Baltimore County to seal off 44-year-old tunnel in Lansdowne
Tunnel provided walkway beneath CSX railroad tracks
Jackie Jones, co-owner of the Corner Florist in Lansdowne, stands at the entrance to the tunnel near her shop on Hammonds Ferry Road Nov. 22. The tunnel passes beneath the train tracks across the street from her store. Jones has been fighting for the tunnel to be closed because of the vandalism and illegal drug use it attracts. (Staff photo by Brian Krista / November 22, 2011)
The solution came last week when Baltimore County completed a $12,750 project that sealed off the tunnel, which provides a walkway connecting Hammonds Ferry and Sulphur Spring roads beneath four sets of CSX railroad tracks.
The Joneses spent about $200 each year to power wash the spray-painted tags from the white walls of their store, The Corner Florist, Jackie said.
Vandals covered the walls inside the tunnel with graffiti and the area reeked of urine.
The county's four-day project, which began Nov. 21, may help eliminate problems, said state Del. James Malone, who represents District 1, which includes Lansdowne.
"In the long run, it's a win-win," Malone said. "It will be an immediate (impact) for the poor people who get their building graffitied all the time."
At each end of the tunnel, the county has constructed a wall of cinder blocks, a door fit with a dead bolt lock and a no trespassing sign, said David Fidler, a spokesman for Baltimore County Department of Public Works.
The doors, Fidler noted, were likely installed to allow county workers to enter the tunnel and make repairs if necessary.
A spokesman from CSX declined comment about the tunnel since it was a county project.
"I'm happy that it's finally being taken care of," Jackie said.
The Lansdowne business owner said she is thankful to the politicians and community groups who helped get the project off the ground.
"It's been a very long process," she said. "But I'm happy that it's finally happening."
Despite her happiness, Jones isn't sure the project will solve all of her problems.
"I thought they were going to close it from the top, but they're closing it from the bottom," Jackie said on Nov. 22 about the construction at the bottom of the 23 stairs that lead to the tunnel.
"I am concerned that it still gives them an opportunity to paint and duck down in the steps there," she said. "I hope not. I'm very optimistic that this will do the trick and stop a lot of the traffic that goes down there for all the wrong reasons."
Even with pressure from the Lansdowne Improvement Association and area residents, the county couldn't take action to close the tunnel until documentation proving ownership of the tunnel was found.
Baltimore County officials said the county could not perform construction at the tunnel if it belonged to CSX.
Recently, however, the county found a copy of a 1966 agreement between Baltimore County and B&O Railroad, which came under the control of CSX in 1986, stating that Baltimore County has the right to "repair, renew and maintain" the structure, Fidler said.
The tunnel, according to a date inscribed at one of its entrances, opened in 1967.
Shutting off the tunnel wasn't the first choice of the action, Malone said.
"We tried to do a lot of different things before we closed the tunnel," said Malone, noting that several cleanings in the tunnel took place. "What continues to happen is you have people who totally, totally abuse the tunnel."
Brian Bailey, in his first year as president of the Lansdowne Improvement Association, said his organization has pushed for the closure of the tunnel for a long time.
"We advocated for its closure for the simple fact that nobody was available to make sure the tunnel was taken care of in a hygienic, clean matter," Bailey said on Nov. 22. "We're happy it's occurring."
The tunnel does serve a function by allowing people to safely cross to the other side of the tracks.
Malone said before the tunnel closed the county made sure adequate public transportation would allow people to get where they needed to go.
A chain link fence with barbed wire runs along Hammonds Ferry Road across from the Corner Florist, but it does not continue all the way along Hammonds Ferry Road. There is also no fence on either side of the tracks.
The Lansdowne Improvement Association plans to distribute information to people in the area about the available public transportation in order to keep them from walking on the tracks, Bailey said.
"Crossing the train tracks is not a viable option," Bailey said. "We don't want anyone to get hurt."