Tunnel mileage sign on I-95 seems wrong, but MTA has reason

THE INTREPID COMMUTER

January 17, 1994

Watson, the game's afoot.

Distinguished reader Payson Getz of Bel Air wrote recently to call our attention to the "Case of the Missing Two Miles."

While it sounds like a story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the lurid details of the case are true. The mystery centers on a sign along southbound Interstate 95 near White Marsh with the following message:

"McHenry Tunnel 12 Miles/Harbor Tunnel 10 Miles"

Because the northern entrances to the tunnels are practically next door to each other, Mr. Getz is puzzled by the two-mile difference.

"The route is identical for the first seven miles before I-895 [the Harbor Tunnel Thruway] and I-95 separate," he writes.

"After they separate, one leg would have to be five miles long and one three miles long. There must be a mistake."

Naturally, we turned to the folks at the Maryland Transportation Authority, which manages both tunnels as well as the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway where the sign is located.

It turns out Mr. Getz is right. The signs aren't correct.

The Fort McHenry Tunnel is 12.8 miles away. The Harbor Tunnel is 12.1 miles away.

That means the Fort McHenry is nearly a mile farther away than estimated. Not good, but we can live with that discrepancy.

But the Harbor Tunnel is 2.1 miles farther away, a big difference.

So what gives?

Well, believe it or not the signs are deliberately wrong. (We find this a refreshing change from all those government efforts that are inadvertently wrong).

Installed in 1985 by the State Highway Administration, the signs are meant to reflect the distances to the so-called point-of-no-return on routes to the tunnels. They are the spots where you become committed to the tunnels.

Traffic engineers rounded down the Fort McHenry mileage from 12.8 to 12 because the Keith Avenue exit is practically at the tunnel entrance. The Harbor Tunnel Thruway, on the other hand, has no southbound exit after Moravia Road, slightly more than two miles from the north entrance.

"Maybe that's poor judgment on our part, but it's consistent with what we do" concerning the approaches to the Harbor Tunnel Thruway, said Tom Hicks, the SHA's director of traffic and safety. "Essentially we're telling people how far they can go before they run out of options."

To arrow or not, 'tis the question

A plea for help in Northwest Baltimore has reached the carefully attuned ears of Our Intrepidness.

Regina Rogers says the intersection of Rogers and Wabash avenues near her home is notorious. She says it would be a lot safer if there were a left-turn arrow available to traffic going east on Wabash.

"Do you have any statistics?" she asks. "How bad is it? I need to know to settle an argument."

Do we have statistics? Does Key Highway have potholes? Do drivers speed on Interstate 97? Will there be rear-end collisions on Reisterstown Road? Of course, we've got stats.

Here's one for you. The intersection of Wabash and Rogers averages less than two accidents a year, according to police reports. There have been no fatalities there over the past five years.

Vanessa Pyatt, spokeswoman for the city's Public Works Department, says that's a pretty good record. She also says the intersection doesn't need a left-turn arrow.

"The volume of traffic turning left is minimal," Mrs. Pyatt says. "Based on our own observations, there are sufficient gaps in traffic coming west on Wabash."

At minimum, she says, two cars can get through on each cycle. The cycle lasts 55 to 112 seconds, depending on traffic volume and the time of day.

*

What would you think of someone who applies nail polish while driving?

That's not the most outrageous example of stupid driving tricks we've heard so far, but it's pretty darn close.

You'll recall that last month we asked readers for their best stories of blatant inattentiveness behind the wheel. We've seen and heard some great stuff so far, but we'd like to receive even more.

Try to put pen to paper (typewriters get you extra credit). If you're in the grip of writer's cramp, call our SunDial number.

In either case, briefly summarize your tale and be sure to leave a daytime telephone number.

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