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26th Street repairs set to cost Baltimore $7.5M; neighbors say city has ignored requests for green space

Repairing the section of 26th Street that sank toward the CSX Transportation train tracks in November will cost Baltimore taxpayers $7.5 million, officials say, and neighbors are complaining that the city Department of Transportation has ignored their request to include a green space in the renovated block.

The work is half as expensive as the $15 million cost of fixing the more dramatic collapse of another block of 26th Street in 2014 — which sent trees, cars, asphalt and the retaining wall onto the freight train tracks below.

CSX plans to help foot the bill, railroad spokeswoman Sherrie Bowman said in a statement. She declined to give exact details but said the costs would be shared in a manner “consistent with previous agreements with the city.” The railroad and the city split the $15 million bill from the prior collapse.

“We are currently discussing a cost sharing agreement for the 26th Street repairs with CSX,” said Kathy Dominick, a spokeswoman for the city Department of Transportation.

A deal has not been finalized, she said.

The Board of Estimates, the city’s spending panel, last week gave the transportation department $10 million — $7.5 million to cover the 26th Street repairs and $2.5 million to pay for cost overruns in the department’s snow-removal budget, Dominick confirmed.

Neighbors have petitioned the city to use some of that money to add space for a public park or other green-space improvements on the little-trafficked street, which dead ends at Margaret Brent Elementary School on one side and a one-way block on the other, said Kyle Fritz, who has led the proposal.

Fritz, who lives around the corner in the 2600 block of Guilford Ave., said he and others representing the Charles Village Civic Association have met with city officials several times since February about the park proposal, which received the support of about 80 neighbors who responded to a survey about it.

“We came up with some different ideas,” Fritz said. “Maybe you could put a fountain in. Maybe you could have a big tree. Maybe you could have exercise equipment. We’re not asking for DOT to pay for all these things. Just create this space, and then we could have a grant or do whatever to create a place out of this area that, before, was just a parking lot.”

The proposal won the support of Councilman Robert Stokes, who held an April 25 meeting with neighbors and officials from the city transportation, planning and fire departments. After none of the other departments raised issues with the proposal, then-Transportation Director Michelle Pourciau said she would have engineers take another look to see whether more green space could be included, Fritz said.

Pourciau quit the next day. A week later, then-Mayor Catherine Pugh resigned as well.

The next week, a ransomware attack took city email accounts offline.

At a May 7 meeting, Liam Davis, a Department of Transportation community liaison, informed the civic association that the city’s original plan to restore the street as it was, without a park, had been finalized and could not be changed, Fritz said.

A spokesman for Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young could not be reached for comment.

The Department of Transportation “has tried to accommodate for a lot of new enhancements to the street,” said spokesman German Vigil.

The rebuilt street will include new pedestrian bump-outs to calm traffic, improved lighting, trees, Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant sidewalks and ramps, and new railing and fencing.

Neighbors look forward to those additions, Fritz said.

“But the community is so close to having something better — something special — that would be a testament to vision and making the most of an opportunity, rather than falling back to the status quo,” he said.

The master plans for Remington and Charles Village call for a recreational corridor along 26th Street, Fritz noted, and the Complete Streets law passed last year requires the city to prioritize pedestrians, bicyclists and other modes of transportation, in addition to cars, in all new street designs.

Laura Flamm, another neighbor who supports the proposed park, said the city Department of Transportation’s unwillingness to adjust its plan was frustrating, since Fritz, a software engineer, had drawn up several models of ways it could be done while retaining the same number of parking spaces.

“We’ve basically done DOT’s job for them,” she said. “We’ve jumped through all their hoops.”

Kristen Janiszewski, who also lives nearby, noted that the block in question — between Guilford and Calvert streets — had been closed even before the collapse for water main work, so neighbors have become used to not being able to drive on it.

“The street’s been closed for almost a year now,” she said.

Jeff Larry, another neighbor, said he hopes city officials will listen to neighbors asking for the collapse site to be transformed into a community gathering space, rather than returned to a little-used street.

“It is a community gathering space,” he said. “This is an active community through-way. This is the way people go to the school, the way they go to the playground, to shops and restaurants. Let’s make it better.”

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

twitter.com/cmcampbell6

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