By Kevin Rector, The Baltimore Sun
9:41 PM EST, March 7, 2014
As Alice Ross rumbled across Hanover Street's Vietnam Veterans Memorial Bridge early on the morning of Baltimore's most recent snowstorm, her Subaru smashed into a large pothole obscured by the accumulating snow.
The 61-year-old Halethorpe resident, on her way to drive a friend to a medical appointment, instead continued directly to her car dealership in Glen Burnie, she said — where she was met with a $1,100 mechanic's bill.
"I was petrified," Ross said of the incident, which nearly sent her off the bridge. "What upset me more than anything: It wasn't just a pothole. There were steel bars exposed."
This winter has been especially rough on area roadways, with snow, wide temperature fluctuations and salt brine all contributing to the cracking of road surfaces. City officials have been filling hundreds of potholes a day to keep up with the tens of thousands that have cropped up since December, and they say repairs will come soon to the Hanover Street span.
Residents complain the bridge — which carries two lanes of traffic each way across the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River between Cherry Hill and Riverside south of Federal Hill — has languished in disrepair, much like several other pieces of important transportation infrastructure in the neighborhood. The potholes, exposing rebar and a crumbling bridge deck, are symptomatic of a larger neglect along South Hanover Street, they say.
The street carries more than 30,000 vehicles a day on average, according to 2012 traffic data from the Baltimore Metropolitan Council.
Amy Mutch, former president of the South Baltimore Neighborhood Association, has complained of speeding, illegal trucking operations, unsafe intersections, bottlenecks and an overall poor situation for pedestrians.
"Frankly some of the improvements requested should have been done years ago when M&T Stadium was built," Mutch said in an email. "That is how long things have been neglected."
City officials plan to meet Tuesday with the South Baltimore Neighborhood Association to discuss problems along the corridor and plans to install a traffic-calming median along two blocks of Hanover Street between West Heath and West Wells streets in Riverside.
Morgan Alcalay, the South Baltimore Neighborhood Association's current president, said he was hesitant to discuss the broader problems along the corridor before that meeting.
Another meeting, to discuss a list of 117 problems that residents have noted in neighborhoods surrounding the Middle Branch area — from Federal Hill to Westport to Cherry Hill — will be held March 20 at the Holiday Inn Express on Russell Street, officials said.
Those problems span a slew of issues beyond just roads, and some will have to be addressed by police, housing and solid-waste agencies, said Frank Murphy, the city Transportation Department's deputy director of operations.
But the list also includes crumbling roads and sidewalks, poor traffic circulation, truck congestion, faded striping, deteriorating jersey barriers, a lack of speed controls and inadequate parking in some of Baltimore's fastest-growing neighborhoods, Murphy said.
In addition to problems noted by residents, Murphy said, there are also several structural projects in the works. A second Hanover Street bridge, which carries the street under the Interstate 95 overpass and above train tracks, needs to be replaced. So do two vehicle bridges and a pedestrian bridge over Route 295 in the city.
In an email, Alcalay said his group is looking forward to working with city officials to "ensure that South Baltimore's infrastructure is updated" to handle increased traffic from a growing housing market and the rising Horseshoe Baltimore Casino on Russell Street.
For Ross, who doesn't live in the city but who — like many others — frequently takes Hanover Street into the city, the Veterans Bridge remains the top priority.
When she got her $1,100 bill and her mechanic rattled off needed repairs to her suspension, she wondered how a pothole could cause so much damage, she said. Then she returned to the bridge and saw the size of the pothole she'd hit and the rebar sticking out of it.
"No wonder my car was damaged so bad," she said. "This is a bridge. You cannot have major potholes with steel bars exposed, because that just seems more dangerous. I don't know how much layers a bridge has to have to be a bridge."
Murphy said none of the potholes on the bridge present structural concerns and that city crews will be making temporary asphalt fixes soon.
However, a more permanent fix to the aging bridge's concrete deck will require cutting large sections out and pouring new concrete, he said.
The city is about to begin its biannual inspection of about 300 bridges throughout the city, Murphy said, and the Hanover Street bridge will be among them.
"The bridge is going on 100 years, so it is an old bridge, but it's certainly not going to fall down," he said. "We're going to be doing an analysis to try to come up with a long-term plan, but that's going to take a while because, as you might think, repairs to a bridge that size means big bucks."
An earlier version of this story referred to Morgan Alcalay as female. The Sun regrets the error.
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