The Baltimore crawl

May 17, 2007

Beware the Orange Cone. The Dixon administration is embarking on a push to double the number of streets it paves this season. And while that surely will be a plus in the long run, it's the getting there that worries us. These days, moving around downtown Baltimore is like running an obstacle course - streets in repair, buildings under construction, lanes closed, traffic snarled, motorists stuck.

Consider what it takes to get in or out of the city via Russell Street. That stretch of roadway has been torn up for too long to remember why the work is being done or when it will cease. To refresh your memory, it's a reconstruction of the viaduct over Monroe Street, begun two years ago.

The work has turned that gateway into a daily slog as the three-lane road narrows to two or one, twisting and turning, rumbling over this and that, before it returns to a sensible three lanes at Haines Street, just before the overpass to the stadiums. It's a wonder the rush-hour congestion hasn't turned gas-guzzling motorists into card-carrying riders of the MTA. Now that would be progress.

But alas, the convenience of one's automobile nearly always trumps reason. Every day you think it can't get worse - and you would be wrong.

The city's decision to resurface more than 150 lane miles (that's about 75 miles of a two-lane road) exceeds the number resurfaced last year and the year before that. But it could be worse: Two crews instead of one will be milling and paving, which means that a resurfacing project that took two days last year takes only one this year.

Also, the administration has promised to list and map on the city's Web site every street that is going to be repaved, which could prove hazardous right there. If you think texting and driving is a danger, how about all those clueless commuters trying to check their route on their BlackBerrys while driving?

Still, city transit officials say cracked and pitted roads are among the top citizen complaints, and most of the 280 resurfacing projects are planned in city neighborhoods, not downtown. So Baltimore residents will be able to get to work, but it just may take them longer to get out of their neighborhoods. Our advice: Leave early, switch to decaf and take the scenic route. It'll be a lot less stressful.

As for Russell Street, don't hold your breath. Construction isn't scheduled to end until January 2008.

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