Commuters still face city snarls

Sun Staff

Commuters should avoid driving through downtown Baltimore this morning, state transportation officials urged, noting the blocked Howard Street corridor is likely to cause major snarls.

Mayor Martin O'Malley and Public Works officials held out the slight hope yesterday that they might be able to reopen some Howard intersections to cross traffic this morning.

But time was running out for CSX and Public Works engineers to conduct the necessary inspection of the tunnel beneath Howard Street to assess possible damage from an intense fire that followed Wednesday's train derailment.

Barring an early-morning shift in fortunes today, Howard Street will continue to be shut down between Mount Royal Avenue and Pratt Street - the status quo since the derailment.

That means anyone attempting to enter the center of the city from the west by car or public transportation may have to change his routine, as on Thursday and Friday. The city has adjusted a few traffic lights near the Howard Street corridor and added parking restrictions aimed at improving traffic flow downtown, a Public Works spokesman said yesterday.

But city officials warned that major traffic tie-ups are likely today - particularly with an Oriole game scheduled to begin at 12:35 p.m.

Buses are expected to continue to make detours around Howard Street. Light rail and MARC train service continue to have disruptions.

Sensing a rare opportunity to promote the often-overlooked Metro, state officials say this morning is a good time to discover the subway into town.

No matter how they get there, downtown workers are being encouraged by city officials to return to work in full force this morning. City and state employees are not being granted liberal leave, and the major freeway entrances into town, closed in the aftermath of Wednesday's fire, have long since reopened.

City officials are encouraging fans who intend to attend the Orioles game to take detours to the park to avoid Howard Street. From the north, drivers should get off Interstate 83 at North Avenue and follow Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to parking at PSINet Stadium. Fans approaching from the south should take the Russell Street exit from Interstate 95, take a right on Haines Street and park at the Ravens' stadium.

But to escape likely jams on major arteries leading into the heart of the city, state Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari was pitching the Metro option.

Porcari urged drivers coming from north or west to take advantage of the Reisterstown Plaza, Owings Mills, Milford Mill and Rogers Avenue Metro stations, all of which, he said, have large parking lots with available space.

The Metro has several stops downtown and at the Johns Hopkins University and is not disrupted by the Howard Street Tunnel fire or the water-main break at Howard and Lombard streets.

Meanwhile, light rail could be disrupted for days or even weeks, with no trains running between North Avenue and Camden Yards. City workers are expected to tear up sections of the light rail at and near Howard and Lombard streets to repair the water-main break there and a collapsed storm drain that was discovered yesterday.

Getting to downtown from the north by light rail will be at least a two-step process: Take the light rail to the North Avenue stop, then hop on a shuttle bus to the Patapsco Avenue stop and from there head south to Cromwell Station or the Baltimore-Washington International airport stop, or one stop north into Camden Station.

The shuttle bus will also be stopping at regular bus stops in between the light rail stations, and those who get off at Eutaw Street then can walk to take the Metro at the State Center stop, near Mount Royal Avenue.

And with the Camden MARC station closed downtown, transportation officials say commuters to the Washington area who usually take that line should drive to Dorsey Station or take the Penn Line from Penn Station.

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