Be wary of 'balls of light' that don't like slow drivers in left lane

THE INTREPID COMMUTER

March 13, 1995

Isn't it annoying when people in the left lane of the interstate of your choice drive only 50 mph?

This trait especially bugs a White Marsh reader, a courier who drives a couple of hundred miles a day.

"I wish you would write a column, on the front page, daily, reminding people to stay out of the left lane if they're going 50," he said. Such motorists "have to be passed on the right, by the people who are doing your average speeds, and it creates a hazard."

OK. Let's take this information down: Left lane . . . going 50 . . . pass on the right . . . hazard. . . . Hmmm.

"It happens to me 20 times a day," our corresponding courier continued, "and it's the one major thing that drives me mental on the road. If you're in the left lane and you see a ball of light coming up behind you, that's me. Get out of my way."

Intrepid Commuter called state police to address this problem. They, too, shared our alarm about drivers blocking "balls of light" on the road.

However, said state police spokesman Michael J. McKelvin, state law says motorists "may not willfully drive a motor vehicle at a speed that would impede the reasonable movement of traffic."

While the law does not specify a speed, it does give police the discretion to pull over drivers who are so slow as to become road hazards. The informal guideline, Mr. McKelvin says, is that motorists should keep within 15 mph of the speed limit.

As for passing in a right lane, it's perfectly legal in Maryland, but not in many other states.

Regarding "average speeds," Mr. Courier, you may be on point. For five years, drivers have averaged 64 mph on 55-mph highways. Now the governor and legislature are trying, by popular demand, to make the higher number closer to the real thing, at least in some places.

Even if 65 mph is adopted, Mr. McKelvin warns, it won't apply to most highways. The top legal speed on both the Baltimore and Capital beltways and Interstate 95 between them, for example, would remain at 55 because they are in populated areas.

So, friend, no one's going to get arrested for driving at or near the speed limit, and you can pass "slow" vehicles with impunity.

As for the rest of you: Watch your mirrors.

Towson trucker ticked about lack of parking

Let it not be said that Intrepid Commuter is unfair. We welcome dissent, even if it comes from truckers.

In illuminating the unassailable fact that trucks shouldn't park on interstates, we offended Andrew T. Hrib, a Towson trucker.

"I found your article [Feb. 6] to be lacking in balance and totally one-sided," he writes. "Those truckers who are parked along the side of the highway are sleeping, not killing time. In a trucker's life there is no time to kill."

He complained of a shortage of truck parking space and accused us of hating truckers.

"Hate" is a strong word. When they're not riding our bumper on an interstate, we regard most truckers as fine, considerate people who have a right to operate on the same roads we do, except the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and wherever else they're not welcome.

While they don't condone parking on highway shoulders, the Maryland Motor Truck Association and the State Highway Administration agree about the need for safe truck parking.

Creating more of it is about as easy as backing a tractor-trailer rig down a winding Columbia cul-de-sac, however.

We remember one instance a few years ago, when the state planned to add 300 truck parking spaces to the two rest stops on I-95 near Savage. Community opposition prompted the governor to cancel the idea.

Today, the relatively tiny rest stops (48 truck spaces apiece) continue to overflow with trucks, which line up on its entrance ramp. Police chase them out periodically, but the problem persists.

In 1991, the State Highway Administration opened 20 of its park-and-ride lots to truckers at night. In 1993, it printed a truckers' map to help find them. You can get one for a buck; call (410) 321-3518.

Keeping Mr. Hrib's admonition in mind, we suggest this to everyone worried about the truck problem: Write your state legislators and tell them you support the creation of more truck parking, and you're not just blowing exhaust.

Ramp mystery unraveled for reader

If you commute via I-95 south out of downtown, you see it daily around the Caton Avenue exit, and probably a week hasn't gone by when you haven't said to yourself, what the heck is that?

"There is a ramp that goes or leaves or stops in midair, and the kids are bugging me to ask you to find out what this ramp that leads to nowhere is all about," a reader wrote.

Answer: The ramp and its northbound companion were to have fed another interstate highway. In the early 1970s, plans to connect Interstate 70 to I-95 through West Baltimore were axed to prevent bulldozing homes in Rosemont and defiling Leakin Park.

An effort to revive the project in the early 1980s also fizzled.

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