Rising to a challenge: No traffic question is too tough to tackle


January 02, 1995

Henry DeWitt has a question "you guys won't dare tackle."

These are, of course, fighting words to Intrepid Commuter, a columnist who not only tackles, but blocks and kicks, too.

Mr. DeWitt drives Calvert Street north through Baltimore and he is annoyed by the traffic signal at Bath Street. He sees no reason for a signal at Bath because it's only a block long and not heavily traveled.

Doesn't sound terribly controversial, does it?

Well, Mr. DeWitt points out that this location is "right outside The Sun's offices," implying that somehow this newspaper is getting special treatment.

Egad. Special treatment? You can imagine the outrage that welled up inside Our Intrepidness.

So we contacted the Baltimore Department of Public Works to find out if some newspaper had bullied them. They said no, and even had some evidence to back that view.

Consider this, says a department spokeswoman, it wouldn't do the newspaper any good. While The Sun does have a driveway on Bath Street, traffic coming from the building doesn't really need the light. Because Calvert Street is one way, Bath Street travelers have no choice but a right turn and need only wait for a break in Calvert Street traffic.

The greater benefit has been felt on the other side of the street. The Bath Street signal controls the driveway to the parking lot at 414 Calvert, permitting cars leaving that lot to turn left onto Calvert.

Who is at 414 Calvert? Why, it's the longtime home of the Baltimore Department of Transit and Traffic, which is now called the Bureau of Transportation and is contained within the Department of Public Works.

Vanessa Pyatt, public works' spokeswoman, says they haven't gotten any favors either. The signal has been there for 35 years primarily to aid pedestrians who want to cross Calvert.

Ms. Pyatt notes that Calvert Street traffic is held up for only 22 to 32 seconds depending on the time of day. Other downtown signals stop traffic for as long as 90 seconds.

"Mostly, the signal is there for pedestrians and because traffic at 414 doesn't have a good view of [Calvert Street] traffic," Ms. Pyatt says. "This is a minimum inconvenience."

Digging up dirt and burying cable

Howard Green has seen a lot of mysterious work on the Beltway lately.

For two or three months, the Baltimore County resident has noticed that work crews will close a lane of the Beltway, dig up the shoulder and the grassy median, plant pipes and then leave. Often, they are working at night.

"What is this project?" Mr. Green asks.

Two words, Mr. Green. "Fiber optics."

Last summer, the state entered into an agreement with MCI Communications Corp. to allow the company to bury fiber-optic cable along state highways. In return, MCI is sharing its network with state government.

The folks at the State Highway Administration figure the state is saving millions of dollars through this deal. One of the benefits is to provide a communications link between the region's major highways and a traffic information center near Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

That will help the SHA install cameras, sensors, variable message signs and other similar devices along the highways to better inform motorists about traffic conditions.

The 75-mile route of the cable starts in northern Baltimore County, follows the median of Interstate 83 south to the Beltway, goes around the Beltway's west side outer loop to Interstate 95 south to the Capital Beltway and into Washington.

The privately contracted crews have laid the conduit tubes, but still are pulling cable through them. Work is scheduled to be finished by the end of this month.

Chuck Brown, an SHA spokesman, said for most of the route, MCI's contractors are only permitted to close lanes between 7 p.m. and 5:30 a.m. when traffic is light. On I-95, workers sometimes close lanes at midday.

"We close the lanes for safety reasons," Mr. Brown said. "The cable is generally 8 to 10 feet from the road, but the crews are all over the place with large vehicles coming and going."


* Faithful reader Howard Catlett says some of the signs along eastbound Interstate 70 near the Beltway are hard to see. Mercury vapor lights are out on the overhead signs about a mile from Interstate 695. An SHA official said a blown fuse is the likely culprit, and the lights should be back on this week.

* Complaints have poured in about flooding on Route 152 (Mountain Road) at the I-95 interchange after a hard rain. Chuck Brown of the SHA said the problem is poor drainage from the median created when the interchange was widened two years ago. Officials are talking to the Maryland Transportation Authority about putting in an underground drainage system.

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