November 18, 2010

Holiday travel, transportation issues chat at 1 p.m.

Michael Dresser will be conducting a live chat on transportation issues at 1 p.m. He'll be discussing holiday travel, airport security screening, Baltimore Grand Prix roadwork, the ICC and anything else readers are curious about.

While Michael won't be responding to questions until the chat begins, you can submit questions now in the comments or by using the widget below.

Posted by Steve Earley at 9:00 AM |
Categories: Holiday travel

October 6, 2010

State starts '511' service for travelers

The State Highway Administration has announced it will launch a free. round-the-clock "511" telephone service to provide real-time traffic information to travelers in the state.

The new system, provided by Televent of Rockville, under a five-year contract with the state worth $4.7 million, will start up in fall 2011, according to Gov. Martin O'Malley.

The SHA wil manage the statewide service, under which the contractor will collect traffic information from a variety of sources and provide it to travelers who place calls to 511. The informatiion will also be  made available through social network operators and a website. The 511 system is later expected to add a personalized service that will alert subscribers to traffic conditions via text messaging.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:55 AM | | Comments (3)

August 31, 2010

AAA: 9% jump in Labor Day travel in Maryland unless Earl ruins party

Will Hurricane Earl crash Marylanders' Labor Day party? No one knows for certain yet, so with that caveat, AAA Mid-Atlantic today projected an increase of 9.1% in the number of Marylanders traveling for the upcoming holiday. The auto club says more than 600,000 statewide will travel at least 50 miles round-trip from home.

AAA says their predictions are based on historical data and information as of late July. However, Hurricane Earl remains a wild card and may dampen traveler's enthusiasm for a weekend getaway.

 “The impact of the hurricane on travel this weekend will depend on what the storm does in the next 48 hours,” said Ragina C. Averella, spokesperson for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “However, whether travelers change their destinations to avoid the storm or the storm misses us all together, the big news is that Marylanders are traveling yet again for another summer holiday weekend, despite the economic hardships many are still facing.”

With gas prices falling and oil prices holding steady, AAA says the average price of a gallon of regular gas is expected to stay around $2.60 heading into the holiday weekend, the lowest level of the summer and at the lowest level since February.

Other projections from AAA Mid-Atlantic include:

Continue reading "AAA: 9% jump in Labor Day travel in Maryland unless Earl ruins party" »

Posted by Michelle Deal-Zimmerman at 11:56 AM |
Categories: Holiday travel

August 12, 2010

Get breaking news on traffic, transit here

Has a four-vehicle crash closed the Jones Falls Expressway? Did a light rail train jump the tracks? Are hundreds of passengers stranded on a MARC train?

You can find out fast by receiving text message alerts from The Baltimore Sun's Breaking News Desk. Just click here to sign up to receive traffic alerts and other news as it happens. These are not routine announcements or advisories about everyday congestion but the type of major developments that can help commuters get to home or work faster.

There is no charge for the service from The Sun, though standard test-message charges from cell phone providers may apply.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:28 PM |

December 23, 2009

Top 10 Md. transportation stories: 2000-2009

Apart from disasters, transportation stories tend to unfold over the course of many years. Some of the ones that garner big headlines at the time will be all but forgotten in a few years time. So in choosing the Top 10 Maryland transportation stories of the past decade, it helps to project forward to 2020 or 2030 and look back at what made a lasting difference.

A little disclosure is in order. I have covered transportation for The Sun since 2004 and before that followed many transportation-related stories as a State House Bureau reporter. So there might be a bias in favor of the stories I covered. (Thanks to my colleague Scott Calvert to reminding me of the Howard Street Tunnel fire, which occurred before my time on the beat.)

With those caveats, I present my top 10 in the bottom-to-top format made wildly popular by David Letterman:

10. Light rail double-tracking project completed. When Baltimore's light rail system opened early in the 1990s, it soon became clear that the system had been built on the cheap. The decision to run trains on a single track over long stretches led to constant delays and operational difficulties. Thus, under the Glendening administration, the decision was made to add a second track. The Ehrlich administration then made a tough decision to expedite the work by closing down the southern and northern stretches of the system for periods of about a year. It was a rough time for light rail users, but the project was finally completed in early 2006, and the result has been much more reliable service on this still image-impaired system.


                                                                                                 Sun photo/Amy Davis/2006      

Continue reading "Top 10 Md. transportation stories: 2000-2009" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:33 AM | | Comments (7)

November 25, 2009

The Schwartzbergs have landed

Sun photo/Karl Merton Ferron             

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

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

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

Sometimes Dad is right after all.

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

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

Bay Bridge crossing becomes an ordeal

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

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

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

Weather causing more delays at BWI

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

The Schwartzbergs reach New Jersey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I-95: better watching than driving

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

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

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

Schwartzbergs break loose

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

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

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

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

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

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

D.C. to Baltimore in only two hours

The Sun's Paul West reports that northbound travel between Washington and Baltimore is severely jammed on both Interstate 95 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. West left Washington at 11:40 a.m. and arrived in Baltimore at 1:30 p.m. on what is normally about an hour's trip. just recently awarded the parkway an 8 on its 10-point traffic jam scale.

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

The Schwartzberg saga: Halted in Harrisburg

                                                                Sun photo/Karl Merton Ferron

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

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

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

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

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

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

Northern Virginia looking grim

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

BWI has few delays, smaller crowds, short lines

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

Avoid Delaware Turnpike at all costs

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

Tracking the Schwartzbergs

The intrepid Schwartzberg family is on the road.

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

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

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

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



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

Signs of the times

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

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


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

All is quiet at Penn Station - for now

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

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

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

Crash at Tydings Bridge slows traffic

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

Let the games begin. . .

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

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

OK, I exaggerate, but not much.

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

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

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





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

November 24, 2009

Holiday traffic survival guide

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

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

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

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

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

-Michael Dresser


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

November 23, 2009

Route 90 bridge to Ocean City to reopen

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

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

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

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


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