Hole lot of danger near airport footpath

September 11, 2007

THE PROBLEM -- A large hole is hidden by tall weeds near the BWI Trail in Anne Arundel County.

THE BACKSTORY -- The 12.5-mile trail that loops around Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport gives walkers a chance to watch airplanes and enjoy some greenery in the middle of an industrial area.

But in the middle of a grassy median between Route 170 and the trail is a hole, directly across from the southernmost entrance to the Northrop Grumman Corp., just south of the entrance to the BWI Amtrak station.

June Piper says it has been there for five months. She said that shortly after she first noticed the pit, someone put stakes in the ground and hooked up yellow caution tape. Then someone put up flashers. Since then, tall weeds have taken over.

"From some angles, you can't see the tape or flashers," Piper wrote in an e-mail. "I have no idea how deep the hole is, but I am afraid that due to that overgrowth, someone may ... be seriously hurt."

Watchdog paid a visit, and it appears that mowers have given the pit a wide berth, leaving weeds to mar what could be a neatly trimmed buffer between the road and the trail.

Upon hearing from Watchdog, the State Highway Administration dispatched inspectors. Their initial report to spokesman David Buck was: "It's either our problem or the airport's, but we're going to take action. My guy said the weeds were up over his head."

On Friday, Buck said inspectors climbed into the hole -- 7 feet from the road shoulder, 8 feet wide and 3 to 4 feet deep.

Turns out there is a 42-inch wide drainage pipe that runs under the four-lane road. Part of it has rusted, allowing water that should drain into the median to instead collect in a small pond. Over time, the saturated ground sank. Buck said it would take a few weeks to repair the pipe, fill in the hole and plant new grass.

He said workers crawled the length of the pipe and concluded there is no danger to the road above. "Even if we had a massive rainstorm, the pipe is in good enough shape that it is going to function the way it needs to," he said. "It's not on a path well-traveled. But we're glad we know about it."

WHO CAN FIX THIS -- Gregory Welker, the chief engineer of SHA District 5, 410-841-5450

UPDATE

The saga of the broken clock atop the 200-foot-high Bromo Seltzer Tower continues. Readers might recall that Watchdog reported in July that the south-facing clock face showed the wrong time. At that time, officials with the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts thought that dust from a renovation project had caused problems in the century-old timepiece.

Efforts to make repairs, however, have faltered. One repairman quit and another got too busy. Last week, Tracy Baskerville from the arts office said they found another repairman, who deduced that pipes running the minute and hour hand had fused. But he also got too busy to fix it.

Baskerville said that a clock repair specialist from Maine is coming to Baltimore on Friday to inspect the clock and render a second opinion.

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