomery county legislators have signed a letter to the County Council questioning an all-transit plan for improving traffic flow in the Interstate 270 corridor. Maryland Politics Watch reports.

To put that in context, there are 32 Montgomery County senators and delegates, so the group organized by Sen. Rob Garagiola makes up one-quarter of the delegation. They also favor light rail as the mode of travel for the proposed Corridor Cities Transitway, which would connect communities in the I-270 corriidor.

MPW does a good job of describing the muddled stance taken bby some Montgomery legislators, some of whom favor the all-transit plan proposed by Action Committee for Transit except when they oppose it.

This would be just another arcane dispute within Montgomery if it weren't for the fact they're wrangling over the fate of a plan to spend $4.6 billion to add two express toll lanes in each direction on I-270 -- a dubious proposition on environmental, fiscal and geographical equity grounds.

The Montgomery delegation is fragmenting over tthe plan largely because some of its members are skeptical of the notion that building ever-wider highways is the solution to traffic congestion problems. There's also a  split between down-county lawmakers, whose constituents would get limited use of the increased road capacity, and up-county legislators whose constituents are stuck  in I-270's legendary backups.

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:47 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads
        
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About Michael Dresser
Michael Dresser has been an editor, reporter and columnist with The Sun longer than Baltimore's had a subway. He's covered retailing, telecommunications, state politics and wine. Since 2004, he's been The Sun's transportation writer. He lives in Ellicott City with his wife and travel companion, Cindy.

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