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.
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.
Mark 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.