Railroad crossing closed to vehicle traffic, creating 'jams'

The problem: A railroad crossing near M&T Bank Stadium has been closed to traffic.

The back story: Occasionally, Watchdog encounters a problem resulting from a solution proposed as an answer to an entirely different problem.

Take, for example, this week's quandary.

Richard Jordan works in a machine shop near the intersection of Ridgely Street and West Ostend Street, near the parking lots for M&T Bank Stadium and the elevated portion of Russell Street.

For about a month and a half, Jordan, who commutes from Catonsville, said he has had to go at least 10 minutes out of his way because the railroad crossing on Ridgely Street between West Ostend and Alluvion streets has been closed.

He said it's not just his commute that's been interrupted — delivery drivers have also been thwarted.

"Now all the businesses on that side of the street have to go five or six blocks out of the way," he said.

Jordan called city offices and was told by one person that the barriers were supposed to be open during Ravens games to allow that traffic to get through. If it's open then, he asked, why can't it be open all the time?

"Instead of alleviating traffic, all they're doing is creating traffic jams," Jordan said.

Frustrated, he called Watchdog.

According to the Baltimore Department of Transportation, the road closure has a different purpose. Residents of South Baltimore neighborhoods, including Federal Hill and Sharp-Leadenhall, often ask that the city limit train horn noise in their community, said the agency's deputy director, Jamie Kendrick.

"We are sensitive to the fact that the industries that are there are zoned appropriately," he said, but the department also wants to take into account concerns of residents.

The Federal Railroad Administration has a "quiet zone" program, which requires either closing the crossing to motor vehicle traffic or upgrading it to reduce the need for trains to blow horns on approach. But those improvements could cost $700,000 to $1 million, Kendrick said, and are funded solely by the requesting government.

City officials have not decided whether to apply to create a safe zone at this and three other South Baltimore rail crossings, according to Kendrick. The Ridgely Street closure is an experiment.

"Before making a big investment, we wanted to test the intersection which we thought would have the least impact," he said. "This would be the easiest one."

The city Fire Department has reconfigured its routes because of the change, he said. And at the Maryland Stadium Authority's request, the crossing is opened five hours before a Ravens home football game, two hours earlier than originally planned by the Department of Transportation, Kendrick said. It is closed three hours after the game or whenever the traffic disperses.

"We feel like it is safe. It is operationally appropriate," he said. The test is scheduled to continue through February. "We want to see how it works."

People with questions or concerns about the closure can contact Kendrick at 410-396-6802.

Who can fix this: City residents should call 311 to report problems.

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Is there something in your neighborhood that's not getting fixed? Tell us where the problem is and how long it's been there by e-mailing watchdog@baltsun.com or calling 410-332-6735.

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