Construction puts the squeeze on drivers

The Baltimore Sun

THE PROBLEM -- Construction crews working on Baltimore School for the Arts on Cathedral Street in Mount Vernon sometimes use up more road space than allowed.

THE BACKSTORY -- Workers have been renovating the city high school since late 2005 and have fenced off the right lane of Cathedral Street between Madison and Monument streets. The $29 million project is scheduled to be completed in December.

That isn't so bad. But construction workers have sometimes expanded their work zone to take up an additional lane on Cathedral, narrowing flow and backing up morning rush-hour traffic onto Maryland Avenue.

The situation is made worse because of the construction project at the Severn Apartments across the street that takes up the left lane. That also is permitted, and city officials said they consider the impact of allowing two separate projects on one street.

"Unfortunately, two major projects just happened to be across the street from each other," said Tim Knight, the right-of-way chief for the Department of Public Works. "In this case, we felt that with two lanes open, it wouldn't hamper traffic flow."

Edie House, a spokeswoman for the city schools, said in an e-mail to Watchdog that the school has a permit to block one lane of traffic, "and we are blocking only one lane of traffic. You can see from the location of our fence." She said the permit expires Dec. 6.

"During deliveries, we might block an additional lane for 30-40 minutes. ... This happens only after 9 o'clock," she said, avoiding rush hour.

On a recent Monday, a Watchdog observer noticed a large construction truck blocking an extra lane well before 9 a.m. It wasn't a delivery truck, but rather a cherry-picker being used by work crews to reach upper levels of the school building.

The Department of Public Works, which issues permits to close streets, said the distinction between delivery and construction trucks didn't matter.

"We made the contractors aware that Parking Control will be notified to ticket any vehicle that is parked in the travel lane," DPW spokeswoman Cathy Powell wrote in an e-mail. "DPW will continue to monitor this site for permit compliance."

WHO CAN FIX THIS -- Tim Knight, DPW bureau of general services right-of-way chief, 410-396-1675.

UPDATE -- A billboard on the side of an apartment building on St. Paul Street in Mid-Town Belvedere that the city says has no permit was still up yesterday, two weeks after Watchdog reported the problem and quoted a city attorney as saying it would have to come down. Julie Day, an attorney in the Housing Authority of Baltimore City's code-enforcement section, said yesterday that a violation notice has been sent to the property owner. "I expect it to be resolved very quickly," she said.

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