City battles backups on Boston St.

Proposals offered for clearing snag at major rail crossing

June 21, 2008|By Jessica Anderson | Jessica Anderson,Sun Reporter

With a large fitness club on one side of Boston Street and new business on other side, the signs are clear that Canton is rapidly growing across a section of railroad tracks and into an adjacent industrial area.

Cars routinely clog Boston Street, with traffic jams now reaching as far east as Interstate 95, frustrating residents and visitors. "It's already a nightmare," said Darryl Jurkiewicz, president of the Canton Community Association.

The large, multitrack crossing used by three railroads that often switch from one track to the other increases delays and backups. The tracks run north and south, paralleling nearby South Haven Street.

To ease congestion, the Baltimore Department of Transportation wants to either reroute traffic around the crossing or build a new bridge to carry Boston Street over the tracks. Officials are to present four proposals at a meeting scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday at the Southeast Anchor Library.

The department hopes to decide on a plan by September, with construction beginning by 2011, said Jamie Kendrick, deputy director for administration for the Transportation Department.

Jurkiewicz said he believes the best option is the overpass. A native of Canton, Jukiewicz said development has significantly increased traffic in recent years.

The proposed Boston Street project is part of an effort by city officials to address traffic problems in Southeast Baltimore. Kendrick said 22 of 31 intersections in that part of the city identified as "critical to traffic flow" are projected to fail - "meaning the volume will exceed the capacity" and that drivers will sit through several light changes.

Kendrick also said that within seven years an additional 20,000 vehicle trips in the morning and afternoon peak hours are expected in the Canton area - more than the all-day traffic flow on Harford and Reisterstown roads in Northeast and Northwest Baltimore, respectively.

The railroad crossing already helps tie up traffic in Canton. A prime gateway into Canton off Interstate 95, Boston Street is blocked at the tracks to let trains pass an average of 22 times day, sometimes for as long as 53 minutes.

Becky Conti, a trainer at the Merritt Athletic Club on Boston Street, said she's often late getting to work because of train crossings and that many of her clients complain as well. "I would really like an overpass, and I know a lot of people up here would too," she said.

In addition to the construction of one of the four proposed Boston Street plans, Kendrick said, is the possible addition of the light rail's Red Line.

The four proposals to help Boston Street are:

* A bridge carrying Boston Street over the tracks. Kendrick said that plan would require "a mammoth structure" and a large wall that would block off most development opportunities on the south side of Boston Street. This alternative is the most expensive, estimated to cost $100 million.

* Shift traffic from Boston Street to O'Donnell Street, which has a viaduct over the railroad tracks. The proposed light rail Red Line would follow the new route. The cost is estimated to be between $50 million and $55 million.

* Connect Boston and O'Donnell streets adjacent to South Haven Street, with the Red Line next to the proposed route. Kendrick said this option would retain development opportunities. This option would cost $40 million to $45 million.

* Connect O'Donnell and Boston streets through the Brewer's Hill neighborhood. However, transportation officials warn that resulting major intersections would become overwhelmed and leave drivers stuck at lights for several cycles during peak hours. This would cost $9 million to $12 million.

The Transportation Department favors connecting Boston and O'Donnell streets next to Haven Street. Kendrick said that option "provides enough roadway capacity, it doesn't speed people through the neighborhood and it preserves development parcels."

jessica.anderson@baltsun.com

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