Walkers, drivers get battering on street

Work near intersection of Paca, Saratoga has travelers feeling cornered

March 09, 2001|By Tom Gutting | Tom Gutting,SUN STAFF

Rolling west on Saratoga Street, the wheelchair jolted to a stop. The man in the chair rocked and struggled to use his only leg to pull himself out of the pothole.

"They need to do something about this," said the man, who identified himself as Eric, after he made his way across the intersection of Paca and Saratoga streets near Lexington Market.

He was among many who had trouble yesterday negotiating the corner, where road work has had pedestrians dodging cars and drivers swerving around potholes and uneven manhole covers.

Work is being done on utility lines, which need to be upgraded and repaired to keep up with the extensive construction under way at the University of Maryland, Baltimore about a quarter-mile south.

Because of construction, the sidewalk in the 500 block of W. Saratoga St. has been closed, creating a free-for-all that has some upset pedestrians taking chances at lunch time and rush hour.

"You have to walk out in the street," said Toni Cline, who frequently walks in the heavily traveled area. "Everybody who comes [from the west] doesn't have a sidewalk."

In addition to the sidewalk being closed, several metal plates have been placed at the intersection."[The plates] are very slippery and difficult," said Marie Laws, another walker. "I almost fell the other day when we had the dusting of snow. It's really not safe. "

Laws added that the construction is even harder on the many elderly people who shop in the area.

Much of the work is being done by utility companies, including Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. and Comfort Link, near the university law school building being constructed at Paca and Baltimore streets, said Kurt Kocher, a spokesman for the city Department of Public Works.

"There's been an extraordinary amount of construction," he said. "You'd think there was gold down there." It has been difficult balancing construction and pedestrian safety because the area is too cramped to create a temporary sidewalk, he said.

Drivers also have had a tough time there.

The top layer of asphalt in the middle lane of Paca Street between Baltimore and Saratoga streets has been removed, leaving it lower than the adjacent lanes and letting manhole and utility hole covers give motorists a bumpy ride. The middle of Saratoga Street was cluttered yesterday with orange plastic barrels, an overturned wooden sign stand and potholes half-empty with gravel.

Gordan Stowe drives home from work on Paca Street. He's worried about what the bumps are doing to his Caprice Classic. "This is hell on my car," he said. "The traffic's tight, and the lanes aren't marked."

Kocher said DPW employees will be in the area today to make sure all steel plates are correctly installed. In addition, he said, crews will be sent out to fill potholes and fix asphalt around manhole covers.

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