Sound barriers reviled as a 'concrete canyon' Beltway: Disgusted drivers call the new barriers on Interstate 695 a "hideous" blow to aesthetics, an informal survey finds.

The Intrepid Commuter

June 22, 1998

A SOUND BARRIER is a sound barrier is a sound barrier.

But to the thousands of commuters who whiz past the newest additions to Interstate 695, the hulking concrete walls are nothing more than an expensive eyesore.

Your Intrepid One conducted an unscientific poll on the structures last week and concluded: It's unanimous that drivers hate them.

Listen to the comments:

"Hideous! I've never seen anything so disgusting in my life," said one driver. "The color is jarring, and I feel as though I am in a concentration camp. It's created a jail-like corridor."

From another commuter: "They stink. It's a waste of taxpayer's money and all of the trees and all the shrubbery was ripped out. They would have done better to have planted more trees or found other ways to do this. Now you have a concrete canyon."

One caller to your wheelster's hot line lamented: "The new sound barriers remind me of the Berlin Wall. Seeing the greenery on the highway is soothing and restful and very cooling on a hot day. I hate them!"

Barbara, a regular Beltway commuter, said: "It's like driving in a tunnel with a blue sky. You never know where you are."

And from one stressed-out soul: "It makes me feel like a rat going through a maze."

The 26-foot barriers went up across the northeastern ring of the Beltway as a $44.2 million push to shelter 1,173 homes in seven border communities from noisy traffic.

With the commuting volume steadily going up, many residents near the Beltway have complained for years that the car and truck noise never ceases -- and State Highway Administration data backs them up.

Statistics show the Beltway that handled 45,000 cars a day in 1965 is today a track that serves 170,000 drivers daily in the Towson area alone.

The concrete buffers are designed to give highway neighbors peace -- despite their jarring aesthetic effect on commuters.

Barriers were part of the $55 million highway expansion that widened the Beltway from six to eight lanes over a four-mile stretch between Reisterstown Road and Interstate 83 in order to handle rapidly increasing suburban traffic.

Getting them funded by the federal government was a pet project of former Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, who served five terms as a House member in the 1980s and 1990s. State funds have also been added to the project.

And brace yourselves: Barriers will also be placed along interstates in Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's counties. Walls already line the region's other Beltway -- Interstate 495 in the Washington suburbs.

Stung by their ugliness, what are bothered commuters to do?

Your wheelster advises a search for new landmarks on the Beltway to replace the natural ones mowed down by SHA crews eager to erect the beige walls.

Or maybe we could call Hollywood.

Driver Craig Albertson observed: "When I drive past them, I think of that movie 'Escape from New York'."

What about a sequel -- "Escape from Charm City?"

Governor requests easing of HOV-lanes enforcement

Some relief could be near for gridlocked commuters in Montgomery County.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening directed Maryland State Police Col. David Mitchell last week to try and "limit the effect of police activity on commuters" traveling on inner-loop high occupancy vehicle, or HOV, lanes near the American Legion Bridge and Interstate 270.

The problem arose after troopers monitored too closely the "car pool" commuter lanes -- and stopped many abusers of the three- and four-person rule, resulting in mega-traffic jams.

The guv directed SHA Administrator Parker F. Williams to work with Mitchell to develop a new enforcement strategy that "carefully balances the competing needs in this area."

With estimates of "tens of thousands" of commuters inconvenienced by the enforcement -- which at times has caused 10-mile traffic backups on the inner loop of I-495, such a move is dTC welcome relief. Ironically, it also comes in an election year.

Pub Date: 6/22/98

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