After a monthlong emergency repair, Falls Road has been reopened to Maryland Avenue, reinstating an alternative route for some motorists caught in rush-hour delays caused by roadwork on the Jones Falls Expressway.
"By itself, it won't siphon off the bottleneck, but it could be a little help, give one more option," said Frank Murphy, chief planner for the Baltimore Department of Transportation.
Falls Road between Lafayette and Maryland avenues in Hampden had been closed since Feb. 17 because a water main broke during the record-breaking snowfall and melt, undermining the road.
That exacerbated backups on the expressway, the major north-south route in and out of the city for more than 100,000 commuters each workday. The interstate has been undergoing a two-year reconstruction and widening project that began in November and resulted in the loss of a lane of traffic in each direction.
As a result, Murphy said, too many cars have been packed onto the JFX at peak hours, making alternate routes such as York Road or Falls Road all the more important. The aim of the roadwork is to reconstruct the expressway between Howard and Eager streets, the last piece of the original 1961 roadway to be resurfaced.
Murphy said the city hopes motorists will take advantage of alternative routes downtown, such as Falls Road, Liberty Road, York Road, Loch Raven Boulevard, Perring Parkway and Park Heights Avenue.
Falls Road has been a popular alternative route during past JFX roadwork. However, because of other roadwork, it now ends at northbound Maryland Avenue. Motorists heading downtown will have to thread through midtown traffic.
"I don't want people to think it's a panacea," Murphy said.
Meanwhile, road crews will shut down the 29th Street on-ramp to the southbound JFX on Monday for as long as two years, something that will affect city dwellers in Remington, Hampden, Charles Village, Wyman Park and other neighborhoods, city officials said yesterday.
That will spell a shift in traffic patterns for the estimated 3,000 motorists who are accustomed to taking that ramp as a route, ordinarily an easy five-minute breeze to downtown. With the reconstruction of the JFX, city traffic engineers felt compelled to close the ramp to improve safety and to ease congestion there, Murphy said.
The right lane at the 29th Street ramp eventually will become a new exit-only lane for North Avenue. Motorists entering the JFX would have been funneled immediately onto an exit-only lane.
"If we left the 29th Street ramp open, that weave would be dangerous," Murphy said. "We don't want a demolition derby."
Veteran city traffic watchers said the 29th Street ramp closure would be a headache for some, but the Falls Road reopening might ease the pain for those traveling to midtown, while other city streets would be worth trying as an alternate way to navigate south toward downtown.
"For the morning drive heading inbound, if you use the 29th Street bridge, you might go a couple miles out of your way to the Cold Spring Lane entrance or take Howard Street, Maryland Avenue or St. Paul Street right into the city," said Bruce Main, a traffic reporter for Metro Networks.
Those coming from the Druid Hill Park area might try Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Main said.