Road crater grows, residents fret over repair pace in Halethorpe

County plans work to cost $1 million

May 29, 2007|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN REPORTER

Ingate Road looks like it was ripped apart by an earthquake. The asphalt is cracked, and has sunk several feet, forming a crater nearly the size of a basketball court.

Baltimore County officials are pledging to repair a 600-foot section of the collapsed road at a cost of about $1 million, but the people who live near the road in Halethorpe see the growing cavity inch toward their townhouses - and some worry whether the work, which could take a year, will be done soon enough.

"We see the asphalt creeping closer and closer every day," said Darren Geisbert, a 28-year-old federal government worker who lives in the neighborhood. "It'll be in the backyard by then."

The collapsed road is the latest in two decades of concerns surrounding the Riverchase community, which, according to a county official, was built on what had been a sprawling quarry. Residents of neighboring Relay raised questions about the integrity of the ground before the development was even built. County officials say the foundations of three homes had to be stabilized in recent years.

The newest plan to fix Ingate Road comes six years after the county spent $464,000 to repair a nearby 300-foot section of the road, according to David Fidler, a spokesman for the county Department of Public Works. And it's less than three years after the county built a wall, for a second time, near the site to stabilize the soil in the area.

At a homeowners meeting last week, some residents criticized the county's handling of the problem and said they shouldn't have to wait another year for the repair.

"It's totally unacceptable," said John McCleary, whose mother- and father-in-law live in the neighborhood. "It's a disgrace and an embarrassment."

Scott Wood, a 38-year-old federal worker, said he's concerned about emergency crews being delayed by the prolonged road closure.

"That five minutes could be the difference between life and death in a fire or other emergency," Wood said. "It affects the whole neighborhood."

Some residents want a comprehensive study done to determine what other repairs might have to be made. And some are concerned about their property values.

Steven Walsh, chief of the design division in the county's Department of Public Works, said the county is addressing the problem.

"Be assured, we're not going to leave any citizen in the lurch, without access to their homes," he said. "If it seems like the county hasn't done anything, that's just not the case."

Built by Richmond American Homes of Maryland beginning in 1987, Riverchase is a complex of condominiums and townhouses, with 412 units in all.

In 1984, nearby residents who objected to the development won a change in the zoning of the 56-acre tract that allowed fewer homes to be built. But a county judge later ruled that the developer had a right to build to the original, higher density.

Attempts to obtain comment last week from officials at Richmond American Homes were unsuccessful.

Construction in Riverchase was completed in 1993, according to Trenton Property Services, which now manages the day-to-day operations and maintenance of the development.

In 2001, the county made its first repairs to Ingate Road because of soil destabilization and drainage problems. The county installed two 6-inch drains beneath a 300-foot section of the road, near the site of the current problems, Fidler said. The road was resurfaced and stabilization material was installed as part of the project, he said.

Last year, county officials began monitoring the new problem on Ingate Road, according to Walsh.

At first, it was a pothole, he said. By the middle of last year, it was clearly settling and becoming "more serious," Walsh said.

By the end of last year, as conditions worsened, the county called in a consulting firm, according to Walsh. The problem is believed to be caused by a combination of the steep incline, the soil type and an underground spring at the top of the hill, Walsh said.

In March, the county closed the road, Fidler said.

For the past several months, the county has been looking at various alternatives to fix the problem, such as building a standard retaining wall, but decided a "mechanically stabilized slope" or "keystone wall," was the best fix. The idea is to cut into the older, more stable soil to hold the road and embankment in place, Fidler said.

Over the next few months, the design of the project will be finalized, and the county will seek environmental permits and bids for the work, Walsh said.

At the same time, the Riverchase Condominium Association is working to address another drainage problem, this one with water coming through a stone retaining wall behind a row of townhouses on Ringwood Drive, said Paul Armstrong, vice president of the organization's board. As part of a $42,000 project, a contractor will create a swale and pipe the water collecting behind the houses to the street.

The association also has hired a contractor to begin drilling to see how far down the bedrock is, so that they can determine how to stabilize the foundations of two homes, Armstrong said. It's unclear how much those repairs will cost. Homeowners currently pay about $120 in monthly condo fees.

"We're trying to restore an atmosphere of calm," Armstrong said. "It's a viable community. Riverchase is not falling into the sea."

Still, he said he agrees with residents demanding that the county act more quickly to repair the road.

"This is urgent," he said. "They need to move on this."

laura.barnhardt@baltsun.com

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