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Baltimore County Now - News You Can Use

Baltimore County Now

Stay informed of what's happening in Baltimore County.
Keyword: highways

photo of a potholeDale Green
Paving Inspector
Bureau of Highways, Department of Public Works 
   

We’re really getting our share of snow this year with 17 official storms so far, (from Deon to Hercules to Pax to Titan!) – and we got our share of potholes too! The intermittent snow-melt, combined with freezing temperatures, damaged road surfaces and caused traffic headaches across the County. And Baltimore County’s Department of Public Works (Bureau of Highways) has been, is, and will be prepared to tackle the problem. In fact, Crews from eleven highway shops work throughout the year filling potholes. We’ve got equipment operators and laborers always on the lookout for potholes, and they schedule repairs as quickly as possible.

Because of our hard winter 2013 - 2014, (which began with a surprise snow on December 8) the number of potholes is certain to spike this spring. Freezing and thawing (plus a lot of water) is a recipe for road damage, and every winter the Bureau of Highways fills about 50,000 potholes on average. As a rule of thumb, the harder the winter, the more potholes need to be filled.  For instance, during the winter of 2010 (you remember Snowmageddon?), potholes increased almost 20 percent. It probably won’t be that bad this year, but it’s sure to go up. We’ve already booked 7,374 potholes this January and about 7,500 in February.

While the weather is still cold, and there’s still a chance of freezing, crews will fill holes with a cold mix and then return in better weather for a permanent, hot mix fix. The hot mix isn’t usually available from the plant until mid-March although some crews have done a limited amount of milling and patching with the hot mix already.

Potholes are a road’s number one enemy and taking care of potholes is the “default setting” for Baltimore County’s Bureau of Highways. Whenever crews aren’t pushing snow or taking care of downed trees, they’re on the next pothole. So, when you see a pothole, report it. Call 410 887-3560 and be sure to give the location – a street address or a cross street is enough – and we will get it fixed as soon as possible.



photo of snowy sceneMark Hubbard, Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management

For as long as I can remember, the weather services used human names for hurricanes.  If you are unlucky enough to have one of those names (Agnes, Isabel, Katrina, Floyd, Horatio etc.) you may be branded with the image of tragedy and destruction.

When it came to other severe weather, like tornadoes, we usually refer to the storm by the name of the town most severely impacted and perhaps the severity rating on the Fujita scale.  Example: " That F5 tornado that struck Smallville."

Since the inception of 24/7 news coverage that included severe weather television and radio channels devoted purely to weather news, a new phenomena is emerging – the effort to brand other storms, in particular, winter storms, as well. For example, the President's Day storm of.........; the Valentines day storm of....... and so on.  Broadcast news also likes to use bold character graphics in the news cast:  Blizzard of 2010, etc.  If you ask me, this only magnifies the stress we often experience when preparing for and suffering through these storms.

But perhaps there is a purpose to all of this. Consider a system where we used a scientific-like numbering system.  So perhaps instead of referring to Hurricane Isabel by name, we instead said Hurricane #2003-6.  Somehow, this generic label simply does not seem to fit.  So maybe it is not so crazy to now see many other severe weather events given a human name.  Branding a storm does somehow seem to add character and  identity – almost a personality. In the case of winter storms, The Weather Channel has decided to name this winter’s storms after Greek mythology icons like Atlas, Boreas (Greek god of the cold north wind), Electra, Hercules, Ion, Janus and Titan.

The February 12th storm is called Pax, the Latin word for peace. Let’s hope it’s an appropriate name and that we don’t make it all the way to Zephyr this year!

Take a look at what the Weather Channel had to say about it. And, oh, how we love our brands! So let's just roll with it for now. Otherwise, imagine a world without Coke or Pepsi.  It would seem a bit flat (pun intended) if we knew them just as Cola #1 and Cola #2. (You figure out which is which!)   

Regardless of what we call them, winter storms are worthy of respect and caution. So, everyone please remember to exercise common sense at home and on the roads, and keep up with Baltimore County’s winter storm operations at  www.baltimorecountymd.gov/snow and on Twitter at @BACOemergency.


aerial image of a Towson intersectionKris Nebre
Engineer I, Public Works, Bureau of Traffic Engineering

Around 350 traffic signals are maintained by the Baltimore County Bureau of Traffic Engineering. Part of maintaining the signals is determining and programming signal timings to ensure that there are appropriate green times for the assigned movements so that traffic may flow efficiently. Traffic engineers determine the signal timings with assistance of a computer program called Synchro.

Synchro is a computer program that calculates the Level of Service (LOS) of an intersection based on traffic volumes, lane geometry and signal timings. Traffic volumes at an intersection are collected on one-year or three-year cycles depending on the severity of congestion. This traffic intersection data can be viewed on the County’s web site. The most heavily congested intersections are counted every year.  At the same time, traffic engineers also verify the lane geometries and signal timings. If there is a proposal to change lane geometries, such as adding turn lanes or installing a roundabout or traffic signal, Synchro can determine if the proposed changes will improve the traffic flows at the intersection.

Because growth is natural and expected in metropolitan areas, traffic signal timings need to be revised from time to time to accommodate the change in traffic demands based on increases that are apparent from the traffic counts. Synchro is used to determine if signal timing changes are needed.  However, achieving the lowest delay at a particular intersection does not necessarily represent the optimal signal timing, especially at coordinated signals, because the main objective is to move traffic through the corridor.  In coordinated signal systems there is more green time given to the mainline traffic.  Synchro can analyze a series of coordinated intersections and plot out a graph that shows how traffic flows from one intersection to the other. In addition, Synchro has an auxiliary program called Sim Traffic that can help visualize traffic flows.

Sim Traffic is a simulation software that takes data parameters from Synchro and puts them in an animated presentation. Roads and intersections are laid out in relative scale in top view, with simulated cars running through the intersections. Because flows from signals in a coordinated system are dependent on one another, it is good to see in action how the queues dissipate and move through the corridor, and where congestion tends to build up. Like the applications used in Synchro, we can also see how different lane geometries and signal timings affect the flow of traffic.

We can also make a comparison on the effectiveness of a proposed signal or roundabout at an existing intersection. This is very helpful because the animations visually show whether the changes create more congestion or improve traffic flow which can be very helpful when explaining traffic engineering decisions to the public. 

Although Synchro and Sim Traffic are very helpful in determining timings, they are not a substitute for field observations.  Ultimately, a field observation is necessary to verify improvements from timing changes, and further adjustments to timings will be done based on field observations. Synchro and Sim Traffic are not substitutes for engineering judgment; however they are great tools in the traffic engineer's tool box.


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