Barriers still a hot topic Aesthetics: Some drivers see no good reason to preserve the old view from the Beltway.

The Intrepid Commuter

July 13, 1998

YOU'VE GOT to question the aesthetic sensibilities of any Beltway commuter who longs for ramshackle views of storage sheds and carports," insists motorist Steve Hasler.

He's referring, of course, to the design of the area's new sound barriers -- a topic that seems to have overtaken the Orioles as summer small talk, thanks to a general collapse at Camden Yards.

Last month, Intrepid One sought opinions of drivers concerning the walls that line portions of Interstate 695. Soon thereafter, the point-of-view floodgate opened.

Many expressed concern that the structures had turned our beloved Beltway into a "concrete canyon," an impersonal, futuristic-looking highway with no heart or soul.

Others have defended the walls and their muffler-like function on the deafening sound of constant traffic. Included in this group is State Highway Administration spokeswoman Valerie Burnett Edgar, whose in-laws live behind a barrier and are grateful to once again hold a conversation in their back yard.

Here are more thoughts:

"I think it's ridiculous that people are concerned about preserving the aesthetic beauty of the Beltway," says Dave Rupkey. "What are we talking about anyway? Back yards and the back of strip malls? Eventually, vines will overtake the walls, and trees will obscure the rest. And those poor people upset about living on the other side of the Beltway Berlin Wall? I guess they will have to find hobbies other than counting tractor-trailers."

Tony Napoleone summed it up this way: "If people spent more time watching the road and the traffic around them instead of whining about the relative beauty of the sound barriers, then maybe they would notice the other car they're keeping from merging.

Wake up, people. This isn't Route 66."

Another commuter, Carl Birkmeyer, takes the high road.

"I like the sound barriers," he said. "I always used to drive by those houses and feel sorry for the people living close to the Beltway. Now, I don't have that worry anymore!"

The Johns Hopkins University has weighed in on the sound hTC barrier debate through its new dean of the Whiting School of Engineering, Ilene Busch-Vishniac. This 43-year-old scholar, one of the few women deans of engineering at a U.S. university, is an expert on the most cost-effective design for sound barriers. She hopes to continue this vital research at Homewood, university officials say.

Of the blond, concrete walls, most of which are part of the $55 million highway expansion of the Beltway from six to eight lanes over a four-mile stretch between Reisterstown Road and Interstate 83, Rosi McCloskey says: "I think the sound barriers are a wonderful idea and use of taxpayers' money."

Bernie Raynor got out his calculator and summed it all up, considering the barriers across the northeastern ring of the Beltway cost $44.2 million to protect 1,173 homes: "This is at a cost of $37,681 per dwelling. Wow!"

More barriers are planned at other parts of the Beltway and interstates that run through Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

Commuter Don Harris says, "They only made one mistake building the sound barriers they built the first one. Basically, my belief is this: If the house was there before the Beltway, it is eligible for a sound barrier. If the Beltway was there first, tough luck."

Closing Pratt Street on weekend was bad idea

Whoever the genius was who decided to close part of Pratt Street on Saturday evening for a parade to roll out the red carpet for the overblown ESPN Zone's opening gala, should be made to walk the length of the Jones Falls Expressway 20 times in the hot summer sun in penance for the mistake.

Baltimore Department of Public Works and Traffic and transit bureaucrats should rethink their strategy of closing a main downtown artery on a summer weekend -- even for a few hours. Motorists caught in the mistake were fuming. You needed an airlift if you were trying to make your dinner reservation in Little Italy or even a crab cake at Obrycki's.

Shortcuts

Look out for construction at the Paper Mill Road Bridge that spans Loch Raven Reservoir in Baltimore County. City Department of Public Works crews are building a $11.4 million structure parallel to the historic bridge. The new span will have wider lanes, shoulders and a steel arch that will complement the existing structure. City taxpayers will pay for the construction, to be completed in February 2000, because the bridge is in the city's Loch Raven Reservoir watershed. Harford County's Love Road Bridge, over Deer Creek in Darlington, will close for a face lift July 27. Detour signs will reroute commuters for the five-month job. Carroll County road projects this week include shoulder work on Sandymount, Shaffer Mill and Lawndale roads.

Pub Date: 7/13/98

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