Caution: Construction next 2 1/2 years NW quarter of Beltway to be widened, paved


A diagram of the Baltimore Beltway widening in yesterday's editions of The Sun inaccurately showed the scope of the highway project. The Beltway will be expanded to eight lanes between Reisterstown Road and Interstate 83 South.

The Sun regrets the error.

Get ready for a 2 1/2 -year headache.

Workers last night began closing lanes on the northwest section of the Baltimore Beltway, the first step in a $55 million highway expansion that will delay and aggravate tens of thousands of drivers until the fall of 1998.

Widening the highway from six to eight lanes over a four-mile stretch between Reisterstown Road and Interstate 83 is designed to handle rapidly increasing suburban traffic.

About 170,000 drivers use that part of the Beltway each day up from about 45,000 in 1965.

And each morning, thousands of travelers slow to a crawl as the inner loop narrows from four lanes to three in Pikesville.

But even before highway crews started working, some residents and business owners were dreading the construction, which also will close the Falls Road bridge over the Beltway for eight months.

"I hate to think about it. It's like when you get ready to die," said Bud Hatfield, owner of the Valley Inn at 10501 Falls Road.

He said he fears that his regular customers won't make the circuitous detour when the bridge closes.

In the coming months, crews will add a fourth lane to both the inner and outer loops of the Beltway.

They will erect sound barriers and make room for a fifth lane that someday might be used for high-occupancy vehicles.

The stretch between Charles Street and the I-83 south interchange will be repaved, and lights will be added to the ramps and median.

Traffic lanes will remain open during the day, but one or two lanes will be closed Sundays through Thursdays between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m., highway officials said.

The widening is needed to handle new driving patterns, especially among commuters, who increasingly are traveling from a home in one suburb to a job in another.

In 1970, more than half of the region's workers held jobs in Baltimore; by 1990, two-thirds held jobs in the suburbs.

"We have more suburb-type commuters than we had 20 years ago," said Charles R. Harrison, the highway administration's District 4 Engineer.

While rush-hour commuters should escape the worst of the lane closures, travelers along Falls Road won't be so lucky.

Workers will have to replace the Falls Road bridge, which will be closed beginning this summer.

"I think we can survive this. But it won't be easy," said Mr. Hatfield, whose inn has served lunches and dinners for 74 years and has survived the closings of two other nearby bridges in the past 25 years.

Agnes Maynard, who lives and works at 10426 Falls Road next to the bridge, worries that construction equipment will block her driveway.

"They're going to have to find a way to get us out of here short of a helicopter," she said.

Mrs. Maynard, who publishes newsletters, said she travels over the Falls Road bridge "18 times a day" and dreads the thought of the construction.

"It will be a real pain in the neck," she predicted.

Baltimore County's Fire Department will have to make changes as well, said Battalion Chief Mark Hubbard. The Brooklandville fire station, which serves Falls Road north of the Beltway, will no longer be able to respond to that area; the Lutherville Volunteer Fire Department and other companies will have to do the job instead.

State Highway Administration officials acknowledge that there will be inconveniences during the construction.

"But the people who will be complaining now will be happy in 2 1/2 years," said spokeswoman Valerie Burnette Edgar.

When the project is completed, the Beltway will have eight lanes on an 11-mile stretch between Interstate 70 and I-83.

In the first phase of construction, workers will erect sound barriers adjacent to several communities between Reisterstown Road and Greenspring Avenue.

They also will begin this spring to widen the median between Stevenson Road and I-83 south.

Once the sound barriers are erected, the widening of the median between Reisterstown Road and Stevenson Road will begin. That work should be complete by the end of the year.

Construction of the new outer lanes and wider shoulders will begin this summer and is scheduled to be complete by fall 1997.

Paving and painting will begin in summer 1997 and the entire project will be complete in fall 1998.

Dick Enterprises Inc. of Large, Pa., is the contractor on the project. The federal government is paying for 80 percent of the project; the state is paying the rest.

The 51.7-mile Beltway was started in 1954 and completed in 1977.

Pub Date: 3/3/96

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