Burned-out turn light needed complainant

WATCH DOG

December 04, 2007

THE PROBLEM -- A left-turn light on a traffic signal in Baltimore County didn't work for more than a year, according to a reader.

THE BACKSTORY -- How long does it take Baltimore County to change a light bulb?

More than a year, according to Karen Zale.

About two hours, according to the county Department of Public Works.

The Baltimore County resident wrote Watchdog on Nov. 7, complaining about an "unworking left arrow signal" from Old Court Road at Towne Center Place, which leads into a shopping center in Pikesville.

"Traffic is always heavy at the intersection and the dead left arrow is very dangerous," Zale wrote. "The left arrow has not been working since it was installed more than a year ago. Why has an arrow been placed there along with a red light camera without having it in working order?"

When first contacted about the problem, county Department of Public Works spokesman David Fidler said officials "didn't know about it," and that the head of the traffic signal office "is looking into and will send a crew out there today."

Two hours after the call, Fidler got back to Watchdog: "Crews went out to the signal at Old Court and Towne Center. They found a burned-out light. They have replaced it, and it is now fully operational."

It is impossible to know how long the light was out. Zale says at least a year, but she never reported it to the county. She said she called Watchdog after seeing an elderly driver struggle to turn into the shopping center without a properly working signal. "I decided that was the way to report it," she said.

Fidler said crews would have responded quickly to Zale's call, as they did to the call from The Sun, and that there is no record of anyone complaining about the burned-out light at that intersection. He said 15 workers maintain the county's 350 traffic signals and routinely replace more than 8,000 bulbs -- some of which last 10 years and others only 18 months -- at a cost of about $10,000 a year.

"We do like to keep the light bulbs burning," Fidler said. "We went out to fix it so people wouldn't have accidents."

WHO CAN FIX THIS? -- Gregory Carski, director of the Bureau of Traffic Engineering for the Baltimore County Department of Public Works.

UPDATE

The item last week about a dying tree and a homeowner's demand that the city take it down got people mad.

The photograph showed the tree on the front lawn of a rowhouse on Riggs Avenue in West Baltimore, and angry readers wanted to know why it was the city's responsibility.

"The city is going to remove a tree that appears to sit on private property," Paul Farley wrote in an e-mail. "Does the homeowner ... get billed for this service or do our tax dollars pay for it?"

Kia McLeod, a spokeswoman for the Department of Recreation and Parks, stood by the city's decision.

"Inspectors measured the site and pulled the plats," she said. "The tree, which has been removed, was within the City Right of Way."

The homeowner's complaint was legitimate, and so taxpayers must foot the bill.

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