Baltimore County Now
Keith Duerling, P.E.
Structures Division, Bureau of Engineering
Department of Public Works
Baltimore County has 675 bridges of all sizes – from major spans that carry thousands of cars each day, to culverts which are merely drain pipes allowing small streams to flow under roads. But whether the structures are big or small, they all deserve (and get!) the same careful, regular inspection which ensures the safety of the traveling public.
Baltimore County classifies its bridges by length: structures over 20 feet and structures under 20 feet. Bridges are inspected every two years by a qualified, engineering company. These consultants are selected by the Maryland State Highway Administration for Baltimore County and the cost of the inspections is borne by the Federal government. Bridges that are less than 20 feet are handled in much the same way, except that the County selects the bridge inspectors and the State of Maryland pays for 80% of the inspection cost.
During the inspection process, engineers assess the condition of (1) bridge decks (i.e. the travel surface), (2) the superstructure, (3) the substructure, (4) the condition of the structure exposed to rivers, streams and runs, and (5) the condition of culverts. Inspection is a hands-on exercise and crews visually take the spans apart looking for signs of aging, deterioration, cracks, structural movement or any telltale sign of wear and tear. On occasion, steel structures may require ultrasonic testing, but most of the examinations depend on engineering knowledge and experience. Potential problems are described and assessed in detailed written reports and any bridge with negative indicators is put on a repair or replacement schedule.
Bridge safety is of paramount importance in the County because the Department of Public Works and its engineers recognize that there are no second chances when it comes to bridge safety. Every traffic-bearing structure in Baltimore County is continuously monitored and rigorously inspected every two years. In short, structural problems are addressed well before they can impinge upon travel safety.
Engineer I, Bureau of Traffic Engineering & Transportation Planning,
Department of Public Works
As traffic engineers in the County’s Department of Public Works, we know that in Baltimore County, like most places, many of us are trying to get to the same places – usually at around the same time of day. Ironically, it is in this so called “rush hour” that traffic slows down, and travel time delays are significantly increased. Amongst the signalized intersections throughout Baltimore County, there are certain ones which back up routinely, and at times drivers avoid them by cutting through residential neighborhoods or taking a completely different route to the destination.
Unfortunately as a result of population and development growth, traffic typically becomes more congested as years go by. Because of this, our traffic engineers need to regularly monitor and rate all signalized intersections in the County. Traffic counts and observations of queuing are taken into consideration for the evaluation. From the data, we would determine if any improvements to the intersection are necessary. Changes could include re-timing the signal, designating new lanes, or geometric changes such as adding islands or changing approaches so that traffic flows better.
Every year, Public Works traffic engineers rate intersections across the County from “A” to “F” –excellent to failing. These ratings are based on how well the traffic signal can provide service during rush hours. The intersections rated “A,” “B” or “C” are considered acceptable and are studied in rotation every three to four years. The “D” rating is considered a warning sign, and those rated “E” or “F are considered failing. The “D” “E” and “F” intersections are reviewed annually.
We report those marginal or failing intersections (“D” “E” and “F”) to the County’s Planning Board each January and then to the County Council. This ensures that everyone has an understanding of driving conditions on County roads. A failing intersection (“E” or “F”) may indicate slow or stalled traffic during rush hours and may explain why drivers are diverting to secondary streets. Failing grades may also mean that current conditions cannot support the construction of more new homes or shopping centers. When an intersection does not make the grade one year, it is re-examined the following year until an improvement can be engineered and implemented.
This “alphabet” rating system is a performance measure used by traffic engineers to assist in determining problematic areas and in keeping traffic moving in Baltimore County. Ultimately we build a categorical picture of the County’s intersections – one that allows us to spot problems, fix them and plan for the future. We hope that by monitoring and rating these intersections, we can help you get where you are going as efficiently as possible for years to come.
Saul 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.