Baltimore's plan to pay $360,000 for 10 new electronic traffic signs around Oriole Park at Camden Yards ran into a roadblock yesterday: two members of the Board of Estimates, who insisted that any signs outside the new state ballpark should be paid for by the state, not the city.
"The money they're getting from the skyboxes -- that can pay for those lousy signs," said Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean.
"They should pay for it. We no longer can afford it," agreed Council President Mary Pat Clarke.
And Herman Williams, Baltimore's traffic commissioner, was left pleading in vain for a little understanding. The city, he said, needs the signs for to protect itself from the automotive onslaught expected when the stadium opens in April.
And the city is obligated, under a 5-year-old agreement with the Maryland Stadium Authority, to pay for the traffic signs and such other stadium-area costs as new utilities and roadways.
"Madame President, it's the city's responsibility," Mr. Williams said. But Mrs. Clarke and Mrs. McLean were having none of it.
"My problem is with the city moving traffic to a state stadium," Mrs. McLean said. "They want to get people to their stadium, they can pay for it."
Mrs. McLean said Mr. Williams should just call "what's-his-name" at the stadium authority and tell him the state will have to find the money. Someone volunteered that Mrs. McLean was referring to Bruce Hoffman, the stadium authority's executive director.
"Yes," Mrs. McLean told Mr. Williams, "Call him and say, 'Bruce, I have a problem at the Board of Estimates. I have two women down here who don't want to pay the $300,000..' And I'll bet you he'll come up with the money.
"You want me to call what's-his-name?" she asked Mr. Williams. "I'll call what's-his-name."
Mr. Williams stressed that the electronic message boards -- to be built by Priceless Industries of Baltimore -- will be an important addition to downtown. On game days, they can direct fans away from a filled parking lot. Later, the messages can be changed to warn motorists of tie-ups ahead.
"And when it's my birthday," Mrs. McLean asked brightly, "you can say, 'Happy birthday, Jackie?' "
"After this," Mrs. Clarke said, "I'm not sure that's what they'll say."
Two board members, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and City Solicitor Neal M. Janey, had left the board by the time Mr. Williams arrived with the issue of the signs.
Later, Mr. Schmoke said through a spokesman that he had no problem with the city paying for the signs and expects that the contract will be approved.
"We had always anticipated that the city would share in the cost of signage to ensure a smooth flow of traffic when the stadium opens," the spokesman said.
The contract will be back before the board for a vote next week.
Over at the Maryland Stadium Authority, what's-his-name, Bruce Hoffman, said that "it's always been understood that the city would do the signage required.
"And I have every reason to believe the city will honor these agreements. To this point, the city's done an excellent job."