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June 30, 2011

Survey: Two-thirds in region want red light cameras

A survey by a prominent highway safety group shows two-thirds support for the use of red light cameras in Baltimore and 13 other large U.S. cities, indicating the public believes study findings that the devices reduce auto fatalities.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said its survey shows that 67 percent of respondents in Baltimore  support the use of the camera -- a percentage that is in line with the national average.

Other cities in the survey ranged from 78 percent support in Washington to 48 percent favorable in Long Beach, Calif. The survey did not address public acceptance of speed camera.


The institute contends the survey shows that opponents of the red light cameras, while vocal, make up a minority of the driving population. According to the group, another of its studies showed a 24 percent reduction in fatal crashes in the same cities since the introduction of the technology.

“Most drivers don’t buy the argument that it’s somehow wrong to enforce the law just because you’re using a camera to do it,” says Anne McCartt, the Institute’s senior vice president for research. “They understand that this technology is preventing crashes in their cities.”

The survey found that nine in 10 drivers call red-light-running unacceptable, and eight of 10 consider the  practice a threat to their own personal safety.

The institute said the survey found that about one-quarter of the respondents firmly oppose use of the cameras. It said the most common reasons given -- by 26 percent each -- were that cameras make mistakes and that they are installed to raise government revenue rather than to improve safety.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:34 AM | | Comments (14)
Categories: On the roads

June 29, 2011

Delaware Toll Plaza bottleneck uncorked?

Could this be the end of the infamous Delaware bottleneck?

Teri Moss, spokeswoman for the Maryland Transportation Authority, was kind enough to pass on the news that Delaware officials have announced that the expansion project at the Newark Toll Plaza is expected to be complete and fully operational this Fourth of July weekend. According to the Delaware Department of Transportation, its contractor on the $32.6 million expansion project completed work a month ahead of schedule, allowing it to open all lanes in time for the weekend. Among other things, the project will ad E-ZPass lanes that drivers can use at highway speeds.

For years, the Delaware Toll Plaza has been the most infamous bottleneck on the Interstate 95 corridor -- routinely backing up for miles on holiday weekends. In some cases, drivers have been forced to wait more than an hour for the privilege of paying one of the highest per-mile tolls on the planet.

The $4 toll for a passenger car and the prospect of long delays have inspired many drivers to seek toll-free and faster bypass routes.

Moss said Marylanders could be among the beneficiaries of its neighboring state's work.

"This is good news for motorists heading out of Maryland on I-95 this weekend - and I-95 to Route 1 in Delaware should again be a viable route for residents north of Baltimore heading to Maryland and Delaware beach resorts," Moss said.

Drivers with vivid memories of the Delaware Toll Plaza or reactions to the news are enncouraged to contact as we continue to cover these developments.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:37 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: On the roads

MTA responds to TRAC on Red Line tunnels

Nate Payer, a spokesman for the Transit Riders Action Council of Metropolitan Baltimore, raised questions about the Maryland Transit Administration's plans to tunnel under certain neighborhoods along the proposed Red Line Route, suggesting that the construction could damage historic structures on the surface.

Here, at Getting There's request, is the MTA's response from Henry Kay, executive director for transit development and delivery:

Based on the limited amount of design we have done, the top of the Red Line tunnels proposed through the Downtown area will be approximately 40 to 50 feet below the street surface.  The bottom of the tunnel is another 20 feet down, or approximately 60 to 70 feet below the surface.  The depth of the tunnels is determined by the need to avoid impacts to existing structures and foundations.  Ground conditions vary greatly along the three-mile downtown tunnel, but we expect a mixture of rock and soft ground with a high water table.  Tunneling technology has significantly advanced since the Metro Subway construction which will further reducing construction-related impacts.  Noise and vibration from operation of the Red Line will be mitigated through the design of the track inside the tunnel.  As the tunnel design work gets underway we will be looking for ways to further minimize the possibility of surface impacts such as depth and alignment changes.

Portions of the existing Metro Subway tunnel through Downtown are at a similar depth to the Red Line and were successfully constructed through comparable soil conditions under buildings of similar construction.  Another nearby example of tunneling under similar conditions is in Washington where portions of the Metrorail tunnels were constructed in very similar depth and subsurface conditions.  The deep sections between State Center and Mondawmin were due to the need to avoid the existing CSX and Amtrak tunnels and accommodate the rapid rise in ground elevation as you move to the northwest rather than any concerns about impacts to structures.

In response to a question from Getting There, MTA spokesman Terry Owens clarified that Kay's reference to a downtown tunnel in fact encompasses the entire 3-mile segment including parts under Fells Point and Canton.

TRAC's concerns are noted, but it is unclear that the group has the engineering expertise to make its case. It isn't enough to show the Red Line faces engineering problems -- all projects of its scope do. TRAC needs to show there are problems no amount of engineering can't solve. And engineers tend to be pretty good problem-solvers.

Of course, the MTA had better show that any solutions it devises to engineering challenges pass muster with qualified outside experts. Residents of the neighborhoods in its path deserve that assurance before the first scoop of dirt is shoveled.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:27 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Red Line

June 28, 2011

TRAC questions MTA assertions about tunneling

The Transit Riders Action Council of Metropolitan Baltimore is disputing assertions from the Maryland Transit Administration about the hazards of tunneling under  Little Italy, Fells Point and Canton to build the proposed east-west Red Line.

Henry Kay, the MTA's executive director of transit development and delivery, minimized the possibility of damage to historic buildings in those neighborhoods in an interview for an article published Tuesday in The Sun. He said the tunnel depth of the Red Line would be 40-50 feet deep, or comparable to the existing Baltimore Metro and that there should be no problems with noise or vibration on the surface.

Nate Payer, spokesman for TRAC, delivered the following response:


I feel compelled to make note that most of the existing Metro Subway tunnel is significantly deep than 40 to 50 ft, esp. in W. Baltimore area. Mondawmin Station is at least 60 to 70 feet down and Penn North Station is something like 90 feet under. Also of even more significant note: The Metro tunnel, at least west (or north) of State Center is bored through hard bedrock.

 This is most certainly not the case for the proposed Red Line where most if not all of the greater downtown area tunnel would be on soft, unconsolidated earth of sand, silt, and clay. Tunneling through soft earth is more problematic and more difficult due to the inherent instability the material surrounding the tunnel bore. This is all well documented. In my research, I've yet to find a similar project in the US where a soft earth tunnel was bored so close to the surface with historic row houses or like above it as in the case where the tunnel is planned to pass under in Little Italy and a few shorter segments in Fells Point and Canton. (Maybe the MTA knows one.)

It should be pointed out that TRAC opposes the Red Line for reasons that have nothing to do with tunneling and everything to do with the group's preference for a heavy rail subway along a different route.  Nevertheless, Payer's points deserve a response from the MTA. Clearly there is a difference between 40-50 feet down and 60-90 feet down.

We've asked for an MTA response and hope to pass it along soon.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:41 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Red Line

June 27, 2011

Toll authority turns customer into a violator

Using E-ZPass is supposed to be a matter of individual choice, not coercion, but there are times when the Maryland Transportation Authority seems to forget that.

Charles Schelle, social media editor at Patuxent Publishing Co., shared this account of his dealings with the authority after taking a trip on the Intercounty Connector without an E-ZPass. When you reach the end, you will see that this story has a happy ending:


On April 29 I used the ICC from Georgia Avenue to Shady Grove to get to 270 to make my way home to Hagerstown. I don’t have the E-Z Pass transponder because I don’t use tollroads enough for the monthly fee to make sense to me, so I willingly used the booth-free highway and would gladly accept a letter in the mail to tell me what I owe since that’s what the state had promoted.

I received the letter (which I’m not a fan of it saying that it was a violation in the letter and on the website. Should have an alternate one and rules for the ICC) and went to the website to make my payment.

I entered my license plate number and it also asks for a Violation Number. The example: “Example: T080800368609 (do not include dashes or numbers after the dash).”

Well I have a transaction number on my bill, an account number and a notice number but no violation number. My transaction number is V000898692009 and I entered that in and no dice. I gave up because I thought the system was down.

Well a couple weeks later (yes, you could see how eager I was to pay the $3.60) I try to pay again and it wasn’t working. Now, I had used the ICC before on March 9 and that transaction number is also listed as T081114045884 and I thought that’s what I entered when I successfully paid that toll, and it looks exactly like that example.

So it dawned on me maybe I should try this Notice Number which is T081101493855 and looks just like the transaction number. Not so magically, it works, and I’m in.

Here’s the kicker though. Once I’m on that payment page it says my violation number is V000898692009 — what I originally entered.

Well now I have to pay $28.60 because I was late. I didn’t immediately pay it and still haven’t somewhat out of spite.

Sure, I could have paid it through the mail or over the phone, but the option I wanted was online because it was best for me. It seems like the state has to do a better job of telling people how to pay a bill if they are giving the online option. Banks would take a serious by folks hit if this is how someone had to make a credit card payment. I don’t even know if this could be legally challenged, but at the least, it’s a customer service issue.

Now this is really dumb. It is not a violation of anything to use the ICC without an E-ZPass. It's a legitimate way to pay -- fully sanctioned by the state. So it shouldn't be using the word "violation" when it bills people for ICC tolls. It doesn't matter if it's easier to use the same form you use for E-ZPass lane violators. It's just insulting.

Fortunately, the toll authority agreed. Spokeswoman Kelly Melhem provided the following response:

You are correct. It is a perfectly legit way to pay on the ICC, as well as at our other facilities. Hence the new Video Toll rates in the tolling proposal. I am not aware of any ongoing issues with the E-ZPass MD web site.

We are transitioning away from the “violations” language and apologize for the confusion Mr. Schelle experienced when paying his Notice of Toll Due online. MDTA recently improved its Notice of Toll Due statement for all facilities to remove references to violations and help the customer more easily identify current and outstanding unpaid toll transactions and the total amount due.

Now we are in the process of updating the E-ZPass MD web site to reflect the same. Currently, the violation number referenced on the web is the same as the transaction number on the Notice of Toll Due.

A member of our E-ZPass Operations Team will be contacting Mr. Schelle to answer any questions he has about making an on-line payment and notify him that we will refund the $25 late fee he paid. If he encounters any difficulty in making future on-line payments, we encourage him to contact the Customer Service Center at 1-888-321-6824 to help him rectify the issue asap.


The authority's response, to me seems quite reasonable and admirably free of the reflexive defensiveness you see from many government agencies. The new toll-due notice is an improvement, though it would still be better to have a separate and more customer-friendly form for the ICC without the one-size fits-all wording. It might even say "thank you for using our toll road."

This incident does underscore that it is becoming increasingly counterproductive to remain an E-ZPass holdout. The fare increase proposal now pending includes a 10 percent discount for E-ZPass users. Later this year, that will mean all its takes is three round-trips to offset the $1.50-a-month service fee. Come 2013, it would only take two trips. Plus, you save on the hassle of dealing with a bill if you do use the ICC. On top of that, there's the pleasure of whizzing through a toll plaza while others line up to pay in cash. That's what it's really all about.




Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:46 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities

June 24, 2011

AAA chief calls for expedited air travel security

The chief executive of AAA Mid-Atlantic is urging U.S. officials to rethink their approach to air traffic security and shift their emphasis from airport screenings to prior screening of passengers. In an article in AAA's magazine,

Regional AAA President Donald Gagnon urged an expansion of the Transportation Security Administration's Trusted Traveler Program, under which the agency gather information about ticket-holders before they even get to the airport. 

 “At AAA Mid-Atlantic, we know that job one is keeping all flyers safe, but wouldn’t it be nice if we could do that while actually restoring some of the pleasure to the airport and flying experience?” Gagnon wrote.


Gagnon's recommendations are far from a full-throated call for the dismantling of current screening procedures. But he does provide support for those who advocate a more targeted approach to screening.


AAA noted that the head of TSA, John S. Pistole, has indicated a willingness to consider a more risk-based system than the current approach of screening everyone -- either electronically or with pat-down.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:50 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Air travel

State buys high, sells low on transponders

The Maryland Transportation Authority has reached an agreement to buy approximately 160,000 E-ZPass transponders to meet the needs of the system over the next year.

The agreement calls for the state to pay an amount that won't exceed $3.5 million for the devices, supplied by Kapsch Trafficcom of Mississagua, Ontario. The contract is on the Board of Public Works agenda for July 6.

If Maryland pays the full price for 160,000 transponders, that would come to $21.875 each. Since the authority charges $21 per transponder, that would appear to be a bargain of sorts.

The authority says it issues about 160,000 of the devices a year but expects that total to rise with the full opening of the Intercounty Connector late this year or early in 2012. (It's partially open now.)

Of course, the authority is also proposing to give a 10 percent discount to E-ZPass users as part of its toll increase plan. Maybe 160,000 won't be enough.

According to the agenda, the E-ZPass Group -- made up of the 38 states and toll agencies that make up the network -- is currently in the process of soliciting an entirely new bid for a contract to replace the existing agreement that expires Aug. 16. But because the group has had an influx of new members, it plans to extend the existing agreement by a year.

Maybe after that, the expanded group can negotiate a volume discount that will bring the price per transponder down. One can only hope.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:13 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities

MTA replies to web site objections

The Maryland Transit Administration has provided Gettting There with a response to recent criticism of the redesign of its web site:

We appreciate the input on the new website. A lot of hard work has gone into improving the site, and over time we are convinced users will benefit from the many enhancements.

We also knew there would be opportunities for improvement once our customers had a chance to weigh in. Constructive criticism is always good. We value it. The web site is very much a work in progress. We look forward to making additional improvements based on input from our staff and our customers.  Thanks also to Mr. Guroian for weighing in. We identified the problem with the MARC Riders link.  It is now resolved.

As with any new website built from scratch there will be some issues. We appreciate the patience of our customers as we work through them.

Terry Owens
MTA Media Relations 

You read it here, folks. The MTA values your input. So feel free to weigh in with helpful feedback, Maybe the MTA can come up with a solution that combines the usefulness of the old site with the design values of the new one.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:38 PM | | Comments (1)

MARC riders' group rejects new MTA web site

The negative reactions to the Maryland Transit Administration's new web site design just keep coming in -- and not just from professional malcontents.

The following criticque comes from Rafi Guroian, chairman of the MARC Riders Advisory Council and an eminently reasonable person. The MTA ought to be listening.

I strongly echo the poster's criticism of the new site. For MARC riders, it's a big step backwards, and I say this as a computer professional who deals on a daily basis with users who resist change even though it's necessary. In this case, it's a step beyond not liking something new.

The commenter basically took the words out of my mouth, but I would add this for context. At the MARC Riders Advisory Council, we were told that the updated website was coming down the pike, and we repeatedly voiced our desire to have an input on how the MARC information was presented and how our Council's information page was presented on the new site. The MTA staff we work with does a fantastic job, and they forwarded that request to the web team. All of a sudden, the new site comes out.

The MARC Riders Advisory Council was not given a single opportunity to volunteer feedback on the preliminary design, and to add insult to injury, our Council page has been reduced to a three-sentence generic boilerplate statement with no information on how to attend meetings, when/where they are held, or how to become a council member.

We are not happy.

Getting There is seeking a reaction from MTA Administrator Ralign T. Wells. We'll pass on anything new.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:18 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: MARC train, MTA

Rare bidding tie favors minority firm

A contract bidding process for a maintenance and repair contract with the MARC commuter rail system produced an unusual tie that was resolved by giving the job to the minority-controlled firm.

According to the agenda for the July 6 Board of Public Works meeting, two firms tied for the low bid on the more than $5 million contact while another came within $80.  The work consists of maintaining the grounds, fixing public address systems and making repairs to stations on the Penn, Camden and Brunswick lines.

M. Stancliff Construction Co. of Seabrook and Denver-Elek Inc. of Baltimore submitted identical bids of $5,076,200, according to the Maryland Transit Administration. Mercier's Inc. of Harmans offered to do the work for $5,076,280. Two other bidders were higher.

The contract has been awarded to Stancliff because it is a certified "disadvantaged business enterprise" -- a tie-breaker under state procurement regulations.

There's nothing obviously wrong about the award. It's just notable for how close it was. The winning bid came in under the MTA engineer's estimate of $5.4 million, so it looks as if the state got a decent price.

If there's anything more to this story, please contact Getting There at




Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:50 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MTA

June 23, 2011

Reader nails it on MTA's failed new web site

This was posted as a comment on this blog, but I thought it deserved promotion as a full-fledged item unto itself.

The writer, who goes by the handle of Bill, explains the issues much better then I could. Are you reading, Ralign Wells?

"While the MTA is to be commended for bring their website into the new millennium, clearly they were more concerned with style over substance. The one positive thing they've done is remove Flash from the home page, which will make mobile users extremely happy. And that's where the happiness ends. "

To Mr Owens, NO this is not about not liking something new, it's about good web design.

"They moved the most important information (service status) from the top of the page, to the lower left corner -- a clear no-no in web design (and I know, I'm in that business). You want the important information to display as quickly as possible, the top of the page is the best place for that, so users don't have to wait for the entire page to load.


"Regarding schedules, here's how you get a MARC schedule: Go to MTA home page, open the Getting Around menu, hover over 'Services', and click MARC. But wait, still no schedules. Now you have to select a MARC line from a drop list and click the search button. The page updates, but wait, there's still no schedule. You have to click 'downloadable schedule' and get a PDF, or the 'Morning'/'Evening' links to see HTML versions. The HTML versions pop-up in a lovely AJAX window, making it impossible to set a bookmark that takes you directly to the HTML version of schedule of your choice. Setting a bookmark for schedules is EXTREMELY handy for folks who want to check schedules on a mobile device. PDF is nice, but on a mobile device, it's much faster to keep everything in HTML. I was able to deciper the HTML and figure out the URL I needed for a bookmark, but the average user won't be able to do that.

"I shudder to think how much of our money was wasted on this web site design, which as near as I can tell, wasn't actually tested or evaluated by anybody that actually uses it on a regular basis. Somebody got swept up by the Web 2.0-ness of it all, and completely forgot about convenience and usability.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:50 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: MTA

Grand Prix area closings move to Charles. Pratt

The next step in the series of road closings in the area of the Labor Day weekend's Grand PPrix race will come next week on Charles and Pratt streets.

The Baltimore Department of Transportation said Charles will be closed between Conway and Pratt streets sttarting at 5 a.m. Monday for roadway construction. The work is expected to continue for about two weeks, during which left turns from Pratt onto Charles will be prohibited.

Meanwhile, two lanes of Pratt Street will be closed between Hopkins Place and Calvert Strreet for the next two weeks. Those closings, which had been suspended this week, will resume at 6 a.m. Monday.

The department warned that motorists can expect delays.

Drivers have been coping with many delays in the section of downtown between Camden Yards and the Inner Harbor over the last few months as the city and BGE have rushed to complete projects in advance of the Indy car race.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:18 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

MTA's new web site gets thumbs down

The Maryland Transit Administration has long had many things that desperately need fixing. (See the previous item.) But one of the things about the MTA that worked was its web site, with clear information on each of its transit modes up at the top where information could easily be found.

So guess what the MTA chose to fix? Here's what Sam Freedman of Baltimore had to say about it:

MTA has redesigned their website. They did a horrid job. There is now no marc schedule information whatsoever available online. I'm on the 419 headed to union station and I have no idea what time we are due in. Also, something seems to have happened to all the pdf files for the local bus routes.

I checked it out, and I agree with Freedman. It's not that schedule information isn't there, it's just that you need a bloodhound to find anything. Things that one could easily find with a few clicks now seem to take a trip through a maze. Alerts are far less conspicuous. It looks like a case of designers running amok.

MTA spokesman Terry Owens said our reaction may be a case of instinctive rejection of anything new. Maybe. But my guess is that Freedman will continue to dislike the new format a week, a month and a year from now. And I suspect I'll still agree.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:33 PM | | Comments (13)
Categories: MTA

Why can't light rail handle big night events?

Every time there's a major night event downtown, it seems the Maryland Transit Administration and civic leaders urge people to use rail transit to get there and get home.

Maybe that's working on the Metro. Seldom does Getting There hear complaints from that system. But the light rail system is a different story. Any time there's a big night event -- such as Wednesday's U2 concert at M&T Bank Stadium -- and we start getting emails like this from Sarah LW:

A tip - MTA has once again dropped the ball.  I'm standing on the light
rail northbound platform outside of M&T Bank stadium, still waiting to
board a train, with hundreds of other concertgoers.  There was one
northbound train shortly after 11:00 pm, and one right before midnight.
 Southbound service fared slightly better, though there are still people
waiting there as well.

Given that the MTA promoted their service, and that a crowd of 70,000
people was expected at the concert, it would be useful to ask them why
they didn't have more trains waiting, and/or provide more trains in a
timely manner.  Completely unacceptable.

Sarah said she finally boarded a train heading north about 12:24 p.m. Other readers reported similar experiences.

This is nothing new. The light rail system consistently has problems after big events, even when the MTA says it is adding cars to the system -- as it did last night.

This isn't necessarily a matter of MTA operational incompetence, though that can't be ruled out as a contributing factor. Some of the light rail system's problems go back to its original design. The Baltimore light rail line is a monument to the folly of building infrastructure on the cheap.

Terry Owens, a spokesman for the MTA, said the agency threw every piece of equipment it had into getting people to and from the concert, which  was scheduled to end by 11 p.m.. It ran three-car trains instead of the usual two cars. But at exactly the worst possible time, 11:10 p.m., a northbound train out of BWI developed a mechanical problem. Owens said the next northbound train couldn't depart until 11:30.

 The spokesman said the MTA ran an extra train around midnight and had cleared the platforms by 12:33 p.m. That means the least lucky concert-goers may have had an hour and a half wait after the event ended. One can only hope they stopped at the rest room before leaving the stadium.

Some common sense has to be applied here. Anyone who expects to get out of a jam-packed stadium and to stroll onto the first train that arrives and then to get a prime seat is near-delusional.

"When you're talking about a crowd of 80,000 people, it's going to take some time to clear out such a load," Owens said.

Absolutely true. And it should be noted that people who drove didn't necessarily get out of the stadium parking lots without a wait.

But nearly 16 hours later, Owens didn't know and couldn't find out how the light rail performed when compared with the parking lots. That isn't his fault. The MTA should be monitoring its performance against other modes of transportation. Otherwise it doesn't understand its own product.

Owens said the MTA sent out email alerts about its mechanical problem at 11:43 p.m. But that's both late and insufficient for a crowd including many infrequent users who aren't signed up for the alerts.

The MTA ought to rely on a secondary communications method -- a real MTA employee at the platform giving accurate updates -- on big-event nights. And it needs to educate transit users about what it considers realistic expectations.  Then people can decide whether its services are  right for them.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:08 PM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Light rail

June 22, 2011

Concert traffic easing, but real test comes afterward

Downtown traffic, swollen by a 7 p.m. U2 concert at M&T Bank Stadium, was starting to ease as the event reached its scheduled starting time.

 Baltimore Department of Transportation Department spokeswoman Kathy Chopper said traffic was still congested, with backups on Russell street as well as on Lombard, St. Paul and Light streets, but starting to slack off.

Concert-goers may have eased the pain by spreading out their arrival times. Many fans arrived at the stadium hours in advance.

The real test will likely come when the concert ends about 11 p.m. and 75,000-80,000 all try to get home at once. That's more people than the typical crowd for a Ravens game, and football fans know what the traffic can be like after Monday night football.

Here's betting a lot  of folks miss their usual bedtime tonight.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:06 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

Downtown traffic not too bad, city says

As of about 5:30 p.m. the expected traffic congestion from the influx of U2 fans to M&T Bank Stadium wasn't looking too bad, according to the Baltimore Department of Transportation.

Department spokeswoman Kathy Chopper said some backups were developing on St. Paul and Light streets but added that there was "nothing too crazy because of the concert."

As of 6:10 p.m., Navteq's maps were showing no backups onto Interstate 95 or Maryland RRoute 295 as a result of inbound Baltimore traffic.

Some 75,000-80,000 people are expected to attend the 7 p.m. concert.

UPDATE: At 5:50 p.m., Chopper reported that traffic was backed up on Lombard Street between President and Light. That's not unusual for the time of day.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:40 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads

So far, so good on downtown traffic

While serious congestion is expected downtown this evening as a result of the U2 concert at M&T Bank Stadium, traffic was still flowing normally as of about 3:55 p.m., according to the Baltimore Department of Transportation.

But don't count on that lasting too long.

The city is warning drivers they could face significant delays Wednesday afternoon and evening as an estimated 75,000-80,000 people flock to the Ravens' stadium for the concert.

The event starts at 7 p.m., but its traffic effects are expected to begin well before that. Commuters may want to seek out alternate routes or change their departure times to avoid the congestion.

The partnership also noted that light rail and Metro service is expected to continue for about an hour after the concert's scheduled end at 11 p.m. The Maryland Transit Administration said it would add capacity to both systems to help accommodate the expected throng of riders.

The partnership is warning that the traffic problems may not end with the concert. It says motorists can also expect a high level of activity around the Convention Center later this week. It is urging drivers to use transit and avoid peak hours.

Getting There recommends that commuters who normally use Lombard and Pratt streets to get through downtown at the evening peak switch to Franklin and Mulberry instead. Because Martin Luther King Boulevard is likely to be affected, southbound travelers might be better off taking Franklin (U.S. 40) to Caton Avenue and turning left there to get to Interstate 95.

Workers in Harbor East and Fell Point who are heading south should consider using Boston Street to reach the Fort McHenry Tunnel via Clinton Street and Keith Avenue.

Kathy Chopper, a spokeswoman for the city transportation department, urged drivers who do not have stadium parking passes to use downtown parking garages and surface lots instead of seeking spaces in residential neighborhoods. She said most residential areas around the stadium have parking restrictions and warned that non-residents who park in those areas could be ticketed or towed.

Chopper said traffic should be helped by the absence of lane closings in the area. She said work on Pratt Street connected with the Labor Day Weekend Grand Prix race has been suspended this week and that all lanes of Conway Street should be open.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:46 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads

Nicodemus Road bridge to reopen Friday

A new bridge carrying Nicodemus Road over Liberty Reservoir between Baltimore and Carroll counties will open to traffic after almost two years under construction, the Baltimore Department of Transportation has announced.

The department, which maintains the bridge because it falls within the city-owned reservoir system, said the concrete replacement bridge is scheduled to open to vehicles and pedestrians about 3. p.m. Friday. The new two-lane bridge, with a sidewalk, is 552-feet long and passes over water as deep as 90 feet. (The city had earlier said the bridge would open Monday.)

The city began the $8.2 million replacement project in October 2009 with the demolition of the old bridge, which had been built in 1952. That section of Nicodemus Road remained closed during the project, and motorists had to use detours.

The new bridge includes sidewalks, safety fencing, ornamental railings and rebuilt approaches, the city said. The city Department of Public Works said that when the bridge opens, people will once again be permitted to fish from the bridge and to take boats under the bridge to reach upstream areas of the reservoir – activities that were not allowed during construction.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:22 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

Driver sounds off about Baltimore traffic flow

Getting There receives many complaints about traffic in Baltimore -- particularly the synchronization of lights. But Donna Aldridge of Baltimore dis a particularly good job of summing up the headaches.

 Here's what she had to say:

I have lived in Baltimore for about 9 years now and I don’t understand the traffic flow in Baltimore City.  I am thinking it is something the local folks understand. I do not.

The traffic moves much slower than most cities.  People drive slower in the left lane, don’t use turn signals and constantly talk on their cell phones. 

I understand there are bad drivers in most cities, but why so many in Baltimore?  OK, not your problem.

But the traffic lights contribute to the slow traffic.  The timing on a lot of the lights are so long that I have to be creative getting through town to avoid certain intersections.  I learned that people in Baltimore are creatures of habit.  They go to work one way, everyday.  I don’t think people even try another route or don’t know another route.  Baltimore is a big city.  I find myself the only car on other streets going downtown to avoid the most travelled routes because the lights are so long.

One is University Parkway and St Paul Sts.  That light has to be about 3 minutes long.  The morning traffic flow on St Paul is not that heavy even in morning rush hour to keep people sitting for 3 minutes.  Then what happens is St Paul backs up and the next intersection (33rd street)   gets backed up and you have a big bottle neck when it doesn’t need to be.  I can’t tell you how many times I have missed my train at Penn Station because I got stuck at this light and subsequently, the traffic flow slows going down St Paul all the way to Penn Station, past Preston etc.  I think people sit so long at lights, it takes them awhile to remember they are driving to get going again.

Also Monument and Howard is about 3 minutes. Why ?  The light rail comes maybe once and you have to sit and wait for what,  traffic, there is none.  Even though the city has not developed as fast as it should, at least the traffic lights should align with the traffic flow or lack thereof.

Why can’t the lights be synched at maybe a minute and the traffic flow would be better?  It might interfere with cell phone conversations because now people have to pay attention.  The longer the light, the longer people talk on their cell phone.  I have seen this with my own eyes. Once the light turns green they forget they are driving and drive doing about 10 mph. 

Any insight you can give me would be much appreciated.

Thank you.

Donna Aldridge

I'll forward this email and see whether officials at the Baltimore Department of Transportation have anything to say about the traffic light issue. There's little the city can do about cell phone use as long as state law prevents the police from pulling over users for that infraction alone. As it stands, the motorists have to be committing some other offense for officers to make a stop.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:15 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: On the roads

Concert expected to bring traffic woes today

U2 could get caught in a downtown traffic jams.

The Downtown Partnership is warning drivers they could face significant delays Wednesday afternoon and evening as an estimated 75,000-80,000 people flock to the Ravens' stadium for a concert by U2.

The concert starts at 7 p.m., but its traffic effects are expected to begin hours before that. Commuters may want to seek out alternate routes or change their departure times to avoid the congestion.

The partnership also noted that light rail and Metro service is expected to continue for about an hour after the concert's scheduled end at 11 p.m. The Maryland Transit Administration said it would add capacity to both systems to help accommodate the expected throng of riders.


The partnership is warning that the traffic problems may not end with the concert. It says motorists can also expect a high level of activity around the Convention Center later this week. It is urging drivers to use transit and avoid peak hours.

Getting There recommends that commuters who normally use Lombard and Pratt streets to get through downtown at the evening peak switch to Franklin and Mulberry instead. Because Martin Luther King Boulevard is likely to be affected, southbound travelers might be better off taking Franklin (U.S. 40) to Caton Avenue and turning left there to get to Interstate 95.

Workers in Harbor East and Fell Point who are heading south should consider using Boston Street to reach the Fort McHenry Tunnel via Clinton Street and Keith Avenue.

Kathy Chopper, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore Department of Transportation, urged drivers who do not have stadium parking passes to use downtown parking garages and surface lots instead of seeking spaces in residential neighborhoods. She said most residential areas around the stadium have parking restrictions and warned that non-residents who park in those areas could be ticketed or towed.




Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:03 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: On the roads

June 21, 2011

Howard launches bike, pedestrian safety drive

Howard County has launched a campaign to protect pedestrians and bicyclists on its roads, but don't be surprised of some folks on foot or or bikes are made unhappy by the methods.

The campaign announced Tuesday by County Executive Ken Ulman and Police Chief William McMahon involves stepped-up ticketing of traffic violations by pedestrians and bicyclists as well as motorists. The program will focus on areas that have been identified as having a high number of pedestrian and bicycle crashes -- including Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia, U.S. 40 in Ellicott City and U.S. 1 in Elkridge and laurel.

Under the program, police will issue tickets to pedestrians who fail to use a crosswalk as well as to the drivers who fail to stop for pedestrians who are crossing them. Bicyclists can be written up for failing to obey signals, while drivers can be ticketed for failing to allow 3 feet of space when following a bicyclist.


The enforcement program will be backed by an advertising campaign using billboards, pamphlet distribution and television. County officials said they chose the target areas based on Maryland Department of Transportation records showing where collisions have been occurring.

According to the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, the region averages 1,700 pedestrian and 500 bicycle crashes a year, resulting in 52 deaths in a typical  year.

Judging by my email, this is the type of balanced law enforcement many Getting There readers would support. The Baltimore police, in particular, ought to adopt this approach and publicize it heavily. The city is now the Wild West here pedestrians and bicyclists are concerned.

Bicyclists, in particular, could use some reminders in the form of tickets. This column has always defended their right to use the road. But they should be held to the same standards as other users of the road. This is not an intrusion. It upholds the principle that nobody has a right to use the roads unsafely.




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

Comments function restored

For about a week now, comments have not been posted to the Getting There because of a technical glitch. We've been able to overcome that today and to catch up with a backlog of unposted comments.

Getting There apologizes to readers whose comments were not posted in a timely manner.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:39 PM | | Comments (0)

MTA replies to complaints about No. 27 bus route

Getting There reader Jed Weeks recently wrote to complain about service on the Maryland Transit Administration's No. 27 route -- gripes he shared with readers of this blog.

Weeks' constructive agitation brought a response from MTA spokesman Terry Owens. The gist of it, I thing, is that the MTA's going to try harder but isn't promising much. You judge:

Thanks for sharing the concerns of Mr. Jed Weeks regarding the #27 line. Because of his active involvement with our social media team we were aware of the issues raised in your column.

We have been able to document many of the problems he cited through monitoring of the line with our Service Quality team and that monitoring will continue until we are satisfied with the routes performance.

The #27 runs from Reisterstown Plaza Metro Subway Station through downtown to Port Covington.  It’s a long route that can pose challenges for our operators in meeting On Time Performance. However, no-shows are things we strive to avoid. As we work to improve our performance system wide we are constantly exploring ways to get the most out of our limited resources.

While we consider every route important we must put greater resources into the lines with the heaviest traffic. We have no plans for the #27 for the upcoming service change in July, however we are studying the line to determine if more trip time is needed to improve OTP. 

The MTA regrets any frustration Mr. Weeks or any of our customers have experienced, and hope that they will continue to engage us with their concerns.

Thanks for riding MTA.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:26 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: MTA bus system

June 15, 2011

Pedersen to retire as state highway chief

Neil J. Pedersen, the eight-year head of the State Highway Administration who oversaw the development and construction of the Intercounty Connector as well as hundreds of smaller road projects, announced Wednesday that he is stepping dowm.

Pedersen, 60, whose retirement as state highway administrator will be effective June 30, said he is stepping down for "personal reasons."

"my wife and I have a number of things that we would like to do but have not been able to while I have been SHA Adminsitrator," he wrote in a memo to the agency. "We also realize the importance of spending time with our families while we are able to do so."

Pedersen's retirement after 29 years with the system has not been widely expected. He was named head of the SHA by then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in 2003.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:30 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: On the roads

City seeks bids on two CSX bridge projects

At long last, Baltimore's Department of Transportation began seeking bids  from contractors Wednesday for the replacement of two deteriorating city bridges that take important roads over CSX tracks in the city.

Bids are due July 13 on contracts for the replacements of the aged CSX bridges on Sinclair Lane in Northeast Baltimore and Fort Avenue in Locust Point -- both of which have had severe structural deficiencies for many years.

The bid solicitation is a major step in a long process of negotiation, engineering and design that has encountered significant delays because of  the thorny issues raised by bridge replacements on heavily used city streets.

Jamie Kendrick, the city's deputy transportation director, said contracts for construction will be awarded in late July and -- barring a bid protest -- work will proceed in August.

"There ain't no stopping us now," he said.

Under a detailed construction agreement with CSX approved by the Board of Estimates Wednesday, the railroad will pay 75 percent of the cost of replacing the two bridges and the city will contribute 25 percent.  The city and CSX reached a general agreement in principle on the bridge replacements in 2009, but both projects have run into delays since then, Kendrick acknowledged.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake issued a statement hailing the approval of the detailed agreement on the city's and railroad's specific responsibilities for the projects.

“Today’s agreement represents a milestone in the renewed partnership between the City of Baltimore and CSXT,” the mayor said. “Working together with members of the community and business owners, we identified concerns and developed creative solutions to the challenges presented by the project.”

Kendrick said the Sinclair Lane project, which had been expected to start construction last year, had been held up by complex issues involving high-voltage lines in the bridge area. He said the Fort Avenue work, the start of which had been predicted for late 2010 or early this year, had been delayed to let BGE and the Department of Public Works complete utility work on the detour routes.

"There is no such thing as an easy bridge project," he said.




Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:17 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

June 14, 2011

Baltimore ranks near middle in senior transit access

Baltimore ranks just about in the middle of its class in the percentage of its older population with poo access to transit services, according to a new report issued by the advocacy group Transportation for America.

Out of 46 metropolitan areas with populations of 1-3 million, Baltimore ranked 25th on a list in which a lower ranking was better. The group found that 53 percent of Baltimore-area residents aged 65 to 79 are expected to have poor access to transit in 2015.

While the ranking wasn't stellar, it wasn't close to the worst in the rankings. That dubious distinction went to Kansas City, where 88 percent of the population in that age group had no good alternatives to private cars. The best metropolitan area for transit access for the elderly was No. 46 San Francisco, where only 12 percent of those 65-79 had poor transit access.

The report, called "Aging in Place, Stuck Without Options," contends that many Baby Boom generation retires face a future of increasing isolation and decreased mobility because of a lack of alternatives to increasingly expensive private vehicles.


The report found that only about 5 percent of Americans move upon retirement and that most decided to "age in place" in their neighborhoods.

The report outlines an increasing demand for transit services among elderly Americans, who took about 667 million transit rides in 2001 and more than 1 billion in 2009. But the report found that only 21 percent of older Americans live in central cities, where transit lines tend to be more accessible, while 56 percent live in the suburbs and 23 percent in rural areas.

According to the research, more than 20 percent of Americans over 65 do not drive. It found that mean who stop driving in their 70s tend to need transportation services for another six years, while women who give up driving need 10 years of help in getting around.

The report concludes:

By 2015, the number of seniors with poor transit access will have increased by 35 percent since 2000, from 11.5 to 15.5 million in the metro areas analyzed in this report. Without action to improve transportation services, that number will continue to grow well beyond 2030, when the last of the baby boomers turns 65. To address
the mobility needs of seniors, communities, local elected officials and planners must confront the assumption that people would always be able to rely on the automobile as their primary mode of transport. Congress, likewise, must provide
leadership and enact a robust reauthorization of the nation’s surface transportation law that addresses these needs.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:36 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MTA

June 13, 2011

Senator responds to column on tolls

State Sen. Nancy Jacobs obviously read this morning's Getting There column in The Sun, in which I contended that the Maryland Transportation Authority's current toll increase proposal was at least fair because it applied to all toll facilities and didn't play favorites.

Jacobs, a Republican who represents Harford and Cecil counties, fired off a reply that I am happy to run in this space:

The toll increase proposal for the Hatem Bridge is “Cruel” but it is not “Fair”.  You have not done enough research for your column and taken into consideration factors that make a rise in tolls at the Hatem honestly difficult for a number of families there.  

The Hatem Bridge divides two communities where there are many low income earners, retirees and Veterans who use Perry Point VA Hospital. They will not just have to come up with 36 dollars the first year of a toll hike as you say, but 100 dollars to first buy in to EZ Pass’ Hatem Plan.  Most people we speak with in Cecil County do not own an EZ-Pass now. 

My Senate office has received an overwhelming amount of mail from people who say this will be hard to afford. It’s not because they feel “entitled” as you say, but because they honestly don’t have the money.  One single mother in North East says she works the night shift across the Hatem Bridge in Aberdeen and cares for a disabled son.  She fears eviction if she is forced to give up her job because she can’t afford the expense. 

Another retiree from Perryville says she must take care of her elderly brothers and sisters who frequently are admitted to Harford Memorial Hospital over the bridge. She gets teary on the phone talking about barely making it now on Social Security especially without a COLA increase.

 At my News Conference last week in Perryville you would have heard from people like this but you didn’t attend. 

There are economic issues of concern for Cecil and Harford Counties as well.  Fishermen, horse owners, and owners of campers will be charged huge amounts because they have three axles.  A Harford County resident who wants to go fishing will have to pay 36 dollars to get to Cecil County waterways for the day and get back home. 

The MdTA Board should not lump this group in with commercial trucks.  It’s not good for our tourism industry to discourage this recreational activity.  The hike will also affect the positive growth at Aberdeen Proving Ground under BRAC and businesses anywhere near the bridge will suffer.  You can already see at the Perryville Outlets there are a lot of vacant storefronts since the toll went from $2.50 to 5 dollars.

Senator Nancy Jacobs
Minority Leader (R-Cecil/Harford) 

Readers may notice that the senator said nothing to refute the proposition that the toll system needs an infusion of revenue. She is simply arguing that users of one facility, the Hatem Bridge, should get special treatment because they are somehow more disadvantaged than others.

There are low-income people who live in southeastern Baltimore County and work at BWI who depend on the Harbor Tunnel, where tolls would also go up. There are businesses that must use the McHenry Tunnel. Are they no less worthy than the folks up in Harford and Cecil counties? If you look at which facilities have been soaking up the money lately, it's the Hatem Bridge at the top of the list. Meanwhile the McHenry Tunnel is a money-maker.

I admire the way Jacobs and her colleague, Sen. E. J. Pipkin, are representing their constituents. They are more than ready to make the case that the facilities used by their voters deserve a dispensation from the tolls city dwellers must contend with. Baltimore's lawmakers could learn a thing or two from them and push back against proposals to give special treatment to users of the facilities farther from Baltimore.

Jacobs does make a good point about the trailers. The authority ought to come up with a way to distinguish them from full-sized trucks. They should pay a toll that more accurately reflects the wear they put on the facilities.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:14 PM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities

MVA launches emergency contact program

Holders of Maryland driver's licenses can now list on their driving records the names of people to be contacted in the case of an emergency under a program launched this week by the Motor Vehicle Administration.

The MVA has established a voluntary Emergency Contact Information Registry under which Marylanders can store information with their electronic driving records on who law enforcement officials should get in touch with in the event of a traffic crash or similar emergency. Holders of state driving licenses or identification cards can list up top three persons to be notified.

Emergency contacct information can be submitted online at or at kiosks at MVA offices. According to the MVA, the information will be available only to law enforcement.

According to the MVA, the idea for the program was advanced in legislation sponsored by Del. Gail Bates and former Sen. Sandy Schrader, both Howard County Republicans. The legislation did not pass the General Assembly but was eventually adopted by the agency.

The MVA said the need for the registry was underscored by cases such as that of Karen Knight, whose son Andrew was killed in a crash that left his wife incapacitated. Because she was listed as next of kin, his parents did not learn of the fatality until 10 hours later through a voice mail message.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:20 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

June 10, 2011

BWI to conduct runway tests Tuesday night

Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport is warning neighbors that it will conduct flight tests of a seldom-used runway Tuesday night as part of the preparations for a construction project that will put it into service in September.

The airport will put the runway, known as 4-22, into use during one weekend in September when it will close two more active runways in order to pave their intersection. That work is scheduled for Sept. 9-12 but could  be moved to Sept. 16-19 depending on the weather.

BWI officials say residents of neighborhoods to the northeast and south of the airport may notice a temporary increase in air traffic between 10 p.m. and midnight Tuesday as the tests are conducted. The tests are being conducted to help airport, airline and Federal Aviation Administration employees become familiar with Runway 4-22 before it put into active use.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:57 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Air travel

June 9, 2011

Updated: Emergency repairs cause backup at McHenry Tunnel

Update: As of 11:20 p.m., crews were wrapping up asphalt repairs, says Maryland Transportation Authority spokeswoman Terri Moss. The left-hand tube of the southbound tunnel would also undergo scheduled maintenance, she said, but was supposed to reopen by 5 a.m. Friday -- in time for rush hour.


Serious backups developed on Interstate 95 at the Fort Mchenry Tunnel after the Maryland Transprtation Authority closed the left-hand tube of southbound tunnel for repair of heat-related damage Thursday, leaving only two of four lanes in operation.

The two lanes of the right-hand tube remained open, but the closing -- which came just as the evening rush hour was getting started -- had traffic at a virtual standstill until well after 7 p.m. The state's CHART system cameras showed serious backups extending at least as far back as the I-95/I-895 split.

Authority spokeswoman Teri Moss said two concrete slabs rose 4 inches and buckled because of the heat. Crews were jackhammering and patching the damage. Cheryl Sparks, another authority spokeswoman, said repairs were expected to be completed in time for the morning rush hour. She said that as of 7:30 p.m. traffic was backed up about a half-mile approaching the tunnel.

The authority suggested that southbound travelers on Interstate 95 divert to Interstate 895 and use the Harbor Tunnel. Motorists could also use Interstate 695 and the Francis Scott Key Bridge.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:39 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities, On the roads

City's weekend road closings: It's 36th St., hon

The highlight of the Baltimore City Department of Transportation's weekly roundup of street closings will be found in Hampden this weekend, where motorists will find themselves detoured around 36th St for the annual HONFest celebration.

According to the city, 36th will be closed from Falls Road to Chestnut Avenue from 4 a.m. Saturday until 10 p.m. Sunday. Intersections along this stretch of 36th will also be closed to crossing traffic during the event. 

For more information on city road closings this weekend, click on the Comments field if it shows there have been addiitional postings.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:59 PM | | Comments (1)

Northbound 295 lanes close for emergency fix

The Maryland Transportation Authority says it has had to close two of the three lanes of northbound Maryland 295 on the way into Baltimore for emergency repairs to joints on the bridge that passes over Interstate 895 near the Beltway. The left lane will remain open.

The repairs will continue through the evening rush hour but are expected to be completed by 5 a.m., according to the authority.

The agency suggested that motorists coming north into Baltimore get off 295 at the Beltway and take it west to Interstate 95. It noted that the right lane of northbound 95 is also expected to close between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m.

Teri Moss, an authority spokeswoman, said concrete on the bridge became separated from the joint as a result of wear and tear. She said the damage was not believed to be heat-related.

In some respects, the timing was fortunate. The closings will not affect outbound traffic on Russell Street and 295 during the evening rush hour, and there is no Orioles game at Camden Yards tonight.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:31 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads

Hammonds Ferry bridge to close

The Hammonds Ferry Road bridge over Maryland Route 295 will close for about 12 weeks starting next Wednesday so road crews can begin a $3.2 million rehabilitation project that will fully replace the 62-year-old driving surface of the twin spans.

The State Highway Administration said it is closing the bridge so that crews can remove four steel beams, demolish the bridge decks and build a new driving surface and walls, among other tasks.

SHA spokesman Charlie Gischlar said the driving surface has been patched since it was built in 1949 but has never been fully replaced. "It's just taken its toll. It's time to replace the driving surface," he said.

As part of the project, motorists on 295 will encounter occasional single-lane closings during off-peak hours. the SHA said. In addition, there will be some full closures of 295 for periods of up at 15 minutes at night when cranes are removing the steel beams of the current bridge deck.

The SHA said is carrying out the work during the summer to minimize disruptions of school bus routes. It said that by closing the Hammonds Ferry bridge, it can complete the work in 12 weeks rather than the year it would have taken had it chosen to keep the bridge open to traffic.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:45 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads

June 8, 2011

New Argonne bridge expected to open in July

A reader named Greg wanted to know where progress on the replacement of the Argonne Drive bridge in Northeast Baltimore stands. As he put it, "getting from Harford Rd to Hillen Rd, and points west has been a pain for the past year."

Adrienne Barnes, spokeswoman for the Baltimore Department of Transportation, provided a prompt reply that gives some room for hope:

The Project is going well. The new bridge deck is in place along with new sidewalk and brick treated parapet walls. The contractor installed the new ornamental fencing at the parapet walls. The new 30"  water main was activated and is in service.

Before the contractor can open the bridge to the public we need to backfill the new 30" water main, place the approach slabs at the east & west abutments and install the new street lighting on top of the parapet.  Milling and paving for new asphalt east and west roadway sections will be completed and  placement of new traffic markings.  The contractor anticipates to open the bridge to traffic in Mid July

Note: The contractor will still be on site below the bridge painting steel beams until late summer.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:11 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads

Service on MTA's No. 27 route called poor

Jed Weeks of Baltimore, a regular commenter in this space, recently raised his concerns about the Maryland Transit Administration's No. 27 bus route with Administrator Ralign T. Wells. Weeks was good enough to share his concerns with Getting There:

I am a daily #27 bus rider. My most frequent commute takes me from 35th and Chestnut to around Lexington Market, and reverse home in the evening. Without fail, I encounter at least two no-show buses per week. This typically happens with the bus scheduled to arrive at 36th and Roland at either 9:25am or 9:55am. However, I have encountered no-show buses at almost every time of the day on various days trying to ride this line.

In addition to the no-show buses, I would estimate that only one bus I ride per week southbound is on time. Most are over 10 minutes late. The northbound buses seem to manage this much better.

I have documented many of these instances by tweeting at the @mtamaryland twitter account. They have tried to be helpful, and I received an email on April 5, 2011 from Karen Gronberg in the Service Quality Division letting me know they were monitoring the on-time performance of the #27 line. I have not heard back regarding outcomes from the monitoring, and clearly, nothing has improved.

I am also worried about the service reduction that will likely be occurring mid-day on the #27 line. I have already submitted my comments, but I find it disappointing that the service will be reduced, especially with increased future traffic and development in the region, and traffic analysis of the major 25th Street project in Remington being based off of current or increased service.

Basically, I find this level of service all-around completely unacceptable.

So now the question is whether Wells considers the conditions on the No. 27 line acceptable, and if not, what he plans to do about them. We'll keep you posted.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:56 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: MTA bus system

Tolls could be on the rise in New York too

As Marylanders contemplate the prospect of paying more at its toll facilities, New Yorkers may be facing the same issue.

The New York Post reports that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is considering an increase in the $8 inbound toll for passenger cars heading into New York in the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels, the George Washington Bridge and other Hudson River crossings to $10.

Such a rise would keep those tolls a few steps ahead of those in Maryland, where the Maryland Transportation Authority is proposing to raise the round-trip tolls on all of its facilities to $8 in 2013 after an interim increase this October.

In the case of the port authority, the governors of either New York or New Jersey could block the toll increases. And New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, has signaled that any toll increase that may be in the works is news to him.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:37 AM | | Comments (0)

June 7, 2011

SHA to split lanes at Beltway and Liberty Road

Motorists on the Beltway will encounter split lanes on the Inner Loop at Liberty Road starting Tuesday night as the State Highway Administration shifts into a new phase of its bridge replacement project at the site.

Workers will begin the process by closing one right lane at 7 p.m. and a second at 10 p.m. to install concrete barriers and pavement markings. On Wednesday mornings, drivers will find all four lanes of the Beltway open but with three lanes of through traffic flowing to the left of the barrier and one to the right. The right lane can be used either as a through lane or to exit.

According to the SHA, the split traffic pattern will remain in effect until late fall.


The work is part of a $25 million project to replace the Liberty Road bridge, which dates back to the construction of the Beltway in the 1950s and 1960s. The project is expected to continue until the fall of 2012.

SHA Administrator Neil J. Pedersen said the split traffic pattern will let crews replace the Inner Loop side of the bridge one lane at a time. Up until now, he said, the agency has been working on the bridge approaches and ends.

The SHA expects to introduce a similar traffic split on the Outer Loop later this summer. The Liberty Road work zones remains one of those in which speed cameras have been deployed.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:03 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: On the roads

Hudson River plane passes through area

Photo by Michael Dresser

"Hudson River Miracle' plane is prepared for the road at its overnight stop in Perryville.

The wingless body of the plane that made a spectacular crash landing on the Hudson River in 2009 made an uneventful passage through the Baltimore area Tuesday morning, barely slowing late morning traffic as it cruised along the interstates on its way to Charlotte, N.C.

The 120-foot section of aircraft fuselage that carries passengers aboard USAir Flight 1549 when it struck a flock of birds shortly after takeoff left its overnight rest stop at a Perryville weigh station at 9:17 a.m. and began its journey down Interstate 95.

While the plane had poked along at speeds of less than 10 mph during the early part of its trip from New Jersey to the Carolinas Aviation Museum, it picked up speed in Maryland and maintained a pace of 35-50 mph for its trip from Perryville to Interstate 95. The huges yellow truck carrying the over-sized load circled Baltimore on the Outer Loop of the Beltway and headed west on Interstate 70.


About 11:30 a.m. museum President Shawn Dorsch reported from the convoy that the Airbus A320 landed by pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger was in Frederick County and on its way to Interstate 68 and then to West Virginia.

Dorsch reported that crowds he estimated at 50-60 people had gathered at each of the overpasses around Frederick to watch the plane make its journey to the museum, where it will be put on display. Earlier, on Interstate 95, small groups gathered on most of the overpasses in Harford and Baltimore counties -- taking pictures and videos and waving American flags.

The convoy of the truck and its escort vehicles drew less attention as it passed through the Baltimore area. Only a few photographers staked out the overpasses north of the city. Dorsch said the convoy planned to drive straight through Maryland without any stops after Perryville before taking a break at Fairmont W.Va.

Dorsch said the plane drew big crowds as it made its way through the back roads of New Jersey, where some of the interstate bridges were too law for the load to safely pass.

"I am absolutely humbled by the sheer magnitude of the number of people who were out there," he said.





Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:20 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads

June 3, 2011

New report of MTA photo follies crops up

Wednesday's statement by Maryland Transit Administrator Ralign T. Wells repudiating attempts by his agency's police officers to shut down photography at MTA facilities should put that lamentable practice to rest -- until the next time it crops up.  But The Sun's report of the incidents that prompted a threat by the American Civil Liberties Union to sue the MTA brought back memories to Richard L. Allman, past president of the  East Penn Traction Club in Villanova, Pa.

He wrote:

Some friends and I went for a fun day of transit photography in April, 2008. We went to the Patapsco Avenue station of the Light Rail line where we were accosted by a transit policeman who told us that we were engaged in an illegal activity and that we must stop forthwith and leave, per Department of Homeland Security policy.


He was not the least interested in that Amtrak has an annual photography contest or that nearby Washington Metro has an open door policy re: photography or that what the law states is that there is no prohibition of photograph except where trade secrets might be divulged, nuclear facilities, or military installations, just a simple "who knows what you're gonna do with those pictures" and "beat it, or else!"

I pointed out to him that while we were engaged in a legal activity, a teenage kid was smoking a cigarette in the station, which is clearly illegal. He told me that did not concern me; I told him it should concern him, rather than the legal activities of three sixty-something , innocent looking men.

Before mixing it up any more and pushing his buttons any more, we left and resumed our nefarious activity down the line a ways. We were again stopped at the Woodberry Station around 2 hours later and this time made to produce ID's after "being reported". This time the officer did not chase us but said before doing it, we should"notify someone" though whom to notify was unclear.

I was approached in Pittsburgh later that summer at a light rail station and told my photographic activity was observed on CCTV (OK with me!). The officer told me to come with him,and when I asked why, was told to not argue but just come. He gave me the same story, against DHS policy.

 I pointed out that it was not the case, again the matter of the AMTRAK photo contest, the open door policy at many agencies( NJ Transit, SEPTA, NY MTA, Washington Metro) at which time he told me that maybe it was not DHS, but Pennsylvania State Law. I pointed out that it was legal on SEPTA,also under PA law jurisdiction, at which point he said "come here"-out of view of the CCTV cameras.

I was somewhat frightened until out of camera range he told me that being sent to harass me was a huge waste of his time, to enjoy myself, but to be discrete! I assured him that I'm the very soul of discretion and we parted with handshake!

Subsequently, I visited and photographed in Portland, Oregon where I was approached by a security person who told me while I was photographing "I'm sorry the weather is not a bit nicer for you!" and in Dallas, where they were most cordial.

St. Louis of all places might be the most paranoid system-other than Maryland but the Baltimore precedent might well thaw the chill there.

Those of us who are responsible rail fans and rail photographers have an obligation to not enter restricted space, to not stand on the tracks, to not impede the boarding and alighting of passengers, to not use flash in tunnels that could blind an operator, and to exercise common sense and common courtesy. Most of us know this, hopefully.

 Again thanks for your pursuit of this story and for what appears to be an excellent resolution of this bogus prohibition of a fun and harmless activity. I wish the transit police all the best in the pursuit of their real mission:dealing with fare evaders, muggers, aggressive panhandles, and other true miscreants!

Well, folks, you've now heard from the terrorist in our midst. Are you sufficiently frightened?

The MTA is invited to print out this letter to to use it to educate its officers on the true nature of these so-called "photographers."



Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:12 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MTA

Blog comments disabled by spam attack

Getting There is temporarily unable to receive and post reader comments as a result of a spam attack on the Baltimore Sun's blog publishing system. Readers are welcome to try to submit comments, which would be posted as soon as possible, but might find that the system will not accept them.

The Sun and Getting There regret the inconvenience and hope to restore the free flow of ideas as soon as possible.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:52 PM | | Comments (0)

Grand Prix closings to 'intensify' Monday

The downtown traffic woes resulting from the rush to get the city's roads ready for the Labor Day Baltimore Grand Prix race are going to get worse before they get better.

The Baltimore Department of Transportation says part of Conway Street, the downtown gateway that has already been the site of extensive lane closings, will shut down entirely for about two weeks starting Monday at 5 a.m.

The closings will affect eastbound and westbound traffic between Charles and Light streets. In addition, the road work that has been taking place on southbound light Street will shift to the lanes that had remained open.

Westbound Conway Street traffic will be detoured onto Lee Street and then Charles. Eastbound traffic will be detoured onto Charles.

The city is suggesting that travelers heading into downtown from the south take Howard Street to Baltimore Street or to take Martin Luther King Boulevard to Baltimore Street, Mulberry Street or Druid Hill Avenue.

Outbound commuters are urged to take Lombard Street to Howard or to use Fayette Street to reach Martin Luther King.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:05 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads

Public hearings on proposed toll increases set

Baltimoreans who want to protest -- or support -- the Maryland Transportation Authority's recent proposal to raise rates dramatically at the state's toll facilities will get their first convenient opportunity June 13, when the agency will hold a public hearing at Digital Harbor High School in Baltimore.

That hearing. at 1100 Covington Street in Federal Hill, will be the second on nine to be held in various locations around the state. The first is set for June 9 in Gaithersburg, about an hour's drive from Baltimore in Montgomery County. There is a good chance that attendance at that hearing will be sparse because the toll proposal has only a minor effect on the Intercounty Connector, the only toll facility in Montgomery.

Much more lively hearings are likely at locations close to the toll facilities that would see hefty increases under the proposal. In metropolitan Baltimore, those include hearings June 20 in Arnold, June 21 in Dundalk and June 27 in Havre de Grace. All of the meetings run from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., with registration for comments closing at  7:45 p.m.

Other hearings outside the Baltimore area will be held on June 14 in Beltsville (Prince George's County), June 15 in Stevensville (Queen Anne's County) , June 16  in Perryville (Cecil County) and June 22 in Newburg  (Charles County). A full schedule, with exact locations, can be found here.

Comments to the authority can be submitted any time until Aug. 1 at or by mail at MDTA Toll Comment, 2310 Broening Highway, Baltimore MD 21224. Written comments are also accepted at the public hearings.

The authority's board is expected to make a final decision on the toll proposal in August and to implement its first round of increases Oct. 1. The plan would raise tolls a second time in July 2013.

Under the proposal the round trip toll rates at all of authority's facilities, with the exception of the ICC, would be standardized at $8. ICC tolls follow a different plan, under which tolls are adjusted according to congestion levels. When the toll road fully opens late this year or early in 2012, drivers making round trips over its full length during peak hours are already expected too pay more than $8.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:13 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities

June 2, 2011

Authority board formally proposes toll increase plan

The Maryland Transportation Authority board gave its preliminary approval today to the most sweeping package of toll increases in its history, saying higher rates are unavoidable because of the need to pay off debt and maintain an aging system,

The board’s unanimous vote moves the proposal moves to a series of nine public hearings across the state. It also triggers a 60-day public comment period after which the board will weigh possible changes and take a final vote. The first phase of the proposal is expected  go into effect Oct. 1, with a second to follow in July 2013.

Under the proposal, the cost of a round-trip at the three Baltimore Harbor crossings – the Fort McHenry and Harbor tunnels and the Key Bridge -- would go from $4 to $6 round trip in October. Tolls there, unlike at most Maryland facilities,  are collected in each direction.

Tolls on the John F. Kennedy Highway and the Hatem Bridge would go from $5 to $6 in October. Tolls on the Bay Bridge would go from $2.50 to $5 then. Tolls on the Nice Bridge, U.S. 301 in Southern Maryland, would go to $5.

The second phase two years from now would standardize round-trip tolls to $8 at all of the facilities except the Intercounty Connector, where the basic tolls were only recently imposed and where the state plans to eventually base charges on the level of congestion.

The authority is an independent agency governed by a board appointed by the governor. Its decisions on tolls do not require the approval of Gov. Martin O’Malley or the General Assembly.

The proposal developed by the staff and formally proposed by the board makes extensive changes to Maryland’s toll collection system. Among its provisions are one that would:

--Give users of E-ZPass a 10 percent discount off the cash toll rate to reflect the lesser cost of collecting money electronically and to encourage use of the passes. Thus, if the Bay Bridge toll goes to $5 in October as proposed, the E-ZPass rate would be $4.50.

--Scale back Maryland’s commuter discounts, which are now among the most generous in the country, to rates closer to the national norm. Under the proposal, commuters rates would be lowered to 70 percent of the cash rate in October and 65 percent in 2013. Thus, a commuter using one of the Harbor crossings in both directions, would see a daily increase from 80 cents now to $1.80 in October and to $2.80 in 2013.

--Eliminate the decal system at the Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge (U.S. 40 at the Susquehanna River), under which frequent users can pay $10 for unlimited use for a year. The authority would replace the decals with an E-ZPass-based system under which users would pay $36 a year starting Oct. 1 and $72 a year in 2013.

--Replace the current $3 fee for mailing notices of tolls due with a 25 percent surcharge on the applicable toll. That surcharge would apply to vehicles that use the ICC without E-Zpasses and get a camera-generated bill in the mail, as well as to users of other toll facilities who go through E-ZPass lanes and whose payments don’t register. The effect would be to lower the surcharge on drivers of personal vehicles and increase them for large trucks, which pay higher per-axle tolls.

--Abolish a current shopper plan, in place on the Bay Bridge only, charging a reduced rate for 10 trips within 180 days.

Members of the board said they are reluctant to raise tolls but must do so in order to keep up payments on its debt obligations and to maintain an aging and increasingly costly infrastructure. In addition to expensive rehabilitation projects at many of its facilities, the authority must raise money to pay for the construction costs of the $2.6 billion ICC and the $1 billion Express Toll Lane project on Interstate 95 northeast of Baltimore.

“Not one of us wants to raise tolls by a single dime, but we have no choice,” said member Richard C. Mike Lewin.

But the leading General Assembly critic of the toll authority, Sen. E. J. Pipkin, called the increases “unnecessary” and mocked the contention by board members that they need to educate the public about the reasons for the increases.

“I think the board needs to be educated that a 300 percent toll increase is outrageous . . and incredibly out of touch with the struggles of working families today,” the Eastern Shore Republican said.

Pipkin said he will reintroduce previously defeated legislation that would require that any toll increases be approved by the General Assembly.

Opponents of such a measure contend it would drive up the authority’s borrowing costs by reducing the confidence of bond buyers that their loans would be repaid.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:48 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: On the roads

Authority board passes toll hike proposal

The Maryland Transportation Authority board has approved a series of toll increases affecting all facilities except for the Intercounty Connector.

Passage of the proposal moves the plan a a series of nine public hearings across the state. It also triggers a 60-day public comment period. The first phase of the proposal would go into effect Oct. 1.

Under the proposal, the cost of a round-trip at the three Baltimore Harbord crossings would go from $4 to $6 round trip in October. (Tolls there are collected in each direction.)

Tolls on the John F. Kennedy Highway and the Hatem Bridge would go from $5 to $6 in October. Tolls on the Bay Bridge would go from $2.50 to $5 then. Tolls on the Nice Bridge, U.S. 301 in Southern Maryland, would go to $5.

A second phase taking effect in July 2013 would take round trip tolls to $8 at all of the facilities.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:59 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities

Authority board to vote on toll proposal

The board of the Maryland Transportation Authority is scheduled to vote this morning on a proposed set of toll increases and other changes during a meeting at its headquarters in Point Breeze in Southeast Baltimore. Getting There will be reporting live from the meeting

If the proposal passes, as expected, the new toll schedule will be taken to a series of public hearings.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:59 AM | | Comments (0)

June 1, 2011

MTA bus crash injures as many as 18

At least 18 people were reported injured Wednesday after a passenger vehicle collided with a Maryland Transit Administration in West Baltimore, the MTA reported. The crash put the two-day total of reported injuries in MTA accidents at 30.

MTA spokesman John Wesley said a personal vehicle carrying three people ran a stop sign at Edmondson Avenue and Chapelgate Road about 2:35 p.m. and hit a MTA bus on the No. 40 route. He said 15 people aboard the bus reported injuries and were taken to a local hospital, while the driver and two passengers were transported to the Maryland Shock-Trauma Center. One of those taken to Shock-Trauma was ejected from the car, the MTA spokesman said.

Wesley said he did not know yet the total number of people on the bus. He said he believed the bus was one of the MTA's newer hybrid diesel-electric models.


The crash was the MTA's second with multiple injuries in as many days. Wesley said another MTA bus on the No. 23 route struck the rear end of a personal vehicle Tuesday at West Franklin and Stricker streets, pushing the vehicle into a city truck.

Wesley said 10 MTA passengers, the bus operator and the driver of the passenger vehicle were taken to local hospitals to check for neck and back injuries.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:13 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MTA bus system

ACLU welcomes MTA's response on photography

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland welcomed the decision of the Maryland Transit Administration to disavow efforts of some of its transit police to prevent photographers from taking pictures of its facilities and the agency's vow to promulgate policies emphasizing the rights of photographers.

ACLU staff attorney David Rocah said Wednesday he was still waiting to speak with MTA officials about the decision by Administrator Ralign T. Wells but he said he was pleased by Wells' comments to The Sun in response to a letter he had sent the agency Tuesday threatening to sue over incidents in which MTA police sought to stop photographers from taking pictures of light rail trains.

"I'm gratfied and pleased by Mr. Wells' concern and appreciate his clear statements that what happened shouldn't have happened and that they would take effective steps" to prevent a recurrence.

 Rocah said the ACLU will still have to see how the MTA follows up before it can consider the matter resolved.

"Statements of policy don't mean anything unless officers and employees know what the policy is and follow it," he said.

Rocah said the ACLU looks forward to the opportunity to sit down with the MTA and work out details of a policy statement that would pass constitutional muster.

"The goal is not filing a lawsuit," he said. "The goal has always been to ensure that the MTA police, like all public officials, act within the limits of their authority and respect citizens' constitutional rights."


Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:55 PM | | Comments (3)

MDOT will emphasize photographers' rights

The Maryland Department of Transportation supports the decision by Maryland Transit Administration chief Ralign T. Wells to disavow police efforts to curb photographers' legal activities and spread the word though its other component agencies, a department spokesman said Wednesday.

MDOT spokesman Jack Cahalan said Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley fully supports Wells' position that photography of MTA facilities and on legally open MTA property is not restricted.

Cahalan said certain exceptions apply to secure areas of the Port of Baltimore's terminals and to the tarmac at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. But generally, he said, members of the public can take photos from any spot they are legally permitted to be.

"Anyone can take whatever shots they want," Cahalan said.

Cahalan said the department will make sure that employees of all of its agencies are informed of its policies permitting photography.

"It's one of those things you can't repeat often enough. You have change-overs in personnel and clearly it's an issue that's worth restating," Cahalan said.

In addition to the MTA, the department oversees the Maryland Port Administration, the Maryland Aviation Administration, the Maryland Transportation Authority, the Motor Vehicle Administration and the State Highway Administration.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:43 AM | | Comments (1)

MTA chief repudiates photographer curbs

The head of the Maryland Transit Administration flatly repudiated Wednesday the efforts by some of the agency's police officers to forbid photographers from shooting pictures of MTA equipment or from MTA property, vowing to settle all the issues raised by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland before a lawsuit can be filed.

Agency Administrator Ralign T. Wells said MTA officers were not properly representing MTA policy when they ordered two amateur photographers to stop taking pictures and video of light rail trains earlier this year. Wells said he would apologize to the photographers and take steps to make sure that officers respect the First Amendment rights of photographers.

"We don't have a policy restricting photography," Wells said. "The actions of some of these officers are not reflective of the agency stance."

The MTA chief offered an explanation, but not an excuse, for why transit police officers ordered Olev Taremae of Bethlehem, Pa., and Christopher Fussell of Portland, Ore., to stop taking pictures and video in two separate incidents in February and March.

"There's just a high sensitivity post-9/11 to photographers. We obviously have to back off of that," he said.


The ACLU told MTA Transit Police Chief John E. Gavrilis in a letter Tuesday that it would file a lawsuit over his officers actions in the two incidents if the agency did not make amends to its clients and issue a new policy upholding the rights of photographers. The group gave the MTA until Sept. 1 to make those changes of face legal action.

Wells told The Sun his agency would settle its issues with the ACLU without any need for litigation.

"We're going to work with the ACLU on any of their concerns," he said. "In no way are we battling the ACLU on this. We are in complete agreement with them on this."

Wells pointed to a posted policy on the MTA web site that states: "A permit is not required for non-commercial, personal-use filming or photography by the general public that does not interfere with transit operations or safety."

However, the day before, an MTA spokesman seemed unaware of the policy and pointed a reporter to language emphasizing a need to seek a permit before taking pictures at or of MTA property.

The MTA is the latest of many transportation agencies across the country that have been forced to back down from formal or informal curbs on photography in the aftermath of 9/11.

Wells said the policy allowing photography had been restated to officers in February and March. He said the ACLU letter and a Sun article Wednesday about the controversy would be brought up at roll calls Wednesday and throughout the week.

Wells said MTA officers may approach a photographer and ask to voluntarily produce identification.

The MTA chief said officers who are found to have misstated Maryland law or MTA policy in exchanges with photographers could be subject to "administrative" discipline.

"The chief is very aggressive with taking administrative action with employees who are not in line with our procedures and rules and regulations," Wells said.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:16 AM | | Comments (22)
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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