Three years after a traffic circle proposed on Key Highway at Light Street was roundly denounced, the city is proceeding with a much more modest plan to add green space, new sidewalks and a reconfigured turn at the busy intersection.
Considered a marquee “gateway” project that connects booming South Baltimore with the Inner Harbor, the plan will include rebuilding portions of Key Highway from the Maryland Science Center to the eastern edge of Rash Field.
Currently, the infrastructure reflects its industrial roots and years of poor maintenance.
Down the center of the street is an abandoned railroad whose protruding sections of track commingle with jagged potholes and sunken manhole covers to rattle car suspensions.
As for pedestrians, speeding drivers and multiple lanes discourage all but the hardiest souls from crossing this vehicular Maginot Line separating the harborfront and Federal Hill.
City spending for the project at this juncture doesn’t even begin to address construction. Last week, the Board of Estimates approved $449,000 to STV Inc., solely to provide design consulting services for the intersection and roadway rebuild.
The Woodlawn-based engineering firm will provide “drainage utilization design services,” specs for water mains, landscaping and “graphic materials for community meetings,” according to the spending board.
The allocation was opposed by City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young because “we have staff on board at Transportation that could do this work,” Young’s spokesman, Lester Davis, said.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Comptroller Joan Pratt and the two appointed board members, Public Works Director Rudy Chow and City Solicitor George Nilson, approved the expenditure.
Also approved over Young’s “no” vote – an additional $1,101,706 to three other consultants (Sabra, Wang & Associates, EBA Engineering and Wallace, Montgomery & Associates) doing “on call” work for Transportation and Public Works.
Long Time Coming
Back in 2011-12, DOT engineers believed they had an innovative approach to the awkward intersection where Key Highway swerves from south to east while intersecting with Light and Hughes streets.
The proposed traffic circle was considered too large, expensive and impractical for the relatively tight physical parameters of the project.
So it was back to the drawing board. In December 2013, DOT unveiled incremental improvements, most notably a right lane on southbound Light Street that would direct traffic to Federal Hill without first stopping at the current traffic light.
That design – together with additional trees along Key Highway, a new traffic light at William Street, new ADA-compliant sidewalks and the extension of the Gwynns Falls Bike Trail along Key Highway – constitutes the current design.
The rail track, a remnant of the Municipal Harbor Belt Railroad built by the city a century ago to serve Inner Harbor factories and docks, would be removed and Key Highway repaved.
DOT spokesperson Kathy Dominick said that the agency hopes to advertise for bids next summer and construction to begin by fall 2016. The estimated cost of the rebuild has not been announced.