Relief is on the way for Key Highway drivers 4,500-foot stretch to be rebuilt

THE INTREPID COMMUTER

September 13, 1993

Forget the red glare of those rock ets. Ditto the bombs bursting in air, or the twilight's last gleaming.

The real hardship in getting to Fort McHenry is driving Key Highway.

Francis Scott Key is probably doing 60 rpm in his grave. Let the British try to assail the fort by land this time -- the first wagon would throw an axle before it reached the Rusty Scupper.

With its dips and convolutions, potholes, exposed cobblestones and abandoned railroad tracks, Key Highway has become the most jarring way in and out of Baltimore.

"The road is in terrible shape, and there's an old railroad running through it," says one of several SunDial callers who have criticized the highway recently. "It's nothing but cobblestones and broken up bits of tar."

Intrepid Commuter is aghast at the situation and has scolded city officials for allowing Key Highway to fall into such disrepair. Something had better be done about this, we warned, or you'll have to deal with our wrath.

We stormed around at that point, shaking our fists malevolently. We held our breath until we reached a kind of indigo color. We lifted paperweights high in the air. We pouted in our most sullen manner.

Finally, we were told that if we were were quite finished with our temper tantrum, perhaps we would like to hear about the city's $10 million plan to turn Key Highway into a scenic boulevard.

Turns out that the city is planning to reconstruct a 4,500-foot stretch of Key Highway from Light Street south. It will mean burying all the utilities lines, creating two lanes of traffic in each direction, removing the railroad tracks and add ing a raised median from Light Street to Webster Street.

Frankly, you won't recognize the place.

"It's a key entrance to the city of Baltimore," says M. Faysal Thameen, chief of the Interstate Division of the city Public Works Department. "This is really the next extension of the Inner Harbor."

There will be sidewalks, landscaping and street lights like those around the Inner Harbor. The work will help link the new HarborView development and the Federal Hill area in general with downtown.

The number of traffic lights will triple, from three to nine, but will be sequentially timed to keep motorists moving.

The contract, which is 80 percent funded by the federal government, is scheduled to be offered next month. Work likely will begin in January and should take 18 to 22 months.

Stop here, but turn there

The contradictions in commuting life can be appalling.

We buy cars with speedometers that go up to 100 mph, but aren't allowed to drive faster than 55.

We ride a subway above ground and "light" rail trains that weigh more than jumbo jets.

We live in a state where the community of Eastview in Frederick County is west of the community of Westview in Baltimore County. (You can look it up).

With those incongruities in mind, we turn to the case of Joseph Rohe of White Marsh, a retiree who drives through the intersection of Sunshine Avenue and Belair Road (U.S. 1) in Kingsville regularly to visit his daughter.

Here, as the King of Siam might say, is the puzzlement.

Driving south along Sunshine, there is a sign telling Mr. Rohe to "Stop Here" when the traffic signal at Belair Road is red. The "here" in question is a spot about 30 feet away from the intersection.

But right turns on red are permitted at the intersection. To get a good view of the traffic situation on Belair Road, Mr. Rohe must move his car much closer.

"How can you stop 30 feet from an intersection if you want to make a right turn on red?" Mr. Rohe says. "I can't understand this. What am I supposed to do?"

For an explanation, we called on our good friend, Darrell Wiles, the State Highway Administration's assistant district engineer for traffic in Baltimore and Harford counties.

He tells us that, believe it or not, there actually is a purpose to the way the intersection is set up.

The "Stop Here" point -- called a stop bar in highway-ese -- is needed because the intersection offers a pretty tight turn for cars going from Belair to Sunshine, and you don't want them banging into cars on Sunshine lined up for the light.

Also, there's a driveway on Sunshine leading to an auto repair shop at the intersection, and the stop bar discourages traffic from blocking that entrance.

As for the right-turners, traffic engineers expect people to creep up closer before making a turn on red. It's not an unusual situation, says Mr. Wiles, who compares it to the way motorists must sometimes drive through crosswalks to turn on red.

Ideally, a driver who wants to make a right on red will initially stop at the "Stop Here" point, check for pedestrians in the crosswalk, and then look at Belair Road and decide whether it's worthwhile to inch closer for a better look.

"There seems to be a contradiction," he says, "but there really isn't. What you hope is that the driver who has to make a right on red will use some common sense."

KEEP IN TOUCH

Write to the Intrepid Commuter, c/o The Baltimore Sun, P.O. Box 1377, Baltimore 21278. Please include your name and telephone number so we can reach you if we have any questions.

Or use your Touch-Tone phone to call Sundial, The Baltimore Sun's telephone information service, at 783-1800, and enter Ext. 4305. Call 268-7736 in Anne Arundel County.

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