Top 10 state transportation stories of the decade

GETTING THERE

December 28, 2009|By Michael Dresser | michael.dresser@baltsun.com

Could we have a drum roll, please, for the Top 10 stories in Maryland transportation for the 2000-2009 decade?

10. Light rail double-tracking project completed. After Baltimore's light rail system opened early in the 1990s, it soon became clear that the decision to run trains on a single track over long stretches led to constant delays and operational difficulties. Construction of a second track brought rough times for light rail users, but the project was finally completed in early 2006. The result has been much more reliable service.

9. Highway deaths continue to take toll. If 600 people had died in a single transportation disaster in Maryland, it would be No. 1 on this list. But the continuing carnage on state highways dribbles in at the rate of a story or two a day. Each year of this decade, the toll has hovered around 600 a year. By the time the final totals are tallied, more than 6,000 people will have died on state roads. One ray of hope: The number in 2008 dropped below 600.

8. State struggles to fund transportation as gas tax stays put. The state's Transportation Trust Fund revenue continues to lag far behind the demand for projects as politics keeps the gas tax stuck at the early-1990s level of 23.5 percent a gallon. Both the Ehrlich (2004) and the O'Malley administrations (2007) pushed through large revenue measures, but both looked to other sources for funds.

7. Water taxi capsizes in Baltimore Harbor. Five people were killed - and a little girl permanently disabled - when a seemingly routine water taxi trip from Fort McHenry to Fells Point aboard the Lady D turned into a nightmare when a powerful squall struck the heavily loaded pontoon craft on March 6, 2004. It took a heroic rescue effort to keep the toll from going higher.

6. Wheels fall off MTA buses. From August 2001 until June 2002, wheels fell off 18 MTA buses, leading to 54 injury claims and the ouster of the agency's acting administrator. The incidents cast a cloud over the agency's image that lingers even though there has not been a recurrence in many years.

5. Red Line, Purple Line advance. Proposed transit lines in Baltimore and the Washington suburbs advance through the arduous process of public hearings and planning to the point where Gov. Martin O'Malley could choose a specific mode (light rail) and route for the two projects last summer. The Red Line plan is controversial, but the decision on whether to approve it is now in the hands of the feds.

4. Bay Bridge truck crash uncovers structural flaws. The decade's most jarring image in Maryland transportation was that of a tractor-trailer being pulled from the Chesapeake Bay after it crashed through the barriers on the eastbound span and went over the side, killing its driver. An inspection after the August 2008 incident found corrosion of the metal clamps that attach the barriers to the deck - forcing emergency repairs that tied up traffic on the bridge for weeks.

3. New Woodrow Wilson Bridge opens. After decades of talk about the need to replace the obsolete and deteriorating bridge that carried the Capital Beltway over the Potomac River, construction got under way in 2000. The first span of the new bridge opened in 2006, clearing the way for the demolition of the old bridge later that year and construction of the second span, which opened as scheduled in 2008.

2. Intercounty Connector approved; construction begins. After almost a half-century of wrangling between highway advocates and environmentalists, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. fulfilled a campaign promise in 2006 by winning federal approval of the ICC - an 18-mile toll road connecting Interstate 95 with the Interstate 270 corridor in Montgomery County. Construction is under way. The irony factor: When the first segment of the ICC opens in October 2010, the man who gets to cut the ribbon will presumably be Ehrlich's arch-rival, O'Malley.

1. Derailment, fire close Howard Street Tunnel. When a CSX freight train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed in the century-old Howard Street Tunnel on July 18, 2001, the resulting underground fire and water main break closed down much of downtown for almost a week and brought East Coast freight traffic to a halt. It was a reminder to the industry and national transportation officials that Baltimore is a dangerous bottleneck in the nation's freight rail system. Amazingly, no one was injured in what could have been a catastrophic disaster. As the decade ends, little progress has been made toward replacing the tunnel.

Honorable mentions: Express toll lanes take shape on Interstate 95 northeast of the city. And MARC commuting remains an endless adventure. (Thanks, Eric.)

So what did I miss?

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