Baltimore’s ‘traffic nightmare’: Artscape, sinkhole and Orioles combine to cause major road issues

Baltimore’s ‘traffic nightmare’: Artscape, sinkhole and Orioles combine to cause major road issues
Baltimore, MD -- Carl Washington of Laurel holds his son Carter Washington, 2 beneath a sea of multi-colored balloons of the "Choose Your Own Adventure" installation at 2018 Artscape. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

Kevin Blackwell wants to try the food and see some live music at Artscape this weekend. But the 33-year-old won’t be driving from his house in Otterbein to get there.

What’s billed as America’s largest free outdoor arts festival will require some creativity and patience from Baltimore drivers and its 350,000 expected attendees. They’re facing the large underground water main break that closed downtown streets and disrupted Light Rail traffic near Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Oh, and by the way, the Orioles are hosting the Washington Nationals and Boston Red Sox in a five-game homestand this week.


“Every street’s going to be busy,” Blackwell said. “I’m getting grocery’d up on Friday, parking and not moving."

The water main break has closed Pratt Street between Paca Street and Hopkins Place and Howard Street between Lombard and Conway streets. The closures are forcing drivers entering downtown from Interstate 395 (Exit 53) to either take the Lee Street/Russell Street ramp or turn right onto eastbound Conway Street.

Light rail service has been suspended between North Avenue and Camden Yards due to the sinkhole, which swallowed a handicapped entrance ramp and stretched to the edge of the tracks. The Maryland Transit Administration is running a free shuttle for passengers between North Avenue and Camden Yards during the disruption.

Crews were expected to begin installing pilings and braces Tuesday night to allow better access to the broken water main, storm drain, sewer and other underground conduits and utilities at the site of the sinkhole at Pratt and Howard streets, said Jeffrey Raymond, a spokesman for the city Department of Public Works.

The city getting closer to repairing the broken main and reopening streets, he said, but it won’t be done by this weekend.

“We hesitate to put dates on it, but our goal is by the end of next week to have some lanes open on Howard and Pratt,” Raymond said Tuesday. “We can’t open the lanes until we get the bypass pipes removed, and we can’t remove the bypass until the underground storm drain is fixed.”

Accordingly, the Baltimore City Department of Transportation is preparing for "heavy traffic that will impact the city throughout the weekend,” spokesman German Vigil said in a statement Tuesday.

In addition to the bus bridge, the MTA has sent staffers to assist affected riders and is communicating regularly with the Orioles about the interrupted light rail service, according to spokeswoman Brittany Marshall.

An illustrated map of the festival grounds for Artscape 2019. - Original Credit: BOPA
An illustrated map of the festival grounds for Artscape 2019. - Original Credit: BOPA (HANDOUT)

“MTA is working diligently to accommodate all riders using our transit system both during weekday commutes and to weekend recreation,” Marshall said in a statement.

The Orioles took the unusual step of issuing a news release to warn fans headed to Camden Yards of the street closures and light rail disruption on Monday.

“Fans are encouraged to allow more time getting to and from Oriole Park,” the team said in the release.

Anyone headed to Artscape also should leave early, said Tracy Baskerville, spokeswoman for the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, which puts on the festival.

“We know travel can be an issue, so hopefully if you have a plan in place it’ll help you alleviate some of the travel issues as you come in," Baskerville said.


Mike Evitts and his wife are considering taking the Charm City Circulator or maybe a pair of dockless scooters to get to Artscape.

Evitts, a spokesman for the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, noted that the usual summertime road resurfacing and other construction projects add to the transportation difficulties.

“I live and work downtown, so I know exactly what people are experiencing," he said. "It’s tough to say ‘Get out of the car’ when it’s this hot out. But if you can’t beat the heat, at least you can beat the traffic.”