June 07, 1993

Between hazelnut and H-bomb, add a new word to your dictionary: "hazmat."

Intrepid Commuter has already penciled it in after hearing the plaintive cry of reader Robert Bean on Intrepid's trusty SunDial line.

"There are these white signs with black letters on the interstate, "NO HAZMATS," says Mr. Bean, a Perry Hall resident. "I don't know what a 'hazmat' is. I don't know whether I'm carrying one, or if I am one."

"I'm very puzzled by it," he continues, "and I think other people are as well."

Indeed, the signs are a somewhat curious and a relatively recent phenomenon. They've been erected over the past several months along the Baltimore Beltway and the Interstate 95 corridor.

We nosed around and got the folks who are responsible for the signs to spill the beans, if you'll pardon the expression. Here's the good news: If you find the signs indecipherable, the chances are good they don't apply to you.

"Hazmat" is a shortened version of Hazardous Materials. State officials tell us it's a commonly used abbreviation in the trucking industry, and the message on the signs is aimed mostly at truckers.

The U.S. Department of Transportation defines the classes of hazardous materials. Generally, it's stuff you don't want to have dumped anywhere near your doorstep like explosives, poison, radioactive material, flammables and noxious chemicals.

The Fort McHenry and Baltimore Harbor tunnels have always been restricted areas for hazardous materials. If there's an accident and some nasty chlorine gas is spilled in there, you'll find there aren't too many places to flee.

Thomas J. Fallon Jr., the state's tunnels administrator, says the Maryland Transportation Authority decided to erect the signs on all the approaches to the tunnels because the old signs were too hard to read. The signs listed the kinds of materials restricted from the tunnels in considerable detail.

"There was a lot of verbiage," says Mr. Fallon. "It's tough to get all that stuff on a sign. With the word, 'HAZMAT,' the truckers know what we're talking about."

Truckers are not the only people affected. Propane is considered a hazardous material and is a common accessory on recreational vehicles. However, Mr. Fallon tells us that most RV owners are aware they are barred from the tunnels.

Bellona and Charles: An arrow or an error?

Join us now, mystery fans, for the Intrepid drama, "The Case of the Missing Arrow."

The tale starts with one Ken Bitter, a Baltimore County retiree who was regularly traveling south on Charles Street and turning left at Bellona Avenue on his way to Greater Baltimore Medical Center.

At first, everything seemed fine. He'd wait for a green arrow to make his turn.

But in more recent months, he's noticed that the arrow shows up irregularly.

"It's been very erratic," Mr. Bitter says. "Sometimes, the green arrow doesn't seem to function."

Since the intersection is on a bend in the road, there isn't much visibility. Turning on a plain old green light, without northbound traffic stopped, seems dangerous to him.

Enter the detective in this story, Darrell Wiles. Mr. Wiles is employed by the State Highway Administration as assistant district engineer for traffic in Baltimore and Harford counties.

After considerable ruminations, Mr. Wiles tells us there are two possibilities: The light's working right or it isn't. (OK, so he's no Sherlock Holmes).

First, an explanation. Like many traffic lights with left-turn arrows, the one at Bellona is activated by a detector buried in the left-turn lane. If there are no cars in the lane, the left-turn arrow doesn't come on.

A car that shows up late in the cycle may not get a left-turn arrow, Mr. Wiles says, because of the way the traffic signal's computer works. The arrow will, however, appear in the next cycle.

So this may just be a matter of the sensor giving the appearance that the arrow is missing in action.

Mr. Wiles disagrees that the turn is a particularly dangerous one. If a motorist doesn't have a good view of the oncoming traffic, he or she should wait for the left-turn arrow, he says.

SHA officials promised to inspect the light to make sure that the detector and computer are functioning properly.

City drivers beware, summer roadwork ahead

Intrepid Commuter recently published a list of major roadwork taking place this summer in suburban Baltimore that failed to take into account city projects.

The wheels of city government do tend to turn slowly.

You can probably count on a similar slow turn if you want to drive over these streets while major construction is under way:

* Lombard Street from President Street to Hopkins Place. $500,000. Completion this month.

* Cold Spring Lane extension from Eldorado Avenue to Granada Avenue. $300,000. Completion next month.

* Rogers Avenue from Green Spring Avenue to Northern Parkway. $1.6 million. February 1994 completion.

* Inner Harbor East road improvements. $2 million. April 1994.

* Denview Way from north of Force Road to Relcrest Road. $375,000. December 1994.

A lot of other small-scale, open-ended resurfacing and reconstruction projects likely will take place this summer.

These include work on Forest Hill Avenue, Elsinore Avenue, Carlisle Avenue, Allendale Road and the approaches to Fort Avenue Bridge in South Baltimore.

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