Maryland's Worst Traffic Bottleneck


April 18, 1993|By MIKE BURNS

All things come to those who wait.

Even the tollbooth on the Millard E. Tydings Memorial Bridge.

After more than a half-hour of gut-wrenching, temper-boiling, anxiety-building, bumper-to-bumper, lurch-and-halt madness. On an Easter Sunday afternoon. With no place to turn around and no exit ahead, since the backup maniacally began just after the Aberdeen exit on Interstate 95. And, of course, no warning sign of the impending bottleneck. No State Police help. Just the kind of traffic foul-up that spoils holiday moods, appetites and family dinners.

Well, what do you expect on the interstate on the weekend? Everyone drives it. Why didn't you make plans to go out of your way to avoid the crunch?

It's just a one-time incident, you say; a confluence of circumstances unlikely to happen again.

Keep saying your mantra: This too shall pass. There are myriad unfortunates with greater worries and cares. Avoid watching the engine temperature gauge, in this season's first real warm weather test of your 3-year-old coolant.

Disregard, as long as possible, the scorched-earth battle conducted by children in the rear seat, with the accompanying ear-piercing cries. Pace yourself, and only occasionally threaten them with scarlet bottoms and no more TV forever. They're only reacting to the insidious sugar jolt of jelly beans and chocolate rabbits and glazed marshmallow chicks, their darker spirits triggered by artificial food colorings. They don't know any better. "And I'm not going to tell you again to Be Quiet!"

Save the stronger expletives for your fellow motorists, the ones who cut in your lane for an expected advantage even though salvation is miles ahead, an ever-elusive desert mirage. And just as you near the toll booths looming like the towers of Oz across the Susquehanna, patiently clinging to your right lane while others bob and feint for a 10-second advantage on the outer lanes, you find a concrete Jersey wall conveniently erected in your path. Wait again. Try to pull out to the left so you can steer around to the waiting kiosks, grateful, at last, to hand $2 to an unspeaking, unblinking toll collector who is obviously annoyed at having to work today.

Thousands of drivers experienced this psycho-terror of the northbound Tydings bridge back-up along the asphalt jungle they call I-95. It made the lines for Space Mountain at Disney World look like an express checkout.

If it were just a holiday traffic glut, that would be one thing. The blunt fact is that the Tydings bridge is the worst on-going traffic bottleneck in the state, created by the Maryland Transportation Authority.

The toll bridge is building, has been building, and apparently will forever continue building, new toll booths to collect more money from travelers in order think up more malevolent projects to impede the flow of traffic. From the pace of construction, and the less-than-thoughtful diversion of traffic to booths in service, it would appear that this plan to erect five more kiosks is equivalent to the engineering challenge of reconstructing the bomb-wracked World Trade Center towers.

The tollbooth project caused monumental backups last summer, Thanksgiving, and again at year's end. By now, the clogged artery has more than taken its toll in motorist misery as well as in ransom.

Oh, we know a smoother flow on northbound I-95 is not going to speed the well-heeled vacationers to Maryland beaches; they're mostly headed for Delaware, New Jersey and points north. rTC Otherwise, it would have been a do-it-now project. Reach the Beach, yes, but not Reach the Susky.

Because it is a recognized, long-standing problem, one might expect that warning signs would be placed along the stretch from the Baltimore Beltway to the river, advising motorists of alternate routes. For many of them, a detour to U.S. 1 and the Conowingo Dam bridge or the Hatem bridge on U.S. 40 would have been welcome relief.

But, alas, even that modest bit of traveler aid was absent. Weekends and especially holiday weekends are peak periods for the highway and the Tydings bridge, so the snarl should have come as no surprise to transportation authorities. They could have minimized the surprise for unwitting holiday travelers even if they couldn't speed up the interminable tollbooth construction.

And so, for the time being, the Tydings span will remain for frustrated weekend motorists a bridge too far.

Mike Burns is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Harford County.

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