Guardrail gone, but driver stuck with its repair Invoice: State makes motorist who fell asleep pay $1,200 for banging up Beltway guardrail, then recycles it to another location. It won't refund his money.

The Intrepid Commuter

November 24, 1997

NEARLY THREE years ago, Raymond Farmer got extremely lucky.

The Baltimore resident fell asleep at the wheel while driving on Interstate 695, crashed into a guardrail -- and walked away from the accident.

But he didn't receive a get well card from the State Highway Administration. Instead, he got a bill.

The agency invoiced Farmer $1,200 -- costs it deemed necessary to repair the steel rail.

Shocked, Farmer told Intrepid, "It seemed astronomical considering my vehicle hit it and carried over it into a ditch." Yet he reluctantly paid "and moved on" with his life -- until recently.

That's when he noticed while cruising the Beltway that the guardrail had been removed by SHA workers to make way for construction. He wants his money back.

Don't count on it, SHA officials say.

The guardrail has been recycled to another state road, says Fran Counihan, SHA spokeswoman. Such is the procedure for rails that are removed to make way for construction or road maintenance.

As for the agency's policy of billing for damaged goods, Preston Wright, SHA project engineer, said the practice is common -- but normally insurance companies absorb the cost as part of the repair bill.

"We need to get it repaired, and the taxpayers shouldn't be billed for it," Counihan said.

I-83 stretch has new coat, of the discount variety

Have you seen the new coat adorning Interstate 83?

The repaving in the southbound lanes from Falls Road to the Baltimore City line has changed the surface of the interstate -- from concrete to asphalt. In one place, the sharp difference in road surface causes cars to dip wildly, giving drivers a sensation close to the thrill of an amusement park ride.

One commuter, Mark Waldeck, said he complained to SHA about the repaving -- only to be transferred around the bureaucracy "50 times" in a shuffle he found maddening.

When he finally got a human on the phone, Waldeck said, he was told, "We're doing it because there is extra money lying around at the end of the year, and they're looking for places to spend it."

Seeking comfort, Waldeck contacted Intrepid One. "It seemed like a nice, smooth road," he noted, wondering why the resurfacing was indeed necessary.

Laura Hollenczer, an SHA spokeswoman, said last week that this stretch of interstate recently had been identified by engineers as deteriorating.

The SHA -- not wanting to spend what Hollenczer said could cost up to $20 million to resurface in the existing concrete style -- decided to apply a coat of asphalt, for $2 million. "It's true, asphalt doesn't last as long as concrete," Hollenczer said.

So be on the watch for the frugal, new-look I-83.

And as for Waldeck's assertion that the project was done to spend leftover SHA funds in a most unfrugal way, the official company line from Hollenczer is: "Completely untrue."

Turn headlights on when wipers are in use

Don't forget the new state law requiring drivers to use their headlights when their windshield wipers are on.

The regulation went into effect Oct. 1, after sailing through the General Assembly this year with support from truckers, bus lines and the American Automobile Association. Maryland joins 14 other states requiring the use of headlights when wipers are on. Failure to do so will cost $25 in a secondary fine -- which means motorists would be charged only after being stopped for other violations, such as speeding.

Pub Date: 11/24/97

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