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Kelly Avenue potholes driving Mt. Washington residents crazy

Baltimore Messenger
Kelly Avenue potholes driving Mt. Washington residents crazy

Joshua Wies' daily bicycle commute from his home on Cross Country Boulevard to his physical therapy office in the nearby village of Mt. Washington should be a pleasure.

"Going to work is a five-minute ride," Wies said. "But it's a very unpleasant five minutes."

That's because deep potholes along Kelly Avenue from Pimlico Road to Greeley Road have damaged the rims of his bicycle wheels, Wies said.

Even more dangerous are the drivers who swerve to avoid the potholes, say some residents.

"On more than one occasion I have seen drivers coming down the opposite side of the road to avoid potholes," said Lisa Beach, who lives on Kelly Avenue. She worries that she will be hit by a car while walking her dog.

Residents say they have been voicing complaints for years about the potholes and the condition of Kelly Avenue.

In addition to damaging their cars and bicycles, they are worried for the safety of pedestrians using the road's sidewalk, especially for children walking to The Mount Washington School.

"I am concerned because school-aged children, both with parental supervision and without, walk up and down that stretch daily," Beach said.

"My wife tends not to walk our children to school because of the dangerous conditions along the road," Wies said.

Ironically for cyclists and walkers, the reason Kelly Avenue hasn't been repaved, or that the potholes haven't been systematically repaired, is the city is waiting for completion of Phase V construction of the Jones Falls Trail, a 10-mile hiking and bicycling trail that runs mostly along the length of its namesake.

The $8.5-million Phase V section will extend the trail, which begins near the Inner Harbor in downtown Baltimore, from Cylburn to Kelly Avenue near the Mt. Washington light-rail stop.

The repaving of Kelly Avenue and other traffic improvements are part of the overall project design for the Jones Falls Trail. The project also includes a 400-foot-long bridge built with steel arches, support beams and cable wires over Northern Parkway that will link Cylburn Arboretum with Mt. Washington.

The start of the Phase V of the Jones Falls Trail project has been delayed for more than two years. City officials blame the holdup on obtaining easements and other necessary approvals for the complicated design and engineering plan.

Bids for the project are being evaluated, said Paul Taylor, chief of capital projects for the Department of Recreation and Parks. After bids are approved, a recommendation for the contract award is made, but then must be approved by the State Highway Administration and the city's Board of Estimates.

Barring inclement weather, work on the Jones Falls Trail could be completed by early summer 2017, Taylor said. After that, it will be up to the Baltimore Department of Transportation to schedule the repaving of Kelly Avenue.

The transportation department says its hands are tied because it isn't feasible to repair Kelly Avenue until the Jones Falls Trail project has started.

"The Recreation and Parks trail project has halted our resurfacing work," said Adrienne Barnes of the city transportation department. "DOT has placed the resurfacing project on hold until the construction of the trail project is complete to avoid compromising the road during construction."

Taylor said it didn't make sense for the Department of Transportation to undertake repaving of the road, "only to have our contractor have to come in afterwards to complete their work and create patches which will inevitably deteriorate."

In addition, the Baltimore City Department of Public Works is engaged in a stream restoration project along the Western Run, which runs parallel to Kelly Avenue. "We have completed 30 percent of the design for this project," said Kurt Kocher, a spokesman for the department. Kocher said he was unsure whether the stream restoration project would result in any modifications to Kelly Avenue.

Potholes 101

Potholes are the result of water seeping into cracks in roadways, especially when temperatures drop below freezing. The freezing and thawing of water breaks apart asphalt, causing potholes to develop.

According to a 2016 study by AAA, Pothole damage costs U.S. drivers $15 billion in vehicle repairs, or approximately $3 billion annually. March is typically the busiest month for pothole repairs.

To avoid potholes in the roadway, AAA recommends drivers remain alert, scan the road and increase following distance with the vehicle ahead. If a pothole strike is inevitable, drivers should slow down, release the brakes and straighten steering before making contact with the pothole.

From 1994 to 2016, 1,006 potholes were repaired along Kelly Avenue, reported DOT's Barnes. Kelly Avenue was last fully repaved in 2011.

Until the Jones Falls Trail project is completed, city officials say that residents will have to put up with the potholes.

"They have to finish the trail first," said Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, Baltimore City Councilmember for District 5, which includes Mount Washington. She recommends that drivers identify another route if they want to avoid potholes. "You find the best way to get someplace," Spector said. "I am as affected by it as anybody."

"We are all aware of the situation on Kelly Avenue and the problems it causes for Mt. Washington drivers," said Elina Toole, former chair of the Mount Washington Improvement Association's Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Betsy Gardner, the Mt. Washington neighborhood liaison for the Office of the City Council reminds residents to report pothole issues to 311.

Still, the repaving of Kelly Avenue can't come fast enough for bicycle commuter Wies.

"Baltimore is a small enough city that you can easily get most places on a bike," he said. "But the roads are so laden with potholes and other hazards I wouldn't want to risk my safety or damage my bike. As a taxpayer, it doesn't make living in Baltimore City very attractive. We don't feel very looked after in the community."

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