Coming in the fall, you'll have radio access in Harbor Tunnel


May 02, 1994

It sounds like a waterproof miracle.

Roland W. Bark has heard the radio commercials many times. You probably have, too.

A leak springs in the plumbing. The house starts to flood. A panicky son home alone calls his father.

Dad, on his car phone, saves the day by telling his half-wit progeny how to find the water cutoff valve as he's driving under Baltimore Harbor.

The fictional father ponders: What's more amazing, my goofball son (we paraphrase slightly) figuring out how to turn off the water, or the technology that permits a phone conversation in a tunnel?

Great, writes Mr. Bark, the fancy-schmancy cellular phones work. So how come you can't tune in your AM/FM radio in the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel?

"The Fort McHenry Tunnel has radio," the White Marsh resident points out. "Why doesn't the Harbor Tunnel have the same?"

The answer, of course, is that the radio waves never bring along the required $1 toll.

As any physicist can explain -- but clearly, Intrepid Commuter can't -- you cannot normally receive radio in a tunnel.

In the mid-1970s, however, a system was installed in the Harbor Tunnel, making it possible to receive an AM signal. Essentially, it was a rebroadcast system: Radio signals were received near the tunnel's entrance and then carried underground by an antenna strung the length of the tube.

But the device never worked all that well, says Tom Freburger, spokesman for the Maryland Transportation Authority. It was removed when the Harbor Tunnel was refurbished, a job completed in 1989.

By the time the Fort McHenry was opened in November 1985, technology had improved, and a system was installed to rebroadcast both AM and FM signals.

Car phones came along a bit later. Bell Atlantic Mobile installed transmission equipment in the Fort McHenry in 1986 and the Harbor Tunnel in 1987. Cellular One put in a similar system in both tunnels last June.

The two mobile phone companies pay the state about $9,000 a year to keep service in the tunnels.

It turns out Mr. Bark's inquiry is well-timed. In January, the authority awarded a $220,000 contract to a Baltimore electronics company to install an AM/FM system in the Harbor Tunnel. The work should be completed by fall.

Mr. Freburger says the advantage of the system is not just the convenience it offers to motorists, although that's part of the justification. The system also permits emergency vehicles to communicate while in the tunnel, and the authority can override radio signals and broadcast emergency messages through car radios.

Sleeping truckers rouse reader reaction

You see them sitting along the highway like dozing behemoths, apparently so travel-weary they couldn't even make off the road.

They are the trucks that sit on highway shoulders at night for no apparent reason other than to afford the drivers some sleep.

Intrepid Commuter has received several inquiries recently from readers who are troubled by this behavior. They are also curious what state law has to say about it.

"Some weekends there are upward of three or more tractor-trailer rigs parked on the side of the road at Franklin Boulevard off of Interstate 795," one recent caller complains. "Why create a wide highway and then turn it into a truck parking lot?"

For the record, it's legal for a truck or other vehicle to pull over on a highway unless the road is posted otherwise. Much of the Beltway, for instance, has signs that say "No Stopping" or "Emergency Use Only."

There is a limit on how long you can stay: 24 hours on a limited access highway such as an interstate, 48 on others. Such a generous limit generally comes into play only for abandoned vehicles.

But the callers raise an important point. It's not safe to have trucks parked on the shoulder.

An accident involving a parked truck is five times more likely to result in a fatality than an accident involving a parked car. And the perils increase after dark.

Studies have shown that 60 percent of accidents involving parked trucks on high-speed roads occur at night.

"We recommend that no vehicles pull over along the side of the highway at night unless disabled," says Walter C. Thompson, executive vice president of the Maryland Motor Truck Association. "Drivers have a tendency to sometimes drift off behind the wheel and can slam into a [parked] vehicle."

The State Highway Administration publishes a map showing private truck stops, public rest areas and overnight park-and-ride lots where truckers can rest. To get a copy, call the SHA at (410) 321-3518. Each costs $1.

Neither Franklin Boulevard nor I-795 is posted. Readers who want to urge that trucks be banned from the shoulders of those two roads should write Baltimore County (for Franklin Boulevard) or the SHA (for I-795) at these addresses:

Steve Weber, Division of Traffic Engineering, Baltimore County, 401 Bosley Ave., Suite 405, Towson 21204.

Charles Harrison, SHA District 4 Engineer, 2323 W. Joppa Road, Brooklandville 21022.

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