Bridges, tunnels, stalls, stories

Donna Beth Joy Shapiro has had "lifelong, recurring dreams of plunging off an enormous bridge." Earlier this year, she told a friend that one of her biggest fears was that her truck would die on the Bay Bridge.

Two days later, she came face to face with that fear.


Shapiro, a Bolton Hill resident, was one of several readers who answered the call in last week's column for stories of their experiences with immobility on bridges and tunnels with no shoulders for refuge.

Shapiro writes that it was about 3:30 p.m. on a Sunday this spring, while she was driving in 50 mph traffic on the westbound span of the bridge, when "I smelled something acrid for about 30 seconds, and then my truck just stopped."


I drive a huge white 1991 Suburban, but that's little comfort when faced with the thought of anything hitting me at 100 feet above the bay. I had two cell phones with me and good thing, as the first one couldn't maintain a signal. After calling #77, I attempted several times to explain to AAA where I was, but the two operators couldn't figure it out.

(I later learned I should have referred to the bridge by its formal name, the William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial Bridge - merely referring to it as the Route 50 bridge over the Chesapeake Bay was not sufficient, and I believe the operators may have been in India or Indianapolis and so had no idea of what I was speaking.)

Shapiro recounts that after a very long five minutes, a Maryland Transportation Authority Police officer pulled up.

He broke into a wide grin upon spying me, a tiny 5-foot-2, 95-pound, buzzed-cut elf behind the wheel of a behemoth. He said the plan was to move me to the right lane and the accompanying tow truck would push me across. I told him there was nothing doing with that plan, so he stopped traffic to allow the tow truck to get in front of my vehicle and for me to safely get into his vehicle, and in a few minutes, my truck had been towed to the first off-ramp on the western shore. He apologized profusely for needing to leave me there alone, as he had just received a call about an abandoned motorcycle at the top of the eastern span.

Shapiro, who regrets she can't recall the officer's name, writes that she called his supervisor to praise his performance.

Whenever reflecting on that, uh, interesting experience, I focus not on my paralyzing fear, but the trooper who made it all OK quickly and efficiently.

William E. Garton of Belcamp had a similar experience in the Harbor Tunnel in 1964.

Almost dead center in the tunnel, the car stopped moving. We did just what your article suggested (this was pre-cell phone days) and sat in our car and waited. Very soon a tow truck pulled up alongside and after some preliminary questions hooked us up and towed us to the "pull-off" area on the other side.


He lifted the hood and after a few minutes and the usual "Eureka" announced that the linkage between the accelerator and the carburetor had come loose. He fixed it and we must have signed something and we were on our way. It was an unpleasant dilemma with a pleasant ending.

Denis Schanberger of Pasadena believes his ill fortune in the Harbor Tunnel in the early 1970s probably has not been matched.

I was car-pooling with four other guys from Dundalk to the University of Maryland. I had just had the tires on my car rotated and was heading back to school through the tunnel when one of my tires started wobbling and before I could stop it came off - in the tunnel. We grinded to stop with sparks flying.

Long story short, after sitting there feeling like a fool, they towed us out with lights flashing, bells clanging and everyone glaring at us. We were dropped off outside the tunnel where I was able to replace the tire, which I tightened along with the other three just to be safe. The next day we were on the way to school and another tire came off (yes, inside of the same tunnel). To this day, this was the only time that I ever had a tire come off of a vehicle and it happened twice in the tunnel.

An experience in that same tunnel became part of family lore for Barbara Imwold Rose of Columbia.

My dad, Henry Imwold, loved to see how far he could go on a tank of gas before refilling. He misjudged one time. We ran out of gas in the Harbor Tunnel back in the '60s, during a dinner outing with the family. Fortunately for us back then, tunnel officers worked in glass booths inside the tunnel to monitor traffic. Our station wagon quit near one of these men, who told us to stay in the car and help would be on the way.


Before long, a truck arrived and pushed us out of the tunnel. Not realizing what was happening, my sister and I worried about the big truck tailgating us too closely. Once outside the tunnel, Dad bought $2 worth of gas from the tunnel worker, enough to get us to a gas station. Needless to say, we were a little late for our dinner. It's a story we still chuckle about.

So if it should be your fate someday to find yourself stalled out above the Chesapeake Bay, underneath Baltimore Harbor or in another tight spot, keep calm, stay in your vehicle until help arrives and repeat to yourself:

"Someday I'll laugh about this. Someday I'll laugh about this. Someday I'll laugh about this."

Sobering data

When the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced state-by-state figures on drunken-driving deaths last week, Maryland did not fare well.

The number of alcohol-related fatalities, which stayed almost level nationwide, rose in Maryland from 239 in 2005 to 268 last year. The number in which the driver or motorcycle operator was legally drunk went from 165 to 193 - a 17 percent increase. That's the seventh-highest percentage increase in the country.


One reason for Maryland's sorry numbers might be that 2005 was a year in which the state made significant strides in reducing fatalities from 2004. Police agencies ought to ask what were they doing in 2005 that they weren't doing last year.


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