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November 23, 2011

Charm City Circulator sets Thanksgiving hours

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

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

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

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

November 21, 2011

ICC open from 95 to 270 in the morning

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

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

 

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

November 18, 2011

AAA projects 3.5 percent holiday travel rise

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

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

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

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

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

Gunther bus company says it's still running

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

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

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

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

Gunther Charters owner Martin E. Gunther released this statement:

I assure all of our travelers and customers that Gunther Charters & Tours, operate strictly by the laws set forth by FMCSA. Gunthers holds the highest possible safety ratings given by the FMCSA and the U.S. Department of Defense. We take great pride in our safety policies and measures.

Martin Gunther is the brother of Mark D. Gunther, owner of Gunthers Transport and a convicted violator of federal transportation laws when he headed Gunthers Leasing Transport during the 1990s. 

Timothy Wilson, Gunther Charters' sales director, said the fraternal connection has been costly to the bus company. He said the company has been ""inundated" with calls from customers who want to cancel charters.

"Our clients have been scared into pandemonium," Wilson said. Since the news broke, the bus company has been engaged in "damage control," he said.

 

 

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

November 17, 2011

ICC project chief named to head SHA

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

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

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

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

 

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

November 15, 2011

Getting an early jump on Thanksgiving travel?

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

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

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

Broening Highway to get much-needed repaving

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

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

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

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

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

 

The primarily asphalt surface will be replaced by more durable concrete, Kendrick said. The new surface won't be as thick as an airport runway. he said, but it will be thicker than the average road to stand up to the truck traffic.

"It's not your typical repaving," Kendrick said, adding that the new surface should last for 20 years or more.

The work will take about two years to complete, he said. While the work is be done on Broening, Kendrick added, the city will also repave Dundalk Avenue from the city line to Eastern Avenue so that truck drivers have no incentive to switch to the more residential route to avoid delays.

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

November 14, 2011

Projects launched at Key Bridge, tunnel thruway

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

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

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

 

The projects are financed with toll revenue collected at the authority's eight highways, bridges and tunnels. The agency said the work may involve lane closings at off-peak travel times, but not on days leading up to or following major holidays.

 

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

November 11, 2011

Cheatham wants another new Circulator line

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

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

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

I'm skeptical.

 

The main reason is the corridor Cheatham is proposing to serve is already intensively served by the MTA. The Metro runs straight from the City Hall area to State Center via Lexington Market at much better speeds than the Circulator can achieve. Eutaw's bus service may leave much to be desired, but one block away is the light rail.

Cheatham contends it's a matter of fairness. "Quicker is not the issue. The issue is FREE!!" he wrote.

The problem is that the Circulator is not intended to be a free replacement for under-performing MTTA routes. Nor does the city have the resources to duplicate every MTA route that riders are dissatisfied with.

The surest way to kill off the Circulator entirely -- all three existing routes plus the proposed Red, White and Blue Route to Fort McHenry -- is to let it grow too big for the revenue streams that support it. Would Cheatham's proposed route do that? I don't know, but the city administration has to weigh calls for expanding the Circulator -- whether from Yuppies in Canton and Charles Village or poor people who live near State Center -- with an eye toward the bottom line.

It is a political dilemma. The idea of free is so appealing that once the city provides it in a few central areas, it's tough to tune out the demands to expand to new areas.  In the Circulator's popularity could lie the seeds of its undoing.

The Green Route was aided by some powerful private sponsorships -- including Hopkins and East Baltimore Development Inc. It's hard to see those materializing for a route whose bookends are City Hall and State Center.

Still, it's an interesting concept and worthy of discussion. I do think Cheatham's wrong, however, when he implies the current routes are not benefiting low-income residents of Baltimore. When I've ridden the Circulator, I've seen a good mix of the city's different populations. The Green Route, in particular, serves several low-income neighborhoods. My suspicion is that residents of those areas are less concerned about abstract notions of fairness than about keeping what they already have.

 

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

Groups favor gas tax rise -- with conditions

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

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

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

The groups said the want to legislature to adopt spending guidelines to ensure that spending is directed to what Stuart Schwartz of the smart growth coalition called "fiscally, prudent, environmentally sustainable" projects.

Schwartz named the Baltimore Red Line and suburban Washington Purple Line -- both high-ticket light rail projects -- and an expanded MARC system as examples of spending the groups want the legislatures to commit to.

The groups were critical of any spending on new highway capacity, arguing that maintenance of existing roads should be the priority.

The environmentalists' position could divide them from some of the other potential members of a coalition in favor of raising transportation revenues. Local governments, for instance, are in many cases desperate for additional money to spend on roads but jealously guard their control of  how it should be spent.

Other groups point to transit spending as one of the reasons they would oppose a gas tax increase and other transportation revenues. These groups, however, may have little influence with the lawmakers who are possible yes votes. The environmental and transit groups, on the other hand, have clout with the legislators who would likely form the core of any pro-tax coalition -- especially lawmakers from Baltimore city and Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

A blue-ribbon commission recently recommended a 15-cent increase in the gas tax in three increments of a nickel, as well as increased vehicle registration fees. They pointed to what they called a deficit of at least $800 million in what it will take to keep up with the state's transportation needs.

But one of the members of that commission, Rob Etgen, said he was not part of the reported "consensus" by which the panel reached its recommendations. Etgen, executive director of the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy and a signatory to the news release, said the commission should have paid more attention to how transportation is spent instead of concentrating on raising revenue.

Etgen said he favors transit spending, but is more concerned about stopping highway expansion or a third Bay Bridge than about Western Shore matters such as the two transit lines.

The differences among the environmental groups illustrate the difficulty of assembling a coalition to back any transportation revenue increase.

Several leading business groups say they support a tax increase -- but only if their own key condition is met: an ironclad guarantee that transportation revenue will no longer be used to plug holes in the general fund budget.

Proponents face an uphill battle when so many of them are offering only conditional support. Opponents of any increase have no such reservations. They just want to kill it.

Other groups joining in the news release include Prince George's Advocates for Community-Based Transit, Eastern Shore Land Conservancy and the Red Line Now PAC.

 

 

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

November 10, 2011

More crashes at usual spot on JFX

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

City gives company right to develop bike-sharing

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

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

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

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

November 9, 2011

New departure at SHA follows critical audit

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

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

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

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

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

SHA's procurement operation is one of the areas that came under scrutiny in the same audit whose release immediately followed the announcement of former Administrator Neil J. Pedersen's unexpected departure as of June 30. Legislative auditors found evidence of a revolving door in which former SHA officials were routinely hired by agency contractors -- and in one case became involved in a procurement he had previously worked on at the agency.

Acting SHA Administrator Darrell Mobley indicated in August that further changes were coming. On Wednesday he declined to answer any questions about the circumstances of  Gay's departure. Nor would he comment on whether the agency had seen a draft of an expected second audit of the agency.

Gay said he will remain on administrative leave until Nov. 21 and is "weighing my options" and "glad to be out of there." He did not elaborate.

Anyone with information about happenings at SHA is invited to contact Getting There at Michael.dresser@baltsun.com

 

 

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

November 4, 2011

Wind may bar 2-way Bay Bridge operations today

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

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

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

November 3, 2011

AAA puts annual cost of area crashes at $4.4 billion

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

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

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

The report put the cost of fatal crashes in the region at $1.5 billion and that of the much more numerous injury crashes at $2.9 billion. It based those estimates on the Federal Highway Administration's formula for calculating costs including emergency and medical care, lost earnings and household productivity, property damage, lost quality of life and other factors.

AAA estimated that the crash losses amounted to $1,627 for each person in the Baltimore region, compared with $810 for congestion.

Various national studies attempt to put a monetary cost on traffic congestion in different areas of the country. The AAA study is unusual in seeking to estimate both crash and congestion costs and to compare the two.

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

November 2, 2011

Port sets 3rd straight record for cruise passengers

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

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

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

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

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

November 1, 2011

State, Montgomery land BRAC dollars

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

City to launch Circulator Green Route today

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

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

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

The new line will directly interconnect with the Orange Route at Harbor East, but reaching the Purple Route will require about a three-block walk. The Green Route also interconnects with the Metro at Hopkins Hospital and the Shot Tower/Market Place stations and with the water taxi to Canton and Tide Point at Maritime Park in Fells Point.

The city plans to launch a fourth line, running from the Inner Harbor to Fort McHenry, next year.

The Circulator is financed by the city’s parking taxes. It begins its winter schedule Tuesday, during which it will run Monday-Thursday 6:30 a.m.-8:00 p.m.; Friday: 6:30 a.m.-midnight; Saturday: 9:00 a.m.-midnight, and Sunday: 9:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m.

With the launch of the Green, the city has discontinued running its temporary East Side Shuttle service. Which ran as an extension of the Orange Route connecting at Harbor East.

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