On light rail, heavy hand of law Tickets: The train system has no conductors, so the only ticket riders can get on board is the kind most don't want -- one issued by police. Welcome to Maryland.

Intrepid Commuter

August 05, 1996

LAST MONTH, A PROUD grandmother from Timonium set off on Central light rail to see one of her offspring perform at the Inner Harbor. With her son, and his toddler and 5-year-old in tow, granny boarded a train.

But they hit a snag. In the rush to catch the train, sonny did not have time to fiddle with the ticket machine.

No problem, granny thought. She figured he could buy a ticket when the conductor came by on the train. "When I was a child in Massachusetts, the conductor always sold tickets."

Well, welcome to Maryland.

Instead they got a visit from a Mass Transit Administration police officer who ordered ticketless sonny off the train, much to the dismay of grandma and the kids.

"We made it on time," granny writes Intrepid One, "although taking two little ones along Pratt Street is no picnic when you aren't used to it. I ended up carrying the 2 1/2 -year-old much of the way."

Why, she wondered, aren't commuters allowed to buy tickets after they board the trains?

MTA spokesman Anthony Brown said the problem is that MTA does not have conductors. Hiring them to sell tickets on the trains could cost commuters more in fares, to pay for the salaries, he said.

To ride the rail, passengers age 6 and older must purchase tickets before boarding. Police officers -- not conductors -- wander the cars seeking "proof of payment," and ticketless riders can be fined $275. (So it seems sonny could have fared worse.)

Friendly Big Brother is watching motorists

While heading into Crabtown, Intrepid One noted a bizarre tower rising above the highway ramps at the "triple bridges" junction of Interstate 695 (the Baltimore Beltway) and Interstate 70. It appears to be a minioil rig, except at the top where a silver whirligig spins at the whim of a breeze.

State Highway Administration officials say the device is a miniweather tower in a system named "Weavis" (rhymes with Beavis).

The whirligig is one of 40 on highways around Maryland, keeping tabs on weather conditions along with hockey pucks and, at many sites, video cameras.

The hockey pucks are actually sensors planted under the road surface, where they measure accumulations of rain, snow and ice, and give highway engineers an inkling about when and whether to salt the surfaces.

Near the whirligig, one of the SHA video cameras mounted atop a pole nearly five stories above the ground allows officials to observe traffic in all directions from their command center near Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

From its high perch, the camera offers a glimpse of traffic as far as Wilkens Avenue or Liberty Road.

The SHA says the video scene from the Beltway can be transmitted to neighboring Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia, which also have video observation points as they take part in a cooperative effort to inform travelers about driving conditions.

The Big Brotherlike technology in Maryland was installed after a screen test of the system three years ago on the Capital Beltway, and funded by a transportation-safety grant from the Federal Highway Administration.

Falls Road bridge dismantling this week

Grab a jug of full-leaded coffee and head for the Beltway near Interstate 83 this week to witness the takedown of what's left of the Falls Road bridge in Brooklandville.

The dismantling takes place all this week, between midnight and 5 a.m., and is to be complete by dawn's early light Friday.

To tear down the structure, engineers will enlist the help of a crane to move sections of the weighty bridge from its span of the highway. Traffic will be reduced to one lane during the wee hours of work, says Dan Witt, chief engineer for the Beltway-widening project.

The show will be repeated in reverse around Thanksgiving, Witt promises, when the new bridge is installed.

By the way, the entire Beltway-widening project now is two months behind schedule because of weather-related problems, Witt adds.

Shortcuts

Bored on a Saturday? How about landscaping a state Park & Ride. State highway officials have begun a volunteer beautification program for the commuter lots, similar to sprucing up efforts alongside traffic cloverleafs. Pleased with the results of a recent Park & Ride project at Mount Carmel Road in Hereford, officials are urging others to dig in. Information: (800) 323-6742. Warning: Slow-moving traffic on eastbound U.S. 50 at Ritchie Highway is expected to continue until fall 1997. That's when a big road widening project is slated to be complete. Double warning: A co-op of law enforcement agencies will patrol Route 140 -- Reisterstown Road -- between Baltimore City and the Carroll County line this month trying to reduce the number of crashes, many alcohol-related, along the roadway. The effort will unite officials from a dozen agencies that will conduct speed, license and registration checks. Officers also will patrol Route 30 (Hanover Pike), Interstate 795 and the Beltway in the area.

Keep in touch You can mail, send by fax or call in questions or comments for the Intrepid Commuter: Mail letters -- The Sun, 1300 Bellona Ave., Lutherville 21093. Fax line -- (410) 494-2916. Call Sundial, The Baltimore Sun's telephone information service. 783-1800, enter Ext. 4305. From Anne Arundel County, dial 268-7736.

Pub Date: 8/05/96

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