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Baltimore County Now

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Keyword: bureau of highways

photo fo potholeJim Lathe
Chief, Bureau of Highways

From a road-maintenance perspective – and as Chief of the Bureau of Highways that’s my default perspective – March is not the month of endless TV basketball. Nor is it an opportunity for everyone to be an ersatz Irishman. It is (and rightfully should be) Pothole Month. It’s the time of the year when frozen roads begin to thaw and come apart. Axel-breaking cavities materialize out of nowhere. Fissures form. And an already irritable driving public, fed up with snow and cold, faces an obstacle course of holes and black-water chasms every morning behind the wheel. March is the month to fill those holes and bring order to the world.

The figures are not in yet, but Baltimore County road crews have probably filled twenty thousand potholes this month. Pothole professionals (and let’s give them their due) from eleven Baltimore County shops have been working every weekday – each shop filling about one hundred holes.

Their job is often dubbed a throw-and-go operation. They shovel a cold patch mix into the hole, filling it just above surface level (to allow for compaction) and then vanish. At the end of winter (early March) they begin the operation with cold patch and then move on to more durable hot mix as it becomes available with the onset of spring.

Pothole patching is a very big job. It varies from year to year. Almost seventy thousand holes were filled in 2001 and less than forty thousand in 2012, a relatively mild winter. I suspect that this winter will be closer to the top than the bottom. That, at least, is what March portends.


photo of woman shovelling snowJim Lathe
Chief of Highways

If you’re up at dawn to shovel your driveway on those deep-snow days, you’re not alone. And if, after you’ve shoveled the snow, you break out in a cold rage because a plow came along and pushed it all back where you started, you’re not alone either.

Snow happens.  And a little frustration is only natural – especially since you expect the County’s snow plow drivers to work with you, not against you. After all, they can see that you’ve just shoveled, can’t they?

The truth is, blocking driveways with mountains of snow and re-covering sidewalks you‘ve just shoveled has been a problem for plow drivers from time immemorial. As a driver for nine years, I know your problem and I’m sympathetic. But there’s simply no other way to “git ‘er done” except by plowing all the snow and ice to the curb. It’s better to push the snow onto a cleared driveway than to leave it in the road and it’s the only way to get the job done efficiently.

Your best bet is to shovel snow to the right side so that the plow pushes it away from your property. And, of course, never shovel snow into the street. The Department of Public Works asks that residents give snow plow drivers time to do their job before clearing driveways and walkways completely.

Remember, snow is everybody’s problem and everybody’s responsibility too. In Baltimore County we understand that homeowners have to do a lot of work to dig out of a heavy snow. And we, in turn, hope that residents understand that it takes a full twenty-four hours to clear a six-inch snowfall. So, please be patient; we’re all in this together!


photo of damages treeSaul Passe, Arborist, Baltimore County Bureau of Highways

Wow, that was a rough winter.  I hesitate to put that in the past tense for fear that Mother Nature will throw down snow and ice just to spite me.  As an employee of the Baltimore County Highways I am no stranger to the havoc that snow and ice can do to the roads, but as the Arborist for Highways I can tell you that this winter has also taken its toll on the trees. 

Baltimore County has been recognized by the Arbor Day Foundation as a Tree City USA community.  Many of our urban streets are lined with mature canopy trees, and even more of our rural roads are up against large forests.  Winter events involving snow, and especially ice, can put these trees under extreme pressures that will exceed their normal capabilities to support themselves.  Even if a branch doesn’t reach the point of breaking off, a quarter of an inch layer of ice on any branch is enough to make it bend significantly.  Some of these branches are hanging of the road and can become a problem for motorists, not to mention the branches that do break off and fall in the road. 

Once there are branches snapped off and laying in the road, or bending into the road what is to be done with them?  If tree debris falls from a County tree (a tree in the public right-of way), County forces are responsible for removing them from either the road or the sidewalk.  The Highways Bureau will only take care of the debris that falls into a public right-of-way; anything that comes down on private property is the responsibility of the homeowner.  Any private trees that may fall into a public right-of-way will be cleared out off of the road or sidewalk, but can’t always be taken away by County forces, and remain the responsibility of the homeowner.  The bottom line is that the care of trees along public roads is a shared responsibility.  Baltimore County provides the service of keeping our roads open and free of tree debris, and the homeowner should take care of debris on private property.

As we enter spring we should keep in mind that when leaves come out they can add a lot of weight to trees.  There may be some branches that have taken a beating over the winter and may be further stressed by a “full head of hair.”  Species such as White Pine and Bradford Pear are softer woods that are susceptible to failure under extreme conditions.  So, this spring, take a few minutes to look up into the canopy and take notice of our County trees.  They are a valuable resource for the County that we can take care of together to ensure a green future for generations to come.


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