Charles Street reconstruction

A service road, right, and Charles Street from University Parkway to 29th Street in Charles Village are slated for reconstruction. Pictured is service road and Charles Street looking south from Art Museum Drive. (Staff photo by Elizabeth Eck / August 28, 2012)

Sept. 5 is D-Day for the two-year, $28 million project to reconstruct North Charles Street between University Parkway and 25th Street in Charles Village.

The "D" in this case stands for detour, which is what thousands of motorists a day will have to do starting that date until the anticipated end of construction in August 2014,according to Baltimore City transportation officials.

The "D" could also stand for delays. City and project officials say that until the project gets under way, they have no way of knowing how slow the going will be, and how much if at all the detour will back up rush- hour traffic on Charles and the detour streets of St. Paul and Calvert.

Much will depend on how many motorists use the detours, and how many use suggested alternate routes like Interstate-83, York Road and Falls Road, said Rick McGraw, construction manager for Charles Street reconstruction.


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McGraw's best advice is for the public to constantly check the official Charles Street reconstruction website, http://www.charlesstreetreconstruction.com, to see what traffic conditions are like.

Checking the website is "going to help the problem more than anything," McGraw said.

City officials say the long-term gain will be more balanced traffic patterns, increased pedestrian and bicycle safety, upgraded aging infrastructure, improved signage, business revitalization, and a more aesthetically pleasing Charles Street, in keeping with its designation as a National Scenic Byway.

The reconstruction in north Baltimore is the fourth phase of an overall effort to reconstruct Charles Street, one of the city's main north-south arteries from downtown to north Baltimore.

"We want Charles Street to be a place that people visit, not just drive through," said Adrienne Barnes, a spokeswoman for the city's Department of Transportation.

But the short-term pain will be in the project's effect on traffic and business.

The southbound detour is to St. Paul Street and the northbound detour is to North Calvert Street. There will be no detour between 33rd Street and Art Museum Drive, transportation officials say.

Construction will start and the detours will go into effect simultaneously.

"If we're going to shut down (the street), we have to be prepared to start (construction) at that time," McGraw said.

Pedestrian-friendly

The project calls for resurfacing North Charles between 25th and 29th streets, with sporadic curb and sidewalk repairs, a new electric duct bank for underground wiring, traffic signals, bike lanes and handicapped-accessible ramps, transportation officials say.

From 29th Street to University Parkway, the project calls for full-depth pavement reconstruction of North Charles with reconfigured and landscaped medians, new sidewalks, curbs, gutters, water quality inlets, waterlines, lighting, bike lanes, professional art work and landscaping, transportation officials say.

A sweeping, speeding-prone right turn from southbound Charles onto Art Museum Drive near Wyman Park Dell will be converted to a 90-degree turn. Transportation officials have long complained traffic goes too fast there because of the curve's wide radius.

The southbound service drive that runs along Charles Street will be eliminated. The northbound service drive will be reconstructed and widened from 13 to 16 feet, McGraw said.

Johns Hopkins University will be the beneficiary of a pedestrian-friendly "ellipse" in front of the Homewood campus entrance, giving the street the feel and look of a plaza.

Hopkins, of which its campus fronts North Charles Street between 28th Street and University Parkway and is expected to be the most impacted by the project, is paying $2.5 million of the cost of the project, with other monies coming from federal and local coffers.

The university has created its own internal website, http://www.fm.jhu.edu/charlesstreetconstruction, to disseminate information. In addition, the university is scheduled to hold a town hall meeting Sept. 7 for the Hopkins staff.

"The meeting will be for JHU personnel to review the North Charles Street reconstruction project, including schedules, closures, detours and applicable information as related to campus operations," Salem Reiner, director of Hopkins' Office of Community Affairs, said in an email.

"It's going to have a pretty major impact on our students and the university as a whole," said Mike Sullivan, senior project manager in Hopkins' office of facilities management. He said students and staff will have to endure temporary crosswalks and blocks at a time being closed as crews relocate utilities among other work. Issues including shuttle bus routes and deliveries to JHU also need to be addressed, he said.

But Sullivan takes the long view of the project.

"The ultimate idea is that there may be some challenges along the way, but in the end, it will be a much safer, nicer, pedestrian-friendly, bicycle-friendly area," Sullivan said.

Not closing down

Hopkins and the nearby Baltimore Museum of Art are doing their best to keep people informed. The BMA has included a note about the project in its members magazine, spokeswoman Anne Mannix said.

The city promises that restaurants and businesses along the street will be accessible during construction and is encouraging the public to patronize them.

"Charles Street is not closing down," Barnes said.

But some parking will be lost during construction, although McGraw said efforts are being made to include some temporary angled parking.

The city is also doing pre-construction surveys of businesses and offices, mostly to determine what kind of physical shape they are in, before construction begins. Barnes said city representatives are "physically walking into every business and institution from 25th Street to University Parkway to tell them about the project, give out our contact information and gather theirs, and just take the time to talk to them and hear their concerns."

She said transportation officials also have had "street teams" handing out information to residents, students, and employees in the area, as well as at the 32nd Street Farmers Market in Waverly, and that officials have met with local businesses, merchants' groups and civic associations.

But Dominion Ice Cream shop owner Donna Calloway has her doubts. She said she expects the loss of parking and foot traffic to Dominion, 3215 North Charles St., which sits at ground zero of the project. She said she specializes in vegetable-based ice cream and draws customers from as far away as Pennsylvania.

She admits that the possibility of the project putting her out of business "does cross my mind from time to time, but I try to be optimistic."

Karen Stokes, executive director of the Greater Homewood Community Corp. at 3513 North Charles St., is worried about the effect on the organization's literacy program because many clients ride the bus and many tutors drive.

"We're all going to be losing parking," she said.

But Stokes commended the city for publicizing the project.

"They have spent a lot of time engaging the community on this," said Stokes, who walks to work from her house in Oakenshawe.

As north Baltimore braces for the project to begin, the BMA's Mannix is taking the start date with a grain of salt, because the city and the media have been reporting for months that the project would be starting soon.

"We've been hearing it was going to start since last spring," Mannix said.