Cars going to mall, Beltway share Rt. 40 lane Reader poses protocol question


Alvin Orth wants to know if everyone's mall right.

Gosh, that sentence has a "golden ring" to it. Pardon us, while Intrepid Commuter pauses to admire it.

Back to business. Mr. Orth's concerns involve people turning right into Golden Ring Mall from westbound U.S. 40, perhaps better known as Pulaski Highway.

Here's the setup. The highway is two lanes westbound until you pass Rossville Boulevard, where it expands to three lanes.

From this third lane, a motorist can turn into the mall. Beyond the mall, the right turn lane leads to a ramp on I-695.

The Essex resident poses a question of protocol, namely when should those heading for the Beltway move to the right. Sooner? Or later?

"The turning lane appears to have been provided to allow traffic to move into the mall," Mr. Orth writes. "However, a large percentage of the traffic continues on past the mall entrance to the Beltway entrance."

"This flow of traffic impedes those vehicles that continue on past the mall entrance from moving into the Beltway entrance lane. Is the traffic moving toward the Beltway via the mall turning lane in the right?"

The simple answer is yes.

Liz Kalinowski, spokeswoman for the State Highway Administration, says traffic engineers never intended to make the right lane exclusively for mall-goers. It was expected that some cars in the right lane would turn at the mall and some would continue to the Beltway.

She says the SHA has never really gotten many complaints about that.

"Motorists who are going into the mall and get caught in the light behind people going on the Beltway will just have to be patient," Ms. Kalinowski says.

She concedes there's a problem with this. People unfamiliar with the area often pass the mall before realizing they must merge right to reach the Beltway. This creates a "mixing bowl" effect.

But, she says, "they have adequate time to get in the right lane." Slightly less than a quarter-mile by the Intrepid Commuter's estimate.

In a related matter, there's some good news for people who are frustrated by the backups on Pulaski Highway. The SHA plans to widen U.S. 40 to three lanes in each direction between Martin Boulevard and the Beltway within the coming year.

Painted rail poles: a spotty phenomenon

Have you heard the one about the bare pole?

John Engleman has investigated the tale thoroughly. He felt so strongly about the matter, he decided to cover -- or, uncover -- the story with Intrepid Commuter.

Perhaps you've noticed -- we certainly hadn't until the Fullerton resident brought this to our attention -- but the steel poles that hold up the overhead electrical cables for the light rail system are not identical.

The overhead lines -- called catenary -- power the light rail cars. They are held in place by the 1,271 poles spaced along the 22.5-mile-long Central Light Rail Line.

But here, as they say, is the rub. Some of the poles are painted and some are not.

The poles are made of something called weathering steel. Unpainted, they are designed to naturally rust a bit, acquiring that familiar brown patina of oxidation. They don't corrode substantially after that.

The Mass Transit Administration has chosen to leave most of their poles au naturel and paint others. Mr. Engleman wants to know why.

The poles around Seminary Avenue are painted, he observes, while most at the south end are naked. Could it be that the poles are painted where salt contamination is most likely?

"My theory . . . is that the painted poles are placed where passengers or pedestrians may be closest to them," writes Mr. Engleman.

For a definitive answer we turned to Todd Spangler, a spokesman for the MTA. He offers a relatively simple explanation.

First, the MTA chose to buy catenary poles of weathered steel because they are cheaper in the long run. Quite simply, no touch-up painting is required, and the brown-colored poles tend to blend in quite naturally with trees.

But two communities objected to the rusty look. As a result, Ruxton and Riderwood got painted poles.

Next, the weathered steel can be a problem around concrete. When it rains, some of the rust will drip down the poles and stain the light-colored building material. You end up with a dirty, reddish-brown smear.

So around stations, overpasses and retaining walls, the MTA painted the poles, usually brown or green.

Mr. Engleman is also correct about corrosion. Poles were painted around grade-crossings to lessen the effects of road salt getting splashed on them.

Finally, there were areas where painted poles just made more sense aesthetically. Between Camden Yards and Mount Royal, the poles were painted a dark bronze color to match the street light poles.

If we've left out any other possibility out, please don't write or call. We've laid bare our interest in the topic to put it pole-itely.

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