baltimoresun.com

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
        

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 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.

 

Continue reading "Projects launched at Key Bridge, tunnel thruway" »

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

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
        

October 28, 2011

Fully open ICC to be free Nov. 22-Dec.4

The Intercounty Connector, which is now scheduled to open all the way between Interstates 95 and 370 by the morning of Nov. 22, will be toll-free for almost two weeks as drivers become acquainted with the new highway in the Washington suburbs.

The Maryland Transportation Authority will begin collecting tolls on the already open and about-to-open stretches of the ICC Dec. 5.

The section of the ICC that will open by Nov. 22 runs from I-95 in Prince George's County too Georgia Avenue in Montgomery County. It will link up with the section between Georgia Avenue and I-370, which opened in February. The opening completes the main task of the ICC, linking the I-95 to Interstate 270 corridors without requiring drivers to use congested and slow local roads. A future segment of the toll road is expected to connect with U.S. 1, but for most motorists' purposes next month's opening will mean the ICC is complete after almost a half-century of debate and about four years under construction.

Motorists will pay tolls at the same per-mile rates charged on the first section: 25 cents at peak times, 20 cents off-peak and 10 cents overnight.

Officials estimate that travelers between Laurel and Gaithersburg will be able to make the trip in about 17 minutes, rather than the estimated 47 it now takes on local roads. For Baltimore drivers, it will also reduce the need to use the often-congested Capital Beltway to reach destinations in Montgomery County.

 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:24 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

Toll hikes coming Tuesday: How will they affect you?

The first phase of the largest package of toll increases in Maryland's history will take effect at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday as the bill comes due for two mega-projects and the state transportation system's aging infrastructure.

The increases were approved by the board of The Maryland Transportation Authority in September after a series of public hearings led to some modifications in the original plan but only minor changes in its overall scope.

Getting There is interested in hearing from users of the states' various toll facilities about how the increases will affect them -- in their commuting, in personal travel or in doing business. Please email michael.dresser@baltsun.com and include a phone number where you can be reached.

Continue reading "Toll hikes coming Tuesday: How will they affect you?" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:00 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

October 13, 2011

Work on Tydings Bridge foundation begins

The Maryland Transportation Authority has begun construction work on a $43 million project to shore up the foundation of the nearly 50-year-old Millard E. Tydings Memorial Bridge on Interstate 95, where the flow of the Susquehanna River has eroded the piers that support the span.

The work on the bridge, part of the toll stretch of I-95 called the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway, is not expected to have a serious impact on bridge and boat traffic. The authority will rehabilitate the 10 of the bridge's 13 piers that stand in the water, subjecting them to a form of damage known as "scour" caused by the river's currents.

The work is expected to be completed by late 2013, according to the authority. The project is financed by revenue from the state's toll facilities. No lane closings as a result of the work are anticipated.

Continue reading "Work on Tydings Bridge foundation begins" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:39 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

September 27, 2011

Bartlett un-retires, will head transportation authority

Harold M. Bartlett, a veteran transportation executive who retired as acting head of the Maryland Transportation Authority early this year, will return as permanent executive secretary of the toll facilities agency, Gov. Martin O'Malley announced Tuesday.

Bartlett, a Montgomery County resident, served as deputy secretary of the Maryland Department  of Transportation in 2009-2010 following a 23-year career with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. He retired as deputy late last year but continued in the role of acting executive secretary until the first phase of the Inter-county Connector was opened in February.

In the interim, the authority has been headed by acting executive secretary Randolph P. Brown. The agency, which manages the ICC and the state's seven other toll facilities, voted last week to impose the largest package of toll increases in its history.

 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:10 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

September 15, 2011

Sobriety checkpoint on Key Bridge planned

The Maryland Transportation Authority Police will conduct a sobriety checkpoint Friday night at the Francis Scott Key Bridge toll plaza.

If past performance is any indication, they won't be rounding up a vast number of drunken drivers -- but there will be some arrests. There's always a few drivers who are out of it just enough to ignore all warnings and drive right into the checkpoint after a night of boozing it up.

Many more drivers will leave the checkpoints with information on the dangers of driving under the influence.

The checkpoint hours were not announced.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:41 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities, On the roads
        

Storms didn't set back ICC progress

The last few weeks of rainy weather may have washed out roads and knocked out power to thousands of homes, but they didn't put a serious crimp in the progress of construction of the Intercounty Connector, Maryland's transportation chief says.

Shortly before Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee hit, contractors finished putting down at least one layer of pavement on the entire unopened stretch of the ICC between Georgia Avenue and Interstate 95, Transportation Secretary Beverley Swaim-Staley said Thursday. The section between Georgia and Interstate 370 opened early this year.

The work that remains includes striping, putting up signage, installing guardrails and completing the top layers of pavement. Asked whether the entire stretch of the ICC linking the Interstate 95 and Interstate 270 corridors would open this year, Swaim-Staley crossed her fingers and said "weather permitting."

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:03 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities, On the roads
        

July 22, 2011

Police to set up sobriety checkpoint at Bay Bridge

Hitting the bars in Annapolis and then returning to Kent Island is always a bad idea, but it could be an especially costly mistake this weekend.

The Maryland Transportation Authority Police will conduct a sobriety checkpoint Saturday night on the Bay Bridge. The police plan to set up the checkpoint at an unspecified time at the toll plaza on the eastbound bridge.

Drivers who show no signs of intoxication will get a pamphlet. Those who do could wind up in handcuffs.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:42 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities, On the roads
        

State's E-ZPass transponder costs to drop

The multi state consortium that runs the E-ZPass toll collection system has agreed to a deal that would cut the cost of each transponder issued by its member toll authorities, including Maryland's, by more than half.

TollRoadsnews reported that the E-ZPass Inter-agency Group has chosen Kapsch TrafficCom IVHS Inc. as its supplier for the next generation of toll-collection devices.  The Frederick-based  trade publication calculated that Kapsch's bid would lower the per-unit cost of transponders from $20.95 to $8.90.

The deal would presumably give the Maryland Transportation Authority some room to offer its customers a better deal, though the savings are unlikely to have much impact on the record-high toll increases now pending. The total savings for the 10-year life of the contract would  be $482 million split among the 24 toll agencies that make up the E-ZPass consortium.

The group includes toll agencies from as far west as Illinois, as far south as Virginia and as far north as the Canadian border.

 

Continue reading "State's E-ZPass transponder costs to drop" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:47 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

July 18, 2011

Painting projects begins on Hatem Bridge

The Maryland Transportation Authority has begun a $10.8 million painting project as part of its effort to preserve the 71-year-old Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge.

Contractors will be cleaning and painting  parts of the steel above the top of the bridge piers, parts of the overhead truss and some areas below the bridge surface.

Drivers can expect single-lane closures Monday through Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. is expected to be completed in late 2012. The last painting project at the bridge took place in 1990.

The aging bridge has been costing the state's toll-payers a lot more money to maintain in recent years than it ever took to build it in the first place. The authority recently completed a $66.8 million re decking project, and a $54.3 million underwater repair project is scheduled to begin this fall.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:14 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

July 15, 2011

Bay Bridge getting a paint job

The westbound span of the Bay Bridge is getting a much-needed paint job -- at a cost of $19.5 million for the first phase alone.

The Maryland Transportation Authority announced  that on or about Monday it expects to launch  the long-planned project to give the westbound bridge its first full-scale cleaning and  painting since it opened in 1973.

Painting a span such as the Bay Bridge isn't just a matter of cosmetics. The paint itself serves to protect the girder spans from corrosion. and extend the life of the bridge. The first step in the work is removal of the existing paint.

 

Continue reading "Bay Bridge getting a paint job" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:21 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

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.

Continue reading "Toll authority turns customer into a violator" »

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

June 24, 2011

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.)

Continue reading "State buys high, sells low on transponders" »

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

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.  

Continue reading "Senator responds to column on tolls" »

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

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
        

June 3, 2011

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.

Continue reading "Public hearings on proposed toll increases set" »

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

June 2, 2011

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
        

May 13, 2011

Nasty toll hikes proposed for Nice Bridge

One of Maryland's toll facilities didn't make the cut in Friday's Sun coverage of the steep proposed toll increases by the Maryland Transportation Authority: the Gov. Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge in Southern Maryland.

The 70-year-old bridge, which carries U.S. 301 over the Potomac River between Charles County and Virginia, now has a basic toll for two-axle vehicles of $3, collected in one direction only. The staff of the authority had suggested raising the toll to $4 in October and $6 in 2013.

There was some discussion at Thursday's meeting of the authority's Finance Committee whether the Nice Bridge toll increase should bring it to eventual equivalency with the Bay Bridge, for which an increase to $8 in 2013 was proposed. Members noted that the narrow, antiquated Nice Bridge is likely to need a full replacement in the coming years.

Continue reading "Nasty toll hikes proposed for Nice Bridge" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:12 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

There's a (thin) silver lining in bridge toll proposal

Amid all the bad news contained in the Maryland Transportation Authority's staff's original proposal for toll increases in October and in 2013, there's a nugget of a good idea: Equalizing the toll burden of the two main routes to the Eastern Shore.

Currently there's a perverse incentive to use the congested bottleneck that is the Bay Bridge. The toll for a round trip there is $2.50, while the cost of using the Kennedy Highway to get to a northern route through Delaware is $5.

The increases proposed by the authority staff would bring the Bay Bridge and Kennedy Highway tolls both to $8 in 2013.

Many people in Baltimore aren't aware that they can get to certain Delmarva destinations -- the Delaware beaches or northern Ocean City -- in about the same time by using the Bay Bridge or by going around the head of the bay. When the bridge is congested, the northern route will often take less time. But for many in Baltimore, the Bay Bridge is the only way they know -- plus it's cheaper.

Continue reading "There's a (thin) silver lining in bridge toll proposal" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:03 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

May 12, 2011

Toll expert: Increase is steep but overdue

A leading expert of toll facilities said the proposed increase outlined by the staff of the Maryland Transportation Authority Thursday are steep because they are making up for years in which the state's tolls lagged behind national trends.

Peter Samuel, editor of Frederick-based Toll Road News, said the Bay Bridge and commuter tolls are particularly "cheap." Samuel said the rates being proposed would take them to levels consistent with national trends. He noted that Maryland has gone almost a decade since increasing its base-rate tolls for passenger vehicles.

"I think it's been a long time coming. I don't think it's necessarily excessive," he said. "I personally think they should have bitten the bullet 2-3--4 years ago."

Continue reading "Toll expert: Increase is steep but overdue" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:47 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

Senator blasts proposed toll increases

The Senate's leading critic of the toll authority, Republican E. J. Pipkin from the Upper Eastern Shore, denounced the proposed increases as "outrageous."

"It just shows how out of touch the O'Malley administration is with the average working family," Pipkin said. "Do you think the average family income in Maryland has gone up 300 percent?"

The staff of the authority outlined increases that would in some cases double tolls in October of this year and triple them from current levels in 2013. At the Bay Bridge, a particular interest of Pipkin's Eastern Shore constituents, the $2.50 toll that has been in place since the 1970s would go to $5 in October and $8 in 2013.

The authority has long been an independent entity that does not answer directly to the General Assembly and that can raise tolls without legislative review. Pipkin noted that he proposed legislation that would have curbed the authority's toll-raising powers but that it had been successfully opposed by the Maryland Department of Transportation.

Pipkin said the proposed increases show why the authority's "independence should be questioned." He urged citizens to call the governor's office and the authority itself to protest the possible increases.

The senator suggested that much of the demand for money to pay bondholders comes from the costs of building the Intercounty Connector, a partially opened toll road in the Washington suburbs. The $2.6 billion highway was proposed as a toll road under Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and continued in the same form by Gov. Martin O'Malley.

Pipkin contended that users of the Bay Bridge and other facilities shouldn't have to pay more to cover the costs of that project. "If the ICC threw the finances out of whack, they ought to address it through the ICC," he said.

The ICC, conceived as a road where rates would vary by market demand and congestion levels, is not affected by the current set of increases. Authority officials said its rates had only recently been adopted and that when it fully opens late this year or early in 2012 the tolls would fall within the rate originally set.

 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:05 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

MDOT chief: Toll increases are unavoidable

Whether Marylanders like it or not, tolls have to go up, Maryland's transportation chief says.

Beverly Swaim-Staley, who in her role as secretary of Transportation chairs the Maryland Transportation Authority, said the package of $210 million in toll increases outlined yesterday for a committee of the authority's board is a regrettable necessity. She said the authority needs the increased revenue to pay bondholders and to keep up with the escalating costs of maintaining an aging system.

"They are at an age where they need major rehabilitation and we need to pay for that rehabilitation," Swaim-Staley said.

The secretary noted that both the Hatem and Nice bridges are 70 years old, while the two spans of the Bay Bridge opened in 1952 and 1973. The Harbor Tunnel is 55 years old, and the John F. Kennedy Highway opened in 1963.

Swaim-Staley also noted that most of Interstate 95 as it goes through the city -- a stretch of highway that the authority maintains -- is the equivalent of a long bridge because the roadway is elevated. The authority's current maintenance plans call for expensive rehabilitation projects along much of the roadway approaching the tunnels under the harbor.

The details of the toll package outlined by the authority's staff are not graven in stone. Swaim-Staley noted that the package will be the subject of nine public hearings starting in June, giving the board an opportunity to make adjustments in response to public concerns.

 

Continue reading "MDOT chief: Toll increases are unavoidable" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:19 PM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

Commuters would take hit under toll plan

Marylanders who use the state's toll facilities for commuting have been exempt from increases for more than two decades as other users have had to dig deeper into their pockets. But that would change under a plan suggested by the staff of the Maryland Transportation Authority at a meeting of the board's finance committee this morning.

The staff outline the following potential changes in commuter fares, which have remained the same since 1989:

Baltimore Harbor crossings (Key Bridge, Fort McHenry Tunnel and Harbor Tunnel): The commuter toll, now 40 cents, would go to 90 cents on Oct. 1 and $1.40 on July 1, 2013. These tolls are paid in both directions.

Bay Bridge: The current $1 commuter toll, charged to eastbound users only, would go to $1.50 in October and $2.80 in 2013.

Kennedy Highway (Interstate 95 northeast of Baltimore). The current 80-cent commuter rate, charged northbound only, would go to $1.80 in October and $2.80 in 2013.

Hatem Bridge (U.S. 40 over the Susquehanna River). The current decal system would be abolished and commuters who want discounts would have to use E-ZPass. The current $10 decal for a full year's use would be replaced by a $36 annual charge. Commuters would also have to buy a transponder and pay the monthly E-ZPass fee.

Nice Bridge (U.S. 301 over the Potomac in Southern Maryland): The current 60-cent commuter toll, collected in one direction, would go to $1.20 in October and $2.10 in 2013.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:56 AM | | Comments (19)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

Proposal: Kennedy Highway to $6, then $8

The Maryland Transportation Authority staff has given the Finance Committee of the authority's board a proposal under which the $5 charge for the toll on the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway (Interstate 95 northeast of Baltimore) would go to $6 on Oct. 1 and $8 on July 1, 2013. The same increases would apply to the Hatem Bridge n U.S. 40 over the Susquehanna River.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:48 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

Proposal: Bay Bridge toll would go to $5, then $8

The staff of the Maryland Transportation Authority has presented the board's Finance Committee with a plan to raise the tolls on the Bay Bridge from the current $2.50 for a crossing to $5 on Oct. 1 and $8 on July 1, 2013.

Tolls on the Bay Bridge have essentially been frozen since the 1970s.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:27 AM | | Comments (15)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

Hatem Bridge commuters likely to pay more

Commuters on the Hatem Bridge on U.S. 40 over the Susquehanna River will likely have to pay significantly more to use that route under a Maryland Transportation Authority staff recommendation that is supported by a consensus of the board's finance committee.

The plan would eliminate the current decal system, which lets subscribers buy a $10 decal that allows unlimited use of the facility for a year. Instead commuters would have to get an EZ-Pass at the cost of $25 and pay the $1.50 a monthly fee. Then they would be charged $36 a year for unlimited use of the bridge for a year.

All of this would have to go to the full board and to public hearings. 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:00 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

Toll increase proposal expected today

Marylanders can expect to learn the specifics of a proposed $70 million revenue-raising increase at the state's toll facilities this morning as the Finance Committee of the Maryland Transportation Authority's board meets to consider a plan drawn up by the agency's professional staff.

The increase is expected to be imposed later this year to meet the expectations of the authority's bondholders and to keep up with a lengthy list of maintenance projects for the aging system -- much of which was built 50 or more years ago.

Some sacred cows could be on the menu as the panel is likely to discuss raising tolls on the Bay Bridge and the cost of commuter plans -- items that have remained essentially frozen for decades as the cost of using other toll facilities has increased.

 

Continue reading "Toll increase proposal expected today" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:47 AM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

May 2, 2011

Heavy Bay Bridge traffic expected this weekend

The Maryland Transportation Authority is warning motorists to expect heavy traffic at the Bay Bridge this weekend as a result of events planned on the Delmarva peninsula.

The authority said it expects high traffic volumes between Thursday and Sunday because of a combination of SpringFest in Ocean City, NASCAR races in Dover, Del., and other activities. The agency said the best times to travel will be Thursday before 2 p.m., Friday before noon and after 10 p.m., Saturday before 7 a.m. and between 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. and Sunday between 7 a.m. and 11 a.m. and after 10 p.m.

The authority said that if weather permits it would use two-way operations on the westbound bridge to alleviate congestion on the eastbound span.

 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:42 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

April 22, 2011

Expect delays on Bay Bridge

The Maryland Transportation Authority has called off its usual two-way traffic operations on the Bay Bridge Friday afternoon because of the threat of bad weather.

The agency is warning travelers to expect delays as a result.

The authority usually shifts one lane of the three-lane westbound bridge to eastbound use at periods of peak travel to the Eastern Shore. But it does not do so at times when the weather is bad because of safety concerns.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:24 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

April 19, 2011

Bay Bridge victim was prominent golf writer

The man who was killed Monday when he was thrown from the Bay Bridge in a bizarre traffic crash was a retired golf writer who covered Tiger Woods and some of the other most prominent names in the game for USA Today.

Harry Blauvelt, 70, of Chester on Kent Island (right) was pronounced dead at Anne Arundel Medical Center after he was pulled from the Chesapeake Bay late Monday morning. He was hit by his own vehicle, a 2001 Honda, when it was struck by an International truck as the car stood disabled in the right lane of the eastbound span. Blauvelt had left his car when it was struck and pushed into him, according to the Maryland Transportation Authority Police.

It was apparently only the second time in the almost 60-year history of the bridge that a person went over the side as a result of an accident. Two other men who had been on the bridge Monday ended up in the water in separate incidents that were not traffic-related. One of them died.

Reid Cherner, Blauvelt's former editor at USA Today and now a reporter there, said Blauvelt retired seven or eight years ago after many years of covering the professional golf tour. His years on the beat coincides with Woods rise to prominence in the game.

"I don't think Tiger won a major without Harry being there," Cherner said.

Cherner remembers Blauvelt as a devotee of films, the TV program The Wire and Navy football.

"Harry was a man of tremendous passion," Cherner said. "When Harry got involved in something he really let you know."

Blauvelt leaves a wife, Ellen, of Kent Island.

Photo courtesy of USA Today

 

 

Continue reading "Bay Bridge victim was prominent golf writer" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:31 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

Men killed, injured in Bay Bridge incidents identified

The Maryland Transportation Authority Police have identified the two men killed and one injured in a bizarre series of events Monday on the Bay Bridge.

Killed in a crash in which he was thrown from the eastbound span was Harry Blauvelt, 70, of Chester on Kent Island. Blauvelt, a retired golf writer, was pushed over the Jersey barrier wall when a truck driven by Enos Hutton Sage, 63, of Severn, struck Blauvelt's disabled 2001 Honda in the right lane of the bridge. The truck pushed the Honda into Blauvelt, who had left his vehicle, about 10:30 a.m. and flung him into the water 52 1/2 feet below. He was recovered from the water but pronounced dead at Anne Arundel Medical Center.

At 3:30 p.m., a man left a car in which he was a passenger on the westbound span and went over the side of the bridge near its highest point, 180 feet above the water. A 38-year-old Salisbury resident was killed in the incident, according to transportation authority police spokesman Sgt. Jonathan Green.

Green said there were no indications of foul play. He added that the driver was a female relative of the victim.

About three hours earlier, at 12:30 p.m.  another man went over the side about sixth-10ths of a mile from the spot of the later incident. The man, who had apparently abandoned his vehicle on the bridge, was rescued from the water and transported to the Maryland Shock-Trauma Center with what were described Monday as "life-threatening"  injuries. Green said that as of Tuesday the 21-year-old resident of Owings in Calvert County was listed in stable condition.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:52 AM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

April 18, 2011

3 pulled from water in Bay Bridge incidents; 2 dead

A strange, tragic day on the Bay Bridge resulted in the death of one man thrown from the eastbound span and into the bay when a truck ran into his car and life-threatening injuries to a another man who was died after going over the side of the westbound span. Meanwhile, a third person was pulled from the water under the bridge with life-threatening injuries.

The first incident, in which a truck plowed into the rear of a disabled vehicle about 10:25 a.m., closed the eastbound span for several hours and led to massive traffic backups. The second incident, in which a vehicle was left unattended in the only open westbound lane, blocked traffic in that direction for about a half hour.

Sgt. Jonathan Green, a spokesmen for the Maryland Transportation Authority Police, said the  crash occurred about halfway between the water's edge on the Anne Arundel County side  and the large curve well-known to users of the bridge. Green said a 2001 Honda Accord broke down in the right-hand lane, the only one open at the time, and its driver left the vehicle.  A 2003 International truck, which was not pulling a trailer, then struck the rear of the Honda and  forced it into the car's driver, pushing him over the Jersey barrier wall and into the water. Green said the bridge deck is 52 1/2 feet above the water at that point.

Continue reading "3 pulled from water in Bay Bridge incidents; 2 dead" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:41 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

Eastbound Bay Bridge reopened after fatal crash

The eastbound Bay Bridge has reopened after this morning's crash that threw a man into the water. (See below.) That man was pulled from the water and pronounced dead at a local hospital. A second individual who went over the side of the westbound span after apparently leaving a vehicle unattended was taken from the water alive but with life-threatening injuries.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:23 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

Second Bay Bridge incident puts another in the bay

A second individual in a single day has eneded up in the water after an incident on the Bay Bridge, according to the Maryland Transportation Authority.

According to a spokeswoman, a person was found in the water after a vehicle was found unattended on the westbound span, which was in two-way operation after a crash on the eastbound bridge resulted in another person being thrown into the water. There has been no word on the condition of either individual.

In the crash, which occurred about 10:40 a.m., a truck apparently rear-ended a disabled vehicle, throwing an  individual whho had left that vehicle into  the water.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:11 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

Eastbound Bay Bridge closed; driver thrown into bay

The eastbound span of the Bay Bridge has been closed because of a crash that threw a person who had left a disabled vehicle into the Chesapeake Bay, according to the Maryland Transportation Authority. The person had been recovered but there was no word on his or her condition.

In a second incident a short time later, a body was recovered from the water after an unattended vehicle was found on the westbound span. A spokeswoman, Kelly Melhem,  said the incident was "apparently unrelated."

As a result of the crash, two-way operations have been implemented on the three-lane westbound span, with one lane open in each direction and the middle lane closed as a buffer.  Melhem said the eastbound bridge is expected to remain closed for a few more hours.  

Melhem said the crash took place about 10:40 a.m. as one of the two lanes of the eastbound bridge was closed for road work. She said a passenger vehicle apparently broke down in that lane and an occupant had left the car when a truck struck its rear, throwing that person into the water.

The crash occurred on the western end of the bridge before it reaches its highest point, the spokeswoman said. "I do imagine the injuries would be substantial," she said.

Melhem said two other persons had been evaluated for possible injuries at the scene.  She did not know their condition, whether they had been transported to hospitals or which vehicles they had been in.

In the second incident, Melhem did not give the cause of the death but noted that the authority's policy is not to discuss suicides because of a concern that publicity creates a "contagion" leading to other incidents. She said the unattended vehicle was found in the right-hand lane, the only one open to westbound traffic at the time. She said the bridge was closed to westbound traffic from 12:35 p.m. to 1:05 p.m.

The morning's incident is apparently only the second time in the bridge's almost 60-year history that a person has gone off the bridge as a result of a crash. The previous incident occurred Aug. 10, 2008, when a tractor-trailer crashed through a barrier wall on the eastbound span. In that case, the truck driver was killed.

Continue reading "Eastbound Bay Bridge closed; driver thrown into bay" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:48 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

April 5, 2011

PETA offers ads as toll-reduction plan

Would you object to being greeted at a tollbooth by a sexy young woman clad only in salad if it reduced what you paid? People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals thinks not.

The animal rights organization is offering to pay the Maryland Transportation Authority to place an ad promoting a vegan lifestyle at the state's toll facilities, making the case that by accepting that money, the state could reduce a portion of its expected increase in tolls this year.

The ad PETA wants to display at tollbooths shows a healthy-looking young woman wrapped in nothing more than lettuce leaves along with the message: "Meat Takes a Toll on Your Health—Go Vegan."

PETA Vice President Bruce Friedrich sent a letter to Maryland Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley, the authority's chairman,  extolling the benefits of a diet free of animal products and urging acceptance of the ads.

"The ad revenue will help with the state's budget woes, and the message will save the state and drivers money on health care as commuters shift toward a vegan diet," he wrote.

 

Continue reading "PETA offers ads as toll-reduction plan" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:11 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

March 27, 2011

Google still directing traffic onto unfinished ICC

How long does it take Google to correct an egregious error in its mapping program once it's brought to the company's attention?

We don't know, but it's longer than 48 hours.

On Friday, The Sun notified the company that its Google Maps program was directing drivers heading from Baltimore to Gaithersburg and other destinations in the Interstate 270 corridor of Montgomery County to get off Interstate 95 and take the Intercounty Connector (Route 200).

The catch is that the 10-mile stretch of the ICC between I-95 and Georgia Avenue won't open until late this year or early in 2012. Only the segment between Georgia Avenue and the Interstate 370 spur off I-270 is open.

A Google spokeswoman said Friday that the company hopes to have the error fixed by early this week.

It would appear that steering people onto a road that's a construction site wasn't seen as serious enough mistake to pay technicians weekend rates to make an emergency fix. Is this just Google being frugal?

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:06 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities, On the roads
        

March 25, 2011

On Google, the ICC is open all the way to I-370

On Google World, the 41.9-mile trip from Baltimore to Gaithersburg takes all of 48 minutes along the brand new Intercounty Connector. Just take Interstate 95 south, hop on the ICC and you’re virtually there.

On Planet Earth, most of the ICC hasn’t opened yet. The 10 miles between I-95 and the Montgomery County high-tech hotbed is largely a muddy track where bulldozers are still doing what bulldozers do.

Oops.

In a textbook illustration of the computer adage “garbage in, garbage out,” Google and another popular Web-based mapping service have jumped the gun on the opening of the longest segment of Maryland’s new toll road by about a year (Click on image above to enlarge).

“Beware: Everything you read on the Internet may not be true,” Lon Anderson, spokesman for AAA-Mid-Atlantic, chortled when told about the error.

Continue reading "On Google, the ICC is open all the way to I-370" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:28 PM | | Comments (19)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities, On the roads
        

March 24, 2011

Toll increase timetable comes into focus

The Maryland Transportation Authority's target date for its expected round of toll increase to take effect is October, officials at the agency said yesterday.

The timetable for the increases came into clearer focus this morning at a meeting of the toll authority's board, where members conducted a general, consensus-seeking discussion of the parameters of the increases, which are expected to raise a minimum of $70 million in annual revenue.

According to the plan, the board would make a decision on specific proposals in May, then taken them to a round of about seven public hearings in June and July. The board is hoping to implement the increases in October.

 

Continue reading "Toll increase timetable comes into focus" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:21 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

December 6, 2010

No ICC in 2010, SHA concedes

For months, the State Highway Administration has intoned the same mantra when asked when the first phase of the Intercounty Connector would open: "late this year or early in 2011."

You can forget that "late this year" part.

SHA spokeswoman Valerie Burnette Edgar said the revised projection is that the section of the toll road between Interstate 370 and Georgia Avenue will open early next year. Bad construction weather, she said, has ruled out a 2010 debut.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:12 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Contracts awarded for ICC bus routes

The Maryland Transit Administration has selected operators for two commuter bus lines that will run on the Inter-county Connector after the first phase of the toll road is opened.

S & L Enterprises of Hagerstown, which does business  as Atlantic Coast Charters, has been awarded a three-year contract to operate a route between Gaithersburg and BWI Marshall Airport with a bid of $4.39 million. Eyre Bus Service of Waldorf submitted a winning $1.28 million bid for a  three-year contract to provide service on a route between Gaithersburg and Fort  Meade.

Both contracts are scheduled  for a Board of Public Works vote Dec. 15. The first phase of the ICC, between Interstate 370 and Georgia Avenue, is expected to open early next year, and the bus service is scheduled to begin then. The second phase, between Georgia Avenue and Interstate 95, is scheduled to open about a year later.

Continue reading "Contracts awarded for ICC bus routes" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:55 AM | | Comments (0)
        

December 2, 2010

ICC contractor fined for pollution violations

The Maryland Department of the Environment said today that it has fined a contractor that is building part of the Intercounty Connector $25,500 violations of anti-pollution llaw.

MDE said that Intercounty Constructors General Partnership paid the fine to the state's Clean Water Fund Oct. 25 to resolve charges it violated its sediment control and  discharge permit while building the western segment of the toll road nearr Rockville. That section of the highway, between Interstate 370 and Georgia Avenue, is expected to open late this month or early next year.

MDE said subsequent inspections have found the project to be in compliance.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:16 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities, On the roads
        

Final stage of Hatem Bridge project to start

The long deck replacement project on the 70-year-old Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge will move into its fourth and final stage next week, bringing new changes in traffic patterns, according to the Maryland Transportation Authority.

Coming to an end is the third stage, which began in January and required the closing of the westbound lanes of the toll bridge, which takes U.S. 40 over the Susquehanna  River at Havre de Grace and Perryville. During this phase, traffic has moved in a single lane in eachh direction on the eastbound part of the span.

Starting next week, the outside lanes of the bridge will be closed and vehicles will use the two outside lanes. While  the inside lanes  are closed,  work crews will install a concrete barrier in the middle of the bridge to separate eastbound and westbound traffic. The work, which started in 2008, is sceduled to be finished by midyear 2011.

While work continues, travel restrictions on the use of the bridge by large trucks will remain in effect between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:00 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

November 24, 2010

Delaware backup reaches 5.8 miles

The Maryland Transportation Authority  reports that as of about 1:45 p.m., the northbound traffic backup on the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway at the Delaware Turnpike toll plaza had reached 5.8 miles and is building. Authority spokeswoman Teri Moss said the travel time estimate  to the Delaware line from Milepost 96 -- 14 miles away -- was 35 minutes.

Massive trraffic backups have been predicted as a result of heavy holiday ttraffic and construction at the toll plaza.

State highway officials said this afternoon that northbound traffic was being diverted to U.S. 40 via Route 272. Drivers who can should consider exiting Interstate 95 at Route 272 and using U.S. 40 east until they reach Delaware 896, where they can cut over to I-95 past the toll plaza.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:47 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities, On the roads
        

November 18, 2010

Md. toll authority warns of Delaware delays

The Maryland Transportation Authority is warning motorists on Interstate 95 that they could face long lines at Delaware's Newark Toll Plaza this Tuesday and Wednesday because of work the the Delaware Department is doing at the toll collection point.

Meanwhile, the Maryland agency is also warning the U.S. 40 bridge over the Susquehanna River will not be a good alternative for holiday traffic because it is operating with only one lane open in each direction during preservattion work.

According to the authority, the northbound lines at the Delaware toll plaza  could extend as far as Harford County -- about a 20-mile stretch. Motorists can contact the Delaware  Department of  Transportation for information on conditions at the plaza.  

Continue reading "Md. toll authority warns of Delaware delays" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:13 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities, On the roads
        

November 12, 2010

Bay Bridge lanes to close for inspections

The Bay Bridge is now undergoing its annual inspection, and motorists may encounter lane closings during off-peak hours on weekdays.

The Maryland Transportation Authority says drivers on the bridge might spot equipment such as "Snooper" trucks on the bridge, as well as inspectors climbing on the twin spans. Among other things, inspectors will be looking at the condition of the cables that support the suspension part of the bridge. The inspections will continue through next spring.

If weather permits, the authority will close one lane of the three-lane westbound span next Monday-Thursday for the inspection and for maintenance work. It will close the eastbound span entirely Monday-Thursday from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. the following mornings and Friday night from 8 p.m. until 7 a.m. Saturday for preservation work. Two-way traffic will  be in effect on the westbound bridge during those periods.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:14 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

November 10, 2010

Travel plaza: State was concerned few would bid

Maryland transporation officials pulled the plug on the bid process for redevelopment of two travel plazas on Interstate 95 largely because they were concerned that their solicitation of proposals had become so muddled that few prospective contractors would have made offers.

Although the Maryland Transportation Authority has been making plans to seek a private partner to redevelop and operate the aging  Maryland House and Chesapeake House for more than four years, the request for proposals the agency issued early this year had undergone at least seven revisions and several deadline extensions.

In an interview, Maryland Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley said state officials ultimately decider it would be wiser  to cancel the RFP, go back to the start and draft a clean document with the help of a consultant familiar with the arcane world of public-private partnerships. Sometime early next year, the state expects to start seeking bids again.

Continue reading "Travel plaza: State was concerned few would bid" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:29 PM | | Comments (1)
        

November 8, 2010

State cancels contract solicitation for travel plazas

The Maryland Transportation Authority has canceled its bid solicitation for a contract to redevelop and manage its two travel plazas along the toll stretch of Interstate 95 in Northeast Maryland.

For more than four years, the authority has been planning to seek a private vendor to redevelop the aging Maryland House and Chesapeake House on the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway. But earlier today, the  state abruptly canceled its request for proposals,

"The Maryland Tranportation Authority has determined that it is in the best interest of the State to cancel this solicitation" was the only explanation.

A call to the authority seeking additional information was not immediately returned.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:24 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

Toll authority names chief engineer

The Maryland Transportation Authority has named Douglas M. Hutcheson its chief engineer, handing him responsibility for maintaining the state's seven current toll facilities as well as the new Intercounty Connector.

Hutcheson, a resident of Bel Air, has been acting chief engineer since March, when Geoffrey Kolberg retired. He previously served as the authority's director of engineering. He came to the agency after more than 20  years at the State Highway Administration.

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:14 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

October 20, 2010

No 2-way traffic on westbound Bay Bridge this P.M.

The Maryland Transportation Authority has suspended two-way operations on the Bay Bridge this afternoon because of rainy weather -- creating the likelihood of eastbound delays during peak travel hours.

The authority normally opens one lane to the westbound span to eastbound traffic to ease the evening commute for residents of the Eastern Shore. But in bad weather, it generally does not permit two-way traffic on that span, restricting eastbound traffic to the two lanes of the original bridge. The authority said it could reverse the decision if the weather improves.

NOTE: This notice is a rerun of a previous announcement.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:54 PM | | Comments (0)
        

October 12, 2010

No injuries in Fort McHenry Tunnel fire, police say

A school bus caught fire in the Fort McHenry Tunnel this afternoon, closing six of its eight traffic lanes and causing significant traffic backups, but police said the blaze was extinguished without injuries.

Sgt. Jonathan Green, a spokesman for the Maryland Transportation Authority Police, said a school bus occupied by a driver and  an assistant caught fire about 4:30 p.m. in the left  northbound bore of the four-bore tunnel.

Green said the two occupants escaped the bus without injury. He  said there were no children on the bus.

The two northbound bores and the two lanes of the inside southbound  bore were closed, Green said.  He said the two lanes of the bore  where the fire took place will reopen after the vehicle is removed and the tunnel is inspected for structural damage. The other lanes reopened by 6:30 p.m.

Green said the vehicle became disabled in the southern half of the tunnel. The authority detoured drivers onto  the Beltway (the Key Bridge)  and Interstate 895 (Harbor Tunnel).  State Highway Administration video cameras showed a backup that appeared to stretch for several miles on northbound Interstate 95 approaching the tunnel.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:32 PM | | Comments (2)
        

Bus fire closes northbound Fort McHenry Tunnel

The Baltimore firefighters union reports a bus fire has closed the norhbound lanes of the Fort McHenry Tunnel. Here's the email the union just sent out:

Right now, YOUR Baltimore Firefighters are battling a fully involved bus fire INSIDE bore #3, northbound, of the Fort McHenry Tunnel.  There are reports of multiple victims with smoke inhalation. 

 

BOTH NORTHBOUND BORES OF I-95 ARE SHUT DOWN.  MAJOR TRAFFIC DELAYS SHOULD BE EXPECTED. Southbound lanes remain open and undisturbed.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:08 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities, On the roads
        

Bay Bridge makes list of scariest spans

Sun photo/Doug Kapustin

Just in time for Halloween, the Bay Bridge comes in at No. 9 on Travel + Leisure magazine's ranking this month of the world's 26 scariest bridges.

The magazine points to the tendency of storms to plow through the area and reduce visibility on the bridge to near zero. But the bridge hardly seems to keep up with the company it keeps on the list, which is rife with narrow, shaky pedestrian bridges over mountain gorges.

Travel & Leisure is entitled to its opinion, but I don't even rate the William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial Bridge as the scariest bridge named after a former Maryland governor. I would award that honor to the Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge, which carries U.S. 301 over the Potomac River to Virginia. The anything-but-Nice Bridge earns that distinction with its steep slopes and narrow lanes, coupled with the knowledge that it's 70 years old.

Now the Bay Bridge is a good place to get pounded by the wind, but I'd rate the Francis Scott Key Bridge a little scarier on that score. For its condition, which has its scheduled for replacement if it can stay up long enough, the Fort Avenue bridge in Locust Point earns big fright points.

What do you think? Does the Bay Bridge have you spooked, or is there some other bridge in Maryland that you cross in your nightmares?

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:47 PM | | Comments (17)
        

October 8, 2010

Toll authority to add bridge cameras

The Maryland Transportation Authority plans to upgrade its electronic security camera system on five large bridges at a cost of $5-10 million, according to a state web site.

The toll authority is now in the process of taking bids on the contract to supply the camera system, installation of whhich is expected to begin next year. Cheryl Sparks, an authority spokeswoman, said the system is designed to be an "enhancement" of the agency's current surveillance system.

The system would be installed at the Francis Scott  Key Bridge, the Bay  Bridge, the Millard E.  Tydings Bridge (Interstate 95 over the Susquehanna River), the Thomas J. Hatem Bridge (U.S. 40 over the Susquehanna) and the Harry W. Nice Bridge (U.S. 301 over the Potomac River).

 

Continue reading "Toll authority to add bridge cameras" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:44 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

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)
        

October 4, 2010

State opens 2 E-ZPass offices at ends of ICC

With the first segment of the Intercounty Connector scheduled to open in about three months, the Maryland Transportation Authority and the Motor Vehicle Administration have opened E-ZPass offices at either end of the new toll road.

The new offices are located in the MVA's Gaithersbug and Beltsville branch offices, where they will be open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday.

The ICC will be the first Maryland toll facility to operate entirely without tollbooths. Tolls will be collected either with E-ZPass or by cameras that will record license plates of vehicles  that use the highway. Motorists who don't have E-ZPass will be charged a service fee to cover the cost of billing.

The first segment of the $2.5 billion ICC, from Shady Grove to Georgia Avenue in Montgomery County, is scheduled to open either in late December or early January. The segment between Interstate 95 and Georgia Avenue is expected  to open either in late 2011 or early 2012,

 

Continue reading "State opens 2 E-ZPass offices at ends of ICC" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:03 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities, On the roads
        

September 30, 2010

Bay Bridge suspends 2-way operations -- for now

The Maryland Transportation Authority has suspended two-way operations on the Bay Bridge this afternoon because of rainy weather -- creating the likelihood of eastbound delays during peak travel hours.

The authority normally opens one lane to  the westbound span to eastbound traffic to ease the evening commute for  residents of the Eastern Shore. But in bad weather, it generally does not permit two-way traffic on that span, restricting eastbound traffic to the two lanes of the original bridge.

The authority said it could reverse the decision if the weather improves. Officials also warned eastbound travelers to exercise caution at exits 28 (Cape Ste. Claire Road) and 29 (Bay Dale Drive) because of standing water in the roadway.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:41 PM | | Comments (3)
        

September 29, 2010

No 2-way traffic on Bay Bridge this P.M.

The Maryland Transportation Authority says it will not shift into two-way operations on the Bay Bridge this afternoon because of bad weather. The agency warned there could be delays in eastbound traffic.

On a normal weekday, the authority opens up one lane of the westbound span to eastbound traffic for the peak evening travel time. But in rainy weather, the agency considers it too dangerous to allow two-way traffic, so travelers to the Kent Island side must get by in the two lanes of the eastbound span.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:08 PM | | Comments (0)
        

September 23, 2010

Oversized load stuck at tunnel toll plaza

Photo by Sam Sessa

The Sun's Sam Sessa reports that a piece of heavy equipment (oversize load) has become stuck in a toll plaza lane on northbound Interstate 95 at the Fort McHenry Tunnel. He reports that officials are to figure out what to do with the equipment -- apparently a backhoe.

Sgt. Jonathan Green, a spokesman for the Maryland Transportation Authority Police, said a crew was working to extricate the vehicle from lane No. 3 at the toll plaza but said they will apparently have to remove a crash barrier to do so.

Green said  the driver had a permit to transport an oversized load but apparently violated its instructions  in  multiple ways. The driver tried to take the vehicle through a wrong lane  for oversized loads and was  traveling without a required escort vehicle during peak traffic hours when the permit was  invalid, Green said. In addition, the driver failed to notify  authorities an hour in advance of attempting to go through the tunnel -- another traffic offense.

Green said the there was no injury or collision in the incident, but he added that the driver would receive multple citations  for oversized-load permit violations.

If you're planning to haul an oversize load  anytime soon and wat to avoid a similar fate, click  here to read the rules.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:33 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

August 20, 2010

Westbound Bay Bridge reopened after crash

The westbound Bay Bridge has reopened after being closed for about an hour as a result of a crash involving a tractor-trailer and a Corvette.

The crash occurred at 4:52 p.m. when a tractor-trailer ran into the rear of a Corvette, said Sgt. Jonathan Green, spokesman for the Maryland Transportation Authority Police. He said the driver of the  Corvette suffered non-life-threatening injuries but was taken by Medevac helicopter to Maryland  Shock-Trauma Center,

Green said the bridge  was in two-way operations at the time of the crash -- with one of the three lanes being used to help relieve the heavy flow of eastbound traffic for a beach weekend. However, Green said both of the vehicles involved were traveling west  in the right lane.

After the crash, traffic  backed up for miles in both directions and was still moving slowly at 6:25 p.m., traffic cameras showed.

 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:52 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities, On the roads
        

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 | | Comments (0)
        

July 29, 2010

Did toll authority mix up lanes?

Jeff Quinton, a regular MARC rider, has something else to gripe about tonight -- the Maryland Transportation Authority. Here's his account:

"Something non-MARC related for a change: This is not the first time this has happened recently but it was the biggest jam because of it.

"Tonight around 7:30 I was approaching the Fort McHenry Tunnel on NB I-95. Signs were up (I guess about a mile out - where they usually are) that said Left Two Lanes Closed Ahead. So everyone on the left (including us) starts getting over to the right two lanes and then as they get closer to the tunnel around the bend the flashing arrow indicates that the right lanes are the one actually closed and everyone starts having to get back over to the left.

"The lane change snafu caused a pretty major backup that started out where the wrong sign was and lasted all the way through the tunnel. As I said, this has happened before but never with the result as bad as it was tonight when we came through. I know this may be a smaller part of it, but it seems like they're closing half the tubes earlier than they used to for cleaning or whatever other maintenance they do at night. I'm wondering if that isn't a factor in the level of traffic problems too."

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:32 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

July 16, 2010

Freeland leaving transportation authority

Ronald L. Freeland is retiring as executive secretary of the Maryland Transportation Authority after about 3 1/2 years in the job, Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley has announced.

Freeland, a veteran transportation professional, was named to the top executive post at the toll authority shortly after Martin O'Malley became  governor in 2007. He will be succeeded on an interim basis by DDeputy Transportation Secretary Harold Bartlett.

 According to the Transportation Department, Freeland will retire after 24 years in public service in late August and join T. Y. Lin International as Mid-Atlantic director of the engineering and consulting firm.

 

Continue reading "Freeland leaving transportation authority" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:34 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

July 9, 2010

Two-way traffic on Bay Bridge halted; expect delay

The Maryland Transportation Authority has halted two-way operations on the westbound span of the Bay Bridge because of bad weather, reducing the eastbound traffic flow to two lanes at a peak travel time.

With the combination of Friday afternoon commuters heading home to the Eastern Shore and beach-goers  heading for the sand, the constriction of eastbound travel comes at a very bad time. The authority is warning there could be delays. The authority said that if conditions improve, it could go back to two-way operattions.

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:52 PM | | Comments (2)
        

July 2, 2010

Get rid of those gulls and give us real information

Would somebody please shoot, stuff and mount Spike & Otis and put some useful traffic information where it can be easily found on the Bay Bridge web site?

Useful beats cute every time, Maryland Transportation Authority. (Click "Close  this  Page" and you get to a real home page, but there  should be a  clear link on that gull-infested page because it's so heavily promoted.)

On that note, enjoy your holiday. 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:58 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

Bulletin: Bay Bridge congested after crash

UPDATE: 4 1/2 EB backup at Bay Bridge, another 2.6-mile backup at Severn River. Crash + disabled vehicles + commuters competing with beachgoers. Almost a perfect storm.Go north if you can!

This just arrived from the Maryland Transportation Authority:

EXPECT MAJOR EASTBOUND DELAYS THROUGHOUT THE EVENING AT THE BAY BRIDGE
Due to an earlier six-vehicle accident, numerous disabled vehicles and growing afternoon traffic volumes, motorists should expect major eastbound delays throughout the evening at the Bay Bridge.

Currently, Bay Bridge delays stretch 4.5 miles to Ritchie Highway.  Severn River Bridge delays stretch 5.3 miles to I-97.

If at all possible, please attempt to adjust your travel arrangements and leave later this evening.  Prior to traveling, call 1-877-BAYSPAN (1-877-229-7726) for 24/7 bridge traffic conditions or visit www.baybridge.com to view traffic cameras at the bridge.  For traffic information statewide, visit traffic.maryland.gov.

Travelers residing north of Baltimore whose destinations are Maryland and Delaware beach resort areas may wish to take northbound I-95 to DE 1 south. Motorists should be aware of a reconstruction project at the I-95 toll plaza in Newark, De. For information, visit the Delaware Department of Transportation's interactive map at http://www.deldot.gov/public.ejs?command=PublicLocatableMap.

 

You can bypass the Delaware Toll Plaza by getting off I-95 on MD 272 and bearing right to U.S. 40, go east on 40 to Wrangle Hill Road, take a right and it will lead you to DE1.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:07 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities, On the roads
        

June 11, 2010

ICC tolls set at low end of range

The Maryland Transportation Authority has come in on the low end of its proposed range of tolls on the Intercounty Connector as it prepares to open the first segment of the highway sometime about the beginning of next year.

The authority announced Friday that it will charge 25 cents per mile at peak traffic periods for a typical passenger vehicle to use the stretch of the ICC between Interstate 270 corridor and Georgia Avenue. That translates into about $1.45 for the full 5.6-mile trip.

The authority board had previously adopted a policy allowing the agency’s executive secretary to set peak rates in a range of 25-35 cents.


Continue reading "ICC tolls set at low end of range" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:18 PM | | Comments (3)
        

MARC experiment to go on despite glitch

MARC's first experiment with combining two new diesel locomotives to pull a nine-car double-decker train didn't turn out so well, but the Maryland Transit Administration isn't giving up on the idea.

On Thursday, the Maryland Transit Administration  for  the first time tried teaming up two of its new MP-36 diesel engines to haul  a fully loaded train on the Penn Line. All went well with the Baltimore-bound train until it hit BWI, where it developed an air pressure problem, said MTA spokesman Terry Owens.

Owens said the mechanical problem took only five minutes to fix, but delays in unloading passengers from the center track took another 10 minutes. By the time it left BWI, the MARC train had lost its place  in Amtrak's orderly rotation and had to chug into Penn Station  at 30 mph. It ended up arriving  at the station about 45 minutes late.

Continue reading "MARC experiment to go on despite glitch" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:46 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MARC train, Maryland toll facilities, On the roads
        

June 3, 2010

Feds seek public input on transit project criteria

Here's an opportunity for those with strong feelings about the Red Line, Purple Line or other proposed transit projects to weigh in on the criteria the federal government uses to evaluate proposals for such infrastructure investments.

The Federal Transit Administration, which under the Obama administration has altered Bush administration rules subjecting such proposals to a rigid cost-benefit test,  is seeking public comments on changes to its rating system. According to the FTA, it is seeking better ways to reflect the community benefits of transit projects.

The FTA is seeking comments at the federal government's Regulations website as well as holding public meetings -- the first two of which will take place next week:

TRB Environment and Energy Research Conference
Raleigh Convention Center
500 South Salisbury Street
Raleigh, North Carolina 27601
Monday, June 7 at 4:30 p.m.
 
APTA 2010 Rail Conference
Hyatt Regency Vancouver
655 Burrard Street
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada V6C 2R7
Tuesday, June 8 at 1:30 p.m. (Federal Register reflects 2:30 p.m. start time. It will be corrected.)
 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:09 AM | | Comments (0)
        

May 27, 2010

Bay Bridge question answered

An earlier reader was wondering about the operations of the Bay Bridge. Though he got the acronym for the agency wrong (the MTA is the Maryland Transit Administration while the Maryland Transportation Authority uses the clunky MdTA), that's the fault of the General Assembly's lack of imagination in naming agencies. Here's what he had to say:

There's really no need for the MTA to have 2-way traffic on the 3 lanes bridge. If they had any common sense, they should use the 2 lanes bridge for westbound and the 3 lanes bridge for eastbound and reverse direction come Monday. This should be the safest way for traveling across the Bay Bridge. 

I raised that issue with the authority and got the following response:

Continue reading "Bay Bridge question answered " »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:07 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

Bay Bridge work grinds to halt on brink of ending

The years-long deck replacement project on the westbound Bay Bridge, which the Maryland Transportation Authority had hoped to complete by Memorial Day, fell short of that goal overnight when a grinding machine broke down, an authority spokeswoman said today.

"We were very close and we had a breakdown," spokeswoman Kelly Melhem said.

The authority now plans to close the westbound span of the bridge for one more night next week to complete the remaining work of grinding down the pavement for a smoother surface, Melhem said. The $65 million deck project began in 2006 and has been the cause of regular overnight closings of the westbound bridge since late 2007.

All lanes of the bridge are expected to be open Thursday night and this weekend for Memorial Day travel, she said.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:53 AM | | Comments (1)
        

May 26, 2010

Bay Bridge could face 'perfect storm' scenario

Bay Bridge

Sun photo/Michael Dresser

Not to be too alarmist, but if you're heading for Ocean City, the Delaware beaches or the Eastern Shore this holiday weekend there are compelling reasons to avoid the Bay Bridge at Friday's peak evening traffic.

First, traffic is expected to be heavy. AAA Mid-Atlantic is projecting a "robust" travel weekend this Memorial Day, with an expected 6.8 percent increase in the number of Marylanders traveling by automobile.

Second, bookings are up in Ocean City, where city officials are expecting brisk business.

Next, the weather Saturday through Monday is expected to be lovely -- likely enticing spur-of-the-moment visitors who want to grab 2-3 days of sun.

But Friday night could be miserable, with thunderstorms by day followed by showers at night, according to the National Weather Service. And that's bad news for anyone crossing the Bay Bridge.

 

Continue reading "Bay Bridge could face 'perfect storm' scenario" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:11 PM | | Comments (9)
        

May 7, 2010

Next week's Hatem Bridge closings called off

Closings that had been scheduled on the Thomas Hatem Memorial Bridge next week have been called off because the Maryland Transportation Authority completed one phase of the current deck replacement project early.

The westbound lanes of the bridge, which takes U.S. 40  over the Susquehanna River, had been scheduled for closing overnight Monday through Thursday to set the grid deck for part of the project. But that work has been completed, making the closings unnecessary.

That doesn't mean the end of regular closings on the bridge, because the redecking itself isn't expected to be finished until fall 2011.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:31 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

Bay Bridge congestion season kicks off

It's SpringFest in Ocean City, and with that celebration comes the opening of the peak congestion season on the Bay Bridge.

The Maryland Transportation Authority is warning motorists  to expect heavy traffic and possible backups at peak hours on the bridge through Sunday because of SpringFest  and a full calandar of other activities on the Eastern Shore.

Shore-bound folks who live in the Annapolis and Washington areas might have little choice but to travel off-peak or endure long delays,  but Baltimoreans are geographically blessed with the  alternative of using a route around the head of the bay -- particularly if they're headed for the Delaware resorts or north  Ocean City.

If the Bay Bridge is your only reasonable option, the authority urges that you travel at off-peak hours: Friday after 10 p.m.; Saturday before 7 a.m. and between 5 and 10 p.m.; and  
Sunday between 7 a.m. and 11 a.m. and after 10 p.m.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:05 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

May 3, 2010

Steel plates on Bay Bridge are gone

Maryland Transportation Authority photo

The last of the sections of the new deck of the  westbound span of the Bay Bridge is installed.

Regular users of the Bay Bridge may notice a big improvement in the ride this week: The steel plates that were used as a temporary roadway surface during the seemingly endless deck replacement project on the westbound span are gone.

According to Maryland Transportation Authority spokeswoman Kelly Melhem, the last of the plates was removed Sunday morning -- along with the signs warning motorcyclists of their presence.

The absence of the plates is a sign that the 3 1/2-year deck replacement project is drawing to a close. The last of the 156 deck sections on the through-truss  part of the  span was iinstalled last month. The only remaining work to be completed, apart from "punch list" items,  is what is known as "grinding and grooving" the surface to provide a smoother ride.

Melhem said that once that work is completed -- within the next few weeks --- the deck replacement work will be complete and the overnight closings that have been a regular event on the bridge since 2006 will be a thing of the past. (There will still be closings from time to time, because the bridge is a coonstant work in progress, but they won't be as frequent.) 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:06 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

March 5, 2010

Future toll rate increases projected

The Department of Legislative Services projects that the Maryland Transportation Authority will need toll increases in 2011 and 2013 to meet its obligations -- whether customers like it or not.

Legislators and citizens can holler all they want, but the bondholders are in the driver's seat. And the numbers do really add up to a much-needed increase. That''s not new. Both the authority and the analysts have been saying for some time that the piper will have to be paid in 2011 and again in 2013 -- no matter who wins this year's gubernatorial election.

But in their annual report to lawmakers this year, legislative analysts outlined how the system’s need for revenue could affect individual facilities’ tolls for two-axle vehicles.

The following chart does not represent authority policy: That agency, which would have to decide how the need for revenue translates into actual tolls, has not weighed in. But the analysts are pretty good at what they do, so the following chart of past and projected future toll rates is probably not too far from what will be reality in a few years.

Facility                                              2001                       2003                         2011                   2013

Baltimore Harbor crossings *   $1.00                       $2.00                 $3.00             $4.00

Nice (U.S. 301) Bridge                 $3.00                      $3.00                 $5.00              $5.00

Bay Bridge (U.S.50/301)             $2.50                      $2.50                  $4.00              $5.00

I-95, Hatem (U.S. 40) Bridge   $4.00                        $5.00                $6.00               $6.00

*Key Bridge, Fort McHenry Tunnel, Harbor Tunnel

SOURCE: Department of Legislative Services

Continue reading "Future toll rate increases projected " »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:43 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

December 31, 2009

Toll authority makes amends

 

 

 Sun photo/2003         

The plea came from reader Gloria Kukan of New Jersey in Dec. 10, just as I was about to decamp on a weeklong vacation, so this inquiry couldn't be answered quickly. Fortunately, it has a happy ending, courtesy of the Maryland Transportation Authority. Here's the story:

I was told about your column “Getting There” and that you often write of the MdTA. I have a problem that I’m not sure how to progress with and hope that you may have some insight with.

My issue involves the EZ Pass toll plaza at the Fort McHenry Tunnel in Maryland. While returning to NJ from business trip on 08 Oct 2009, I had to pass through this plaza. Since I am reimbursed for all tolls I pay by my company, I need to provide receipts thereby requiring the use of “Cash” only lanes

Continue reading "Toll authority makes amends" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

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)
        

December 22, 2009

Md. cost of weekend snow removal: $26.9 million

Last weekend’s record December snowfall cost the Maryland Department of Transportation a budget-busting $26.9 million for snow removal, Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley said Tuesday. The storm, which dumped an estimated 16-26 inches on various parts of the state, required a massive and expensive response by all of the transportation department’s operating agencies – from the State Highway Administration to the Motor Vehicle Administration.

The largest share was accounted for by the highway agency, with $20 million in costs. After several earlier snowfalls, the SHA’s spending on snow removal has reached $27 million this season -- exceeding its budget of $26 million with more than two months of winter to go, according to MDOT. Snow removal at BWI Marshall Airport cost $2.7 million, while the Maryland Transit Administration spent $2.3 million to keep its buses and transit lines rolling. The Maryland Transportation Authority spent $1.1 million to clear thhe state’s toll facilities, while it cost the port of Baltimore $533,000 to keep its terminals operating..

"Combating a storm like the one Maryland faced this weekend is a necessary but expensive proposition," Swaim-Staley said. "Agency administrators understand that they will have to make adjustments in other areas of their operating budgets to cover any overage of their annual snow removal budget."

Authority gets it right on ICC tolls

While I was on vacation last week, the Maryland Transportation Authority took a vote on the toll structure for the Intercounty Connector. Not only did the board do right by the Baltimore region by brushing aside howls from Montgomery County that the tolls would be too high, the nine-member body made some wise improvements to the original plan.

By approving peak rates as high as 35 cents a mile, the board did its best too make sure that ICC users pay as  much of the cost of building the highway as possible. Giving them a break, as demanded by the Montgomery County Council and other elected officials, would have created a shortfall that likely would have had to be made up for with toll increases at bridges, tunnels and highways that are heavily used by Baltimore-area residents.

Continue reading "Authority gets it right on ICC tolls" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:41 AM | | Comments (2)
        

December 9, 2009

The curious case of the purple dots explained

Maryland Transportation Authority photo         

Sometimes the things government transportation agencies do -- and undo -- are baffling to ordinary travelers. A smart, useful innovation appears -- only to disappear mysteriously. Seldom does the public learn why.

Readers of this blog can now learn about the Case of the Purple Dots at the Fort McHenry Tunnel thanks to a perceptive question from reader Mary McDonald about the Fort McHenry Tunnel Toll Plaza (above) and a refreshingly candid response from Teri Moss of the Maryland Transportation Authority (awkwardly abbreviated below as MDTA).

Continue reading "The curious case of the purple dots explained" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:59 PM | | Comments (2)
        

November 18, 2009

Montgomery Council wants others to pay for ICC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sun photo

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

November 16, 2009

Transportation authority keeps strong rating

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

November 11, 2009

Montgomery Council opens door for transit study

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

October 30, 2009

Lanes to close on Harbor Tunnel Thruway

Look out this weekend for lane closings on the eastern end of the Harbor Tunnel Thruway (Interstate 895).

The Maryland Transportation Authority plans to close one eastbound and one westbound lane of the thruway tonight at 9 p.m. for emergency deck repairs. The lanes will remain closed until 9 a.m. Sunday.

The westbound lane will be closed from O'Donnell Street to the tunnel entrance. The eastbound lane will be closed from the tunnel to past Holabird Avenue. Exit 10 will be closed.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:31 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

Key Bridge becoming more E-ZPass-friendly

If you have an E-ZPass, crossing the Francis Scott Key Memorial Bridge is going to get a bit easier. If you're paying cash, maybe not.

In response to increased E-ZPass use, the Maryland Transportation Authority is changing its lane configuration at the Key Bridge. The change will cut the number of lanes with toll collectors and increase the number that take E-ZPass only.

Currently there are three E-ZPass-only lanes in each direction and three that take both the passes and cash. After the change is implemented this weekend, there will be four E-ZPass-only and two pass-or-cash lanes each way.

The changes will also group the E-ZPass only lans to the left and the mixed-use lanes to the right. The change will create an E-ZPass-only lane on the right side of the toll plaza that trucks can use.

The authority said the changes will improve traffic flow and allow motorists to get to the right lanes more efficiently. The agency said 70 percent of vehicles on the bridge now use E-ZPass.

Obviously, this means fewer toll plaza lanes will be staffed by human collectors. For cash customers, that can only mean more waiting. However, the Key Bridge is one of the least congested Maryland toll facilities so maybe it won't be too bad.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:05 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

October 28, 2009

ICC toll hearing draws little interest

Wednesday night's hearing on the Maryland Transportation Authority's ICC toll proposal in Beltsville brought a sparse response -- most of it predictable complaints about the decision to build the road in the first place.

During the first two hours and ten minutes of the three-hour hearing, only 11 people spoke -- three of them local elected officials. There were long periods where the board stood in recess, waiting to see if any speakers would show up.

Nobody spoke in favor of the authority's toll proposal. But the arguments against it were for the most part unfocused and not very specific. Some argued against collecting tolls at all -- apparently unaware that that train long ago left the station.

Prince George's County Councilman Tom Dernoga made one of the few points that might resonate with the authority board. he pointed out that the proposal of a 3-mile minimum falls hardest on residents of Prince George's County who might want to use the stretch between Interstate 95 and Virginia Manor Road -- a 3/4-mile trip. It's not a big revenue item and it does pose an equity issue to charge them for 3 miles.

But based on the turnout at the first hearing, it's hard to see the board making any big changes to the proposal, which could mean tolls of up to $6 for a one-way trip the full length of the ICC when it opens in late 2011 or early 2012.

There's another hearing Thursday night in Gaithersburg. Those who know are expecting a bigger turnout in Montgomery County.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:49 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

October 20, 2009

Will ICC give tolls a bad name?

Cavan Wilks has written a perceptive piece for the Greater Greatter Washington blog about the high tolls motorists can look forward to when the Intercounty Connector opens.

Essentially, Wilks delivers the message that the announced ICC tolls are expensive because the road itself has been expensive to build. He theorizes -- and I suspect he's correct -- that the ICC experience will sour the public on the cost of new highways.

Tolls were accepted by the public in the pre-interstate era because people really wanted roads to match the explosive growth in the availability of cars. But once the interstate system was born in 1956 and the concept of the freeway caught on, tolled highways seemed anachronistic. Before the ICC, no tollroads have been built in Maryland since the Kennedy Highway in the early 1960s.

In Maryland, all of our current tollls are on old infrastructure -- built at a  time  when construction costs were much less. No new toll facilities have come on line since the Fort McHenry Tunnel in 1985. Generally, Maryland's existing tolls aren't that onerous. Sure, you'll pay $5 to go north on the Kennedy Highway, but it's free coming back. The Bay Bridge toll of $2.50, collected from eastbound drivers only, is still the best bargain in Maryland.

 

Continue reading "Will ICC give tolls a bad name?" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:16 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

October 14, 2009

E-ZMyth about E-ZPass

Reports about an academic study about the effects of traffic congestion on infant health show how easy it is to put misinformation on a fast track in blog world. Contrary to the Internet buzz, there is no report showing that using E-ZPass will make your baby healthier.

There is a  Columbia University report  by Janet Currie and Reed Walker that first came to my attention with an email with the intriguing subject line: "Parents with EZ-Pass have healthier babies?" It directed me to the usually reliable InsideCharmCity blog, which briefly reported  that the study  "finds that parents who use EZPass have healthier babies"  and credited the excellent Greater Greater Washington blog.

Continue reading "E-ZMyth about E-ZPass" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:35 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

October 5, 2009

Who is Thomas J. Hatem of bridge fame?

Thomas Hatem bridge

The Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge was in the news last week, along with the Millard E. Tydings Memorial Bridge. It seems both Susquehanna River bridges' foundations have shown signs of advanced deterioration -- requiring an accelerated rehab program over the next several years.

So who were these fellows whose names now adorn some of Maryland's most importatnt transportation facilities?

Tydings is easy to track down. He was a highly respected four-term U.S. senator (1927-1951) who lived in the Susquehanna River town of Havre de Grace. He died in 1961, so when the Interstate 95 bridge opened in 1963, it seemed only natural to honor him.

Hatem was a little more diifficult to track down. All the Maryland Transportation Authority says is that he was a distinguished citizen of Harford County who devoted his life to public service. Google had little more to offer.

Fortunately, The Sun library and researcher Paul McCardell were up to the challenge. It turns out that Hatem was a longtime Harford County Democratic political figure who served a term in the House of Delegates, a stretch as a county commissioner, a stint as state insurance commisioner and six years on the Public Service Commission. When he died at  59 in 1985, the Susquehanna River Toll Bridge was 46 years old and hadn't been named for anyone. His many friends thought naming the bridge from Harford to Cecil County after him would be a fine tribute. The next year it became the Hatem Bridge.

Sun File Photo of the Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge

Continue reading "Who is Thomas J. Hatem of bridge fame?" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:51 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

September 29, 2009

Susquehanna bridges need hurry-up repairs

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

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

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

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:29 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

September 25, 2009

ICC tolls set to maximize revenue

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

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

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

Whether the Maryland public will agree is highly questionable.

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

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

 

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

September 8, 2009

New, wider Nice Bridge should be top priority

 

Harry W. Nice Bridge

                                                                                          AP/1992

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

September 3, 2009

Toll agency predicts holiday travel increase

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

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

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

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

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

Friday: Before noon and after 10 p.m.

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:57 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

Bay Bridge lane closings planned

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

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

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

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

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:29 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

September 1, 2009

Toll agency fumbling E-ZPass refunds

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

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

 

Continue reading "Toll agency fumbling E-ZPass refunds" »

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

August 21, 2009

Eastbound backups expected on Bay Bridge

Because of bad weather, the Maryland Transportation Authority has called  off two-way operations on the Bay Bridge this evening, so there will only be two eastbound travels lanes.

When the weather permits, the authority usually opens one of the westbound lanes to eastbound traffic at times of peak travel. Congestion this evening could be made worse by the combination of rush hour commuting and travel to beach destinations.

If you live in the  Baltimore area, it would be wise to consider using a northern route around the head of the bay.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:57 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

August 20, 2009

It's looking grim for the Bay Bridge next week

 

Next week is shaping up as a great one for avoiding the Bay Bridge.

Two-way travel will bedevil night travelers on the  bridge most of the week. On Tuesday night through Friday night, the westbound span will close at 10 p.m. and reopen the following morning. On Saturday night it will close at 11 p.m. and reopen at 7 a.m. Sunday.

That means two-way travel on the two lane eastbound span -- a daunting prospect when everyone on the bridge is awake  and sober and potentially deadly when they're not. I'm not faulting the Maryland Transportation Authority for allowing two-way operations under these circumstances. Maintenance work has to be done. But the authority could do a better job of encouraging all those who can to use the northern route around Elkton. For people coming from Baltimore, it's just as effective a way to get to and from many Delmarva destinations.

In choosing a route, it's wise to consider that all it takes is one bad driver to get you trapped on the bridge or its approaches for hours. A good example of that occurred last August, when a young woman who had been drinking fell asleep while driving on the bridge and set off a chain of events that cost a trucker his life and other motorists much of their day (results shown at left). It happened during  two-way operations on the eastbound span.

Meanwhile, the eastbound span will have closings of its own Sunday night and Monday morning for repairs to the bridge wall.

Sun photo

Continue reading "It's looking grim for the Bay Bridge next week" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:36 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

August 14, 2009

Toll authority plods ahead with travel plaza project

 

 

                                                                                           Sun photo/Lloyd Fox

A visit last week to the Maryland House, the venerable travel plaza along Interstate 95 near Aberdeen, brought back memories  of an October 2006 meeting there with Trent M. Kittleman.

Littleman, then executive secretary of the Maryland Transportation Authority, outlined  ambitious plans to replace the vintage 1963 travel plaza and its younger Cecil County counterpart, the Chesapeake House.

But  here it is 2009, and there were few signs of change from three years before. Nor had I heard much mention of the project in recent years.

Authority spokewoman Teri Moss assured me this week that the project has not fallen by the wayside. She said the state is developing a solicitation for a contractor to design, build and operate the facilities. She said she expects the request for proposals (RFP) to hit the streets late this year or early in 2010.

"We were hoping to get the RFP out earlier, but this is a new concept for us," Moss wrote.  "We’ve been careful to come up with a document that would generate a great amount of interest and from the best companies – that would give us the most out of the proposals."

Moss said the authority hopes to have chosen a contractor and to have given it the green light to proceed by the end of next year.

To read the full 2006 article, click below.

 

Continue reading "Toll authority plods ahead with travel plaza project" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:31 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

August 12, 2009

Delaware adds to E-ZPass appreciation

One trip on Delaware Route 1 on a summer weekend was all it took to justify keeping E-ZPass despite the $1.50-a-month fee Marylanders now have to pay for the privilege.

The Delaware highway, a toll road for most of the stretch between Interstate 95 and the south side of Dover, is equipped with toll collection devices that let you fly  by in the E-ZPass lanes without slowing down.

Meanwhile, last Saturday, there were backups at two cash toll plazas of a half-mile or more. For the record, traffic slows to a crawl on beach weekends on the part of Delaware 1 that is non-toll between Dover Air Force Base and the U.S. 113 split.  After  the split, Route 1 returned to normal highway speeds until hitting the outskirts of Lewes. Even with the backup, we found it a highly viable alternative to the Bay Bridge for a trip from Parkville to Rehoboth Beach.  With E-ZPass, of course.

The return trip Monday evening took about 2 1/2 hours, with one stop for gas.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:36 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

July 16, 2009

Is Detroit crash a warning for Maryland bridges?

Detroit tanker

                                                                                  AP Photo

Collapsed overpass blocks Interstate  75 after tanker fire brought it down outside Detroit.

We tend to think of our highway infrastructure as being permanent and impervious to the idiocy of the people that use it, but an incident that took place near Detroit Wednesday shows just how vulnerable it could be.

In that crash, an overpass on Interstate 75 collapsed after a  three-vehicle crash involving a tanker truct, a tractor-trailer and a passenger car. It seems the 27-year-old driver of the car lost control of the vehicle while going about 70 mph on a curve with a speed limit of 50 mph. According to news reports, thhe vehicle swerve into a tanker and broke the connection between the cab and trailer to come apart. The fuel in the tanker caught fire and the bridge was soon history.

The incident reminded me of a well-known local bridge with a pronounced curve where drivers are often inclined to race across at speeds of 70 mph or  more. If you guessed the Bay Bridge, you're on the money.

I asked Lesli Leath, a  spokeswoman for the Maryland Transortation Authority, if there were any restrictions on fuel trucks on the Bay Bridge or other toll bridges in the state. The answer: No. (There are restrictions on bringing hazardous cargo throough the harbor tunnels.)

Certainly the chances of a catastrophic crash severely damaging a bridge are extremely small, but it would be worth examining whether its makes sense to take the slightest chance with the Bay Bridge in particular. It's arguably Maryland's most valuable transportation asset, and the disruption that would folllow from long-term damage to either span would be enormous.

The northern routes around the top of the bay are now far more robust than they were  in decades past. Wouldn't it make sense to route fuel trucks up that way? Or at least require police escorts, as the authority does now for high-grade explosives and radioactive material. At least these are policies the authority board should consider. Let the engineers war-game some worst-case scenarios and examine what the consequences would be.

It would also be refreshing if the board were to grow a spine and  ask the General Assembly to authorize the use of speed cameras on its bridges and in its tunnels. I've also long advocated enhanced fines for traffic violations at these facilities. It's a  matter of protecting the crown jewels of Maryland transportation. That's all the rationale that's needed.

 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:49 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

July 6, 2009

E-ZPass subsidy lingered too long

As of last week, it costs $1.50 a month to maintain an EZ-Pass account with the state of Maryland. That's a scandal.

Not the fee. That's chump change. What's appalling is that it took the Maryland Transportation Authority so long to impose it. Not until there was a severe revenue shortfall did the authority's board muster the political courage to partially plug a leak that's been costing the state millions of dollars a year. The money could have gone toward repaving a section of the Kennedy Highway or enforcing traffic laws at the Fort McHenry Tunnel or planning the replacement of antiquated bridges.

It's money that's been squandered.

That's my conclusion after learning last week from Randy Brown, the authority's operations director, that about 72,000 of the state's roughly 535,000 E-ZPass account holders hadn't used their transponders to pay a toll in the past year. He put the annual cost of maintaining those dormant accounts at $1.9 million a year. That doesn't include the $21 cost of the units that were given free to people who don't use them.

I don't think there are a lot of people out there who share my outrage at that. Most of the reaction I've heard is from people who object to the state's attempt to recover its costs. Quite a few boasted that they've closed their Maryland E-Zpass accounts and opened them in states that charge little or nothing.

Continue reading "E-ZPass subsidy lingered too long" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:43 AM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

July 3, 2009

Sen. Pipkin denounces E-ZPass charges

Every once and a while the Getting There blog will host opposing views -- just for the fun of it. No views could be more opposed than Sen. E. J. Pipkin, a Republican who represents the Upper Eastern Shore. He copied me on a letter to the editor he's been circulating in response to the July 1 effective date of a new $1.50-a-month fee on E-ZPass accounts, as well as other revenue-raiising measures to make up a $60 million revenue shortfall at the Maryland Transportation Authority.

The good senator can have the rest of this blog post to himself. Those who want to read a response will have to wait for a few  days while I sharpen my pen.

FATTENING THE CASH COW – MAKING BAY BRIDGE E-Z PASS USERS PAY MORE

Dear Sir,

In January, when the MdTA announced that it would impose higher fees and new costs on Bay Bridge commuters who use E-ZPass customers, I voiced my objections.   Starved as the State is for revenue, I did not really expect the State to retreat from grabbing $60 million from Marylanders.  In this instance, it would be Marylanders who use the Bay Bridge and other state toll facilities.

The Bay Bridge has always been a cash cow for the MdTA’s highway projects.  The Bridge raises over $30 million in toll revenue each year and costs less than $8 to operate. 

On July 1, the new fees and costs became effective.  E-ZPass users will now have to pay for transponders, more for toll violations and a new charge of $1.50 a month to cover some of the costs of processing the program.  According to then-Secretary of Transportation, John Porcari, the new charges would help recover costs and maintenance of the state’s toll facilities.   Pocari said that he was taking this action “reluctantly” and called it a “last resort.”

As I see it, the State of Maryland has never shied away from bleeding its citizens with new and inventive taxes and fees.  That it does so, in this faltering economy, is unconscionable.

Maryland, like all other states, has been pushing people to use electronic toll collections, which expedite the flow of traffic.   Making the cost of using electronic toll collections higher and adding fees makes no sense.  It is counter-productive. Those higher costs and that additional monthly $1.50 fee could push people and commercial users away from electronic toll collections.   Let’s face it, toll facility users could very well decide to not to use E-ZPass.

It is the worst type of folly for government to grab the money and run without giving significant weight to negative unintended consequences.   In its eagerness to grab the $60 million, the State could be stymieing or sabotaging Maryland’s transportation progress.  The purpose of E-ZPass is to alleviate traffic congestion. Bay Bridge traffic increases between 2% and 3% each year. If the higher cost of using
E-ZPass reduces the number of users, Maryland will have taken an unfortunate step backward from transportation progress.

Sincerely,

E.J. Pipkin

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:52 PM | | Comments (21)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

June 30, 2009

Fee slows, but doesn't stop, E-ZPass growth

E-ZPass toll lanes

Photo by Daniel Hulzhiser/2003

 

Despite customer anger over a new $1.50-a-month fee on E-ZPass accounts that just took effect, Maryland will begin July with more subscribers to the electronic toll collection service than it had on Jan. 1, a top official said Tuesday.

 Randy Brown, operations director of the Maryland Transportation Authority, said that a loss of about 19,000 subscribers who have dropped their accounts since the beginning of the year has been more than offset by a gain of 27,000 new customers.

 Brown said he expects to have about 544,000 E-ZPass account holders Wednesday — the first day the new fee was in effect — compared with about 535,000 on Jan. 1. That represents a slowing of the rate of growth in recent years, but not the reversal many customers predicted.

Brown said there had been a flurry of about 11,000 cancellations over the past two weeks after notices went out in the mail about the monthly fee and a new $21 charge for new or replacement transponders. The charges, along with a series of toll increases affecting mostly truckers, were announced shortly after New Year’s and formally adopted by the authority’s board in late January.

Authority officials said they proposed the revenue package to raise $60 million to fill a budget gap left by a decline in toll collections. The officials said they decided to impose the fee in order recover a portion of the cost of keeping an account open and billing customers.

Continue reading "Fee slows, but doesn't stop, E-ZPass growth" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:08 PM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

AAA blows smoke on E-ZPass fees

AAA Mid-Atlantic put out a press release that does a good job of explaining the Maryland Transportation Authority's new fees and toll increases that take effect Wednesday. Unfortunately it goes on to blow a little smoke concerning its role.

AAA was actually late to the fight over the $1.50-a-month E-ZPass fee that has so many folks upset. It originally  supported the revenue package. It was AWOL at the meeting of the transportation authority board where the new  charges  were actually voted upon. It only started expressing opposition after hearing from members.

In today's release, it bloviates about its petition  effort to get Gov. Martin O'Malley to overturn the board's action. As AAA knows very well, the governor does not have that power.

 AAA spokeswoman Ragina Averella explained that what the AAA meant to say was that it wanted O'Malley to persuade the board to rescind. The problem is, that would be perceived as political pressure. And for the board to be seen as bowing to such pressure carries a big risk.

 You see, the bond market, and bond rating agencies, value the independence of a toll authority's board -- knowing that necessary toll increases will never be popular with elected  officials. If a governor or legislature started to monkey with the actions of an independent board to score political points, the bond rating agencies could decide a downgrade was in order. The increased cost of the authority's borrowing could set back its maintenance efforts for years.

AAA is usually a trusted source of information and a responsible advocate on behalf of motorists. In this case, it put pandering to the masses over the need  to maintain its  credibility.

By the way, authority operations director Randy Brown tells me that Maryland expects to begin July  with more E-ZPass  subscribers than it did on Jan. 1. While about  19,000 subscribers have dropped their accounts, about 27,000 people have opened new accounts. The rate of growth has been slowed but hardly stopped.

Brown also told me that more than 72,000 of the authoriity's 500,000 accounts  as of Jan. 1 hadn't used their transponders in the previous 12 months. He said Maryland -- meaning fellow ratepayers -- paid $1.9 million to keep their accounts open.

"It's going to be a good business move to have customers who don't use their account to close  it," he said.

His statement may not be "sensitive" but it is correct.

Here's the AAA release:

 

Continue reading "AAA blows smoke on E-ZPass fees" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:55 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities, On the roads
        

E-ZPass fees about to kick in

If you've been meaning to cancel your E-ZPass account with the Maryland Transportation Authority but just haven't gotten around to it because of the $1.50-a-month fee approved early this year, today is your last chance to do so without paying the charge. The fee, along with a $21 charge for new and replacement transponders, takes effect July 1.

The authority's board adopted the charges, as well as a series of toll increases on trucks, in order to make up for a revenue shortfall and to begin recovering the administrative costs of the E-ZPass program.

For some infrequent users, canceling E-ZPass could make economic sense. At the same time, it makes economic sense for the authority to bid them farewell because they've been costing the state money. As it stands, an account holder has to pay about $25 in tolls each year before the authority makes a dime off their business.

You  should make every effort to act NOW if you fall in that group that has multiple transponders on multiple accounts. You should get to an authority office ASAP and consolidate transponders onto a single account. Make sure the account you close is the one with the oldest transponder. You would get a new transponder free today that would cost you $21 tomorrow.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:32 AM | | Comments (34)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

June 26, 2009

Closings coming to Bay Bridge

The Maryland Transportation Authority is planning a series of overnight  and midday closings next week for work on the Bay Bridge.

I'll let the folks from the toll authority explain.

Continue reading "Closings coming to Bay Bridge" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:02 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

June 24, 2009

Experts panel urges improvements at toll authority

The experts’ panel assembled after last August’s crash in which a truck plunged through a barrier wall and off the Bay Bridge turned in its report to the board of the Maryland Transportation Authority Wednesday, and it appears the agency has received a relatively clean bill of health.

Among other things, the panel recommended that the authority beef up its procedures for inspecting the state’s toll bridges and tunnels and open the process to more scrutiny from the public. But the panel, made up of seven top transportation engineers from around the country, rejected contentions that the authority should commission an independent inspection of the Bay Bridge. It found that reforms adopted in recent years rotate inspections among different teams, ensuring that different sets of eyes view any problems on the structure.


The panel was set up by Gov. Martin O’Malley after a fatal tractor-trailer crash on the Bay Bridge led to the discovery Aug. 10 that the metal devices that hold in place the Jersey barriers that make up the eastbound span’s wall had been weakened by corrosion. That finding led to weeks of lane-closings and traffic backups as work crews made emergency repairs.

In its report, the peer review panel made no findings of serious lapses by the authority.

"They’ve been doing an adequate job. They meet with federal requirements but like most organizations they can improve their program," said Mary Lou Ralls, a consulting firm executive and former Texas Department of Transportation engineer who chaired the panel.

MY TAKE: This agency was desperately  in need of an overhaul in 2004, when it  had to redo millions of dollars worth of work on the surface of the westbound Bay Bridge. But when that bungle was exposed, then-Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan set a reform process in motion that  continued under his successor, John D. Porcari. The panel found many of  the needed changes to the inspection process are already  in the works.

If anyone wants to wade through 90 or so pages of highly technical stuff, the full report can be found here. 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:33 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

June 16, 2009

Trucker's family sues driver in Bay Bridge plunge

 

 Sun photo

The family of the truck driver who was killed last August when his tractor-trailer crashed through the side of the Bay Bridge filed a $7 million lawsuit Tuesday against the young woman whose vehicle was found to have crossed the center line and to have set off the chain of events that led to the fatal plunge.

The widow, children and father of truc ker John R. Short Sr. allege that Candy Lynn Baldwin, who was 19 at the time of the crash, had been drinking illegally before attempting to drive from Baltimore to the Eastern Shore early in the morning of August 10.

Continue reading "Trucker's family sues driver in Bay Bridge plunge" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:34 PM | | Comments (0)
        

June 8, 2009

Authority to hold meetings on I-95 toll plaza

The Maryland Transportation Authority will hold two public meetings this month to answer questions and receive comments on the placement of a new toll plaza along Interstate 95 in Cecil County.

The meetings, both from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., will be held June 16 at Elkton High School  and June 18 at Perryville High.

The meetings are part of a study that began last spring to study traffic patterns in the I-95 corridor and to determine the best locations at which to collect tolls on the Kennedy Memorial Highway. The study will also look at the best ways to collect the tolls.

 The authority said there will be no formal presentation at the meetings but said staff members will be present to answer questions and take comments. The study, which is described in detail at the authority's web site, is expected to be completed  this fall.

 

 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:43 PM | | Comments (1)
        

June 5, 2009

Changes promised for Beltway Exit 1

Reader Chris Haffer wrote in to ask what the heck's happening at the interchange of the Beltway, Quarantine Road and Hawkins Point Road.

Every morning on my way to the office I pass by at least ½ mile of backed up traffic at Exit 1.  Most people who are in line are on the shoulder.  Every now and again some genius will decide to stop in the right lane of traffic – causing all traffic to essentially stop -  and butt into the line nearer the ramp.  This is happening on both sides of the Beltway.


A few years ago I heard that SHA was well aware of the problem and that the entire exit was due for a major overhaul.


What’s happening?

When I asked the State Highway Administration that question, the agency directed me to the Maryland Transportation Authority, which is responsible for that stretch of the Beltway.

 Authority spokeswoman Teri Moss wrote back to say the agency has plans to upgrade that interchange. Details follow:

Continue reading "Changes promised for Beltway Exit 1" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:57 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities, On the roads
        

No two-way on Bay Bridge today

The weather is expected to be pretty rotten again today, so the Maryland Transportation Authority has decided not to try two-way operations on the westbound span. That's the prudent call, but it also means there may be some serious backups in the eastbound direction -- especially this afternoon and evening.

Baltimore-area folks who are heading for the beach this P.M. should give serious thought to taking the northern route. People who are doubly smart will avoid the Delaware Toll Plaza -- scene of many a backup -- and cut over on Route 272 to U.S. 40 east at North East, cross the state line and take a right on Wrangle Hill  Road to Delaware Route 1 south.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:40 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

May 20, 2009

Confessions of a gephyrophobic

OK, I have to confess up front that I have a mild case of gephyrophobia -- an irrational fear of driving on long, high bridges. It's not that I'm paralyzed on them, but they make me distinctly uncomfortable. I tend to respond to them by driving at or around -- forgive me -- the speed limit.

This is intensely frustrating to some drivers, including the person in the monstrous Dodge Ram who tailgated me most of the way across the westbound Bay Bridge this afternoon. But with traffic going two ways on the western span, I found the 45 mph posted limit quite enough. OK, maybe I slipped down to 40, but two-way traffic on that narrow ribbon of pavement gives me the willies. Perhaps I've written too many stories about Bay Bridge mayhem.

(Memo to Bay Bridge drivers: Tailgating a gephyrophobic will not make him or her pick up speed. If anything, they'll slow down even more.)

Here's the good news: It's pavement all the way now. The steel plates used during the now-suspended deck replacement on the westbound span have been removed. One less reason for paranoia.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:21 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities, On the roads
        

E-ZPass policy made wonderfully clear (I hope)

Mike Korczynski of Bel Air wrote to seek a clarification of the Maryland Transportation Authority's policy on transponder replacements before July 1, when it will begin imposing a $1.50-a-month service fee and a $21 charge for new and replacement transponders.

It seemed like a good opportunity to shed a little light on the issue.

Mike wrote:

I may be wrong but I believe you once wrote a column wherein you suggested that an EZ Pass customer could exchange their transponder free of charge before 7/1 to avoid the $21 replacement fee that will be charged once the new rate structure goes into effect 7/1. I had planned to do an exchange tomorrow, and to avoid wasting a trip to Havre de Grace from Bel Air, I called ahead to the Hatem Bridge service center and spoke with an EZ Pass rep. who told me that her supervisor would not allow them to exchange a working transponder. She also told me they would not charge for replacement of a defective unit even though that point appears to be contradicted in their own press release. Is there a way you can (if you haven’t already) confirm what the MdTA’s position is on exchanges before and after 7/1?

Mike:

I'm sorry if there was  a misunderstanding, but I never suggested that an E-ZPass subscriber could turn in a working transponder for a new one free of charge. What I wrote is that someone with multiple transponders on multiple accounts can and should consolidate them on one account because the fee is per-account not per-transponder. The bonus is that one can close the account(s) with the older transponder(s), turn those in, keep the newest units and get replacements free of charge before July 1.

The authority’s policy is to replace transponders that have crapped out free of charge before July 1. If they give up the ghost after that, the $21 replacement cost applies. If you take an old but still working transponder to an authority office before July 1, the will decline to replace it for free.

The transponders have an expected battery life of seven years but are under warranty for four because that’s the manufacturer’s policy.

I hope this brings some clarity to a murky situation. Congratulations for getting a state employee on the phone who understood the policy and explained it correctly. Others haven’t been so lucky.

Michael Dresser

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

May 19, 2009

Memorial Day tips for toll facilities

          The Maryland Transportation Authority has issued its Memorial Day travel advisory, and it has plenty of good advice for motorists willing to pay attention.

           So before you venture across the Bay Bridge or the Harbor crossings (preferably at off-peak hours), monitor your gas level, inspect your tires and especially double-check your trailer hitches. Do not venture onto the bridge or into the harbor tunnels if tipsy, angry or sleepy. It take only one invididual's screw-up to turn a leisurely crossing into a traffic nighmare for thousands.

           As we head into the first of the year's vacation travel holidays, I'd be interested in knowing about any strategies readers plan to adopt to avoid congestion and bottlenecks iin Maryland or anywhere along the Eastern Seaboard.

          Good luck and bon voyage.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:04 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

May 15, 2009

Bay Bridge takes a summer break

In a manner of speaking, the Bay Bridge is taking a summer vacation.

The Maryland Transportation Authority says it is suspending its deck replacement project for the summer peak travel season -- freeing up all five lanes for travel. Work on the project, which involves a complete replacement of the driving surface of the westbound span, will resume in the fall.

Contractors have completed work on the suspension part of the span and will spend the summer preparing to replace the deck panels of the through truss part of the bridge. (That's where drivers can see structural steel overhead.)

While heavy construction will be suspended, the authority is warning that other preservation work may be taking place during off-peak hours. The authority expects the deck replacement project to be completed in the fall of 2010.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:13 AM | | Comments (0)
        

April 22, 2009

New rule on E-ZPass transponders

Reader Larry Goldberg sent in a good question, and I learned something about Maryland Transportation Authority policy I hadn't known before. Said Goldberg:

Recently you wrote about exchanging your old EZ Pass transponder before the July 1 start of new EZ Pass fees. This past Thursday I took a ride to the Fort McHenry Tunnel EZ Pass office to exchange my seven year old EZ Pass transponder and I was informed that since the transponder tested okay no exchange would be allowed. When I mentioned reading an article in the paper stating the transponder could be exchanged prior to the $21 fee being charged the clerk informed me that someone else had mentioned the same article, but the supervisor at the office had prohibited any exchanges for 'live' transponders. The clerk told me however that exchanges of older transponders would be grandfathered in and not be charged a fee when they no longer worked. I will believe that when I see it as somehow I doubt that will be the case.

That guidance sounded fishy to me, too, so I asked the press office at the authority what the real story was. According to spokeswoman Kelly Melhem, there is no "grandfather" policy. She said that if your transponder gives up the ghost after June 30, you will have to pay $21 for a new one -- unless it's less than 4 years old.

 Of course, if your transponder dies before the new policy takes effect July 1, you're in luck. You get a free replacement without cost. But the authority isn't letting customers hasten the demise of their units.

 So in effect, the new transponders will have a four-year warranty even though their anticipated life is about seven years. Melhem didn't know the rationale for the four-year cutoff but is seeking the answer. Stay tuned.

One observation: The authority needs to do a better job of getting out the word on its policies to the people working the desks at its E-ZPass centers. This isn't the first time I've heard complaints about misinformation being dispensed by authority employees.

Reminder: If you do have multiple transponders on multiple accounts, you can save money by consolidating them onto a single account before the new $1.50-a-month fee goes into effect July 1. A smart move would be to keep your newest transponder and turn in the older ones for a free and fresh one. You've got a little more than two months to do so.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

April 9, 2009

The Great E-ZPass Fee Exodus

Remember the big hullabaloo about the $1.50 fee on E-ZPass accounts the Maryland Transportation Authority adopted in January? All those folks threatening to close their accounts and bring the system to its knees? Preliminary figures are in, and the rate of defection appears to bear out the authority's calculation that most E-ZPass users aren't going to flock to the slow lanes to save $18 a year.

According to the authority, account closures in the six months before the fee proposal averaged 642. In January, there were 796 account closures, 178 of them explicity in response to the new policy. In February, after the authority formally acted, there were 843 closures -- 195 because of the fee. In March the number of account closures rose to 996 but only 122 closures account-holders blamed the fees for their decision.

 According to the authority, there were 542,000 active E-ZPass accounts in Maryland as of February. So if you go by the number of customers who actually attributed theiir defection to the fee, you get an attrition rate of about 0.1 percent. If you go by the difference from the average rate of account closings, the number soars to about 0.15 percent. The authority doesn't jknow whether those who canceled were frequent or sporadic users, but common sense suggests that the fee refugees are skewed in the direction of light users. Those are precisely the folks that the system has been losing money on by subsidizing their participation. Of course, there are still three months to go before the fees take effect in July.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:00 AM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        
Keep reading
Recent entries
Archives
Categories
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.
-- ADVERTISEMENT --

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

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

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

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

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