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Six months after Charles Village street collapse, residents bemoan ongoing construction

Construction crews work Wednesday building a new retaining wall to hold East 26th Street in Charles Village above a parallel railroad cut. The previous wall collapsed into the cut six months ago, on April 30, taking much of the street with it.
Construction crews work Wednesday building a new retaining wall to hold East 26th Street in Charles Village above a parallel railroad cut. The previous wall collapsed into the cut six months ago, on April 30, taking much of the street with it. (Kevin Rector, Baltimore Sun)

It's not easy for Jenna Cataldo to fall asleep, even after her long overnight nursing shifts at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

The heavy construction outside the front door of her Charles Village rowhouse have ensured that, she said — leaving her with only a couple of hours of shut-eye on some days.

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The 28-year-old burn unit nurse lives in one of the pastel-colored rowhouses on the short block of East 26th Street between St. Paul and North Charles streets that collapsed in a large landslide after heavy rain six months ago.

Residents of the street were evacuated but allowed to return in early June. Since then, they have lived adjacent to a construction zone that is active with beeping vehicles and loud noise six days a week, residents said. Diesel engines sometimes roar to life as early as 3 a.m.

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"I know they have to fix the street — I don't want it to further implode — but it's been a very long-winded project," Cataldo said. "We're all just sick of the construction."

"Sunday is the only day you get to sleep in," said Sarah Spurry, 22, another resident of the block.

City officials said Wednesday that they appreciated the residents' patience and that the worst should be over soon. Barring any unexpected surprises, the majority of construction should be complete by the end of the year, said Scott Weaver, the city Department of Transportation's chief of bridges, who is overseeing the project.

Final work repaving the street and installing new sidewalks will have to wait until the spring, but the street should appear relatively whole — and the new retaining wall holding the street above the parallel cut of railroad tracks should be in place — by Christmas.

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"They should be able to park their cars there through the holidays, have their families visit through the holidays," Weaver said.

On Wednesday, two large cranes were busy lifting construction materials off the street and down into the railroad cut, including large amounts of mixed concrete.

What looked like a bare, uneven dirt wall beneath a crumbled layer of asphalt just after the collapse is now a solid structure again — an even wall of wood slats braced between huge steel pilings, which were dropped into holes drilled in the ground every several feet down the middle of the street.

Everything between the new wall and the railroad tracks has been excavated, and concrete footings have been placed for the new retaining wall — about two dozen feet closer to the tracks than the current piling wall.

The base of the new wall is in place, with steel grating rising from the top.

The new wall and the pilings will form the architectural foundation of the new East 26th Street, keeping it above the CSX Transportation railroad tracks below — which have remained active throughout the construction.

Once the new wall is completed, Weaver said, trucks will bring in backfill to fill in the space between it and the pilings. The wood slats of the piling wall will be removed, as will the top six feet of the pilings themselves so they don't get in the way of utilities and water and sewer lines that may need to go under the street.

The street will then be covered in a base layer of asphalt, resembling the rough surface of a street that's being repaved.

After this winter, when the weather warms again, crews will return to place a final layer of paving on the street and install sidewalks. Weaver said the city still was discussing whether the roughly paved street would be open to all traffic over the winter or just to the street's residents.

The entire project is estimated to cost about $15 million, with the city and CSX splitting the bill. Some residents have called on the city and CSX to compensate them for the hardship of the temporary evacuations and the continuing disruptions to their lives.

Jack Applegarth, 25, who just moved into a home on the street with Spurry and a couple of other roommates in August, said he was happy to hear about the Christmas deadline for much of the construction — even though he knew what he was getting into when he moved in.

"I'm kind of surprised. I would think it would take them a lot longer," the Johns Hopkins University engineering student said. "I used to work for a construction company, and projects often take longer than you think."

Cataldo said she wasn't much interested in piecemeal updates on the work.

"I'm just waiting for it to be over," she said.

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