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In the Media: Decrepit Vacants Raise Questions; Revised B&P Tunnel Plan

West portal of B&P Tunnel in 1977.
Jack Boucher
Wikipedia Commons
West portal of B&P Tunnel in 1977.

A digest of Baltimore news from local sources.

From the Baltimore Sun: Some Baltimore vacants so decrepit city checks them for stability every 10 days

"More than 500 vacant houses in Baltimore are considered at such risk of collapse that city inspectors examine them every 10 days.

"Housing officials say they do not knock the houses down immediately because money for demolition is limited — and the city hopes some will stay standing long enough to sell to developers. In the short term, a team of inspectors monitors the fallen-in roofs, bulging walls and severe stress cracks.

"Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said she has quadrupled, to $10 million a year, the amount the city spends to tear down abandoned houses. But she acknowledges that it is not enough.

"The Baltimore Sun requested the housing inspection data after a man was killed in West Baltimore last week when a vacant house fell on him. Four more houses fell down over the weekend amid windy conditions, according to the Fire Department.

"Michael Braverman, the deputy commissioner for code enforcement, said the Baltimore City Department of Housing and Community Development is working with researchers at the Johns Hopkins University to flag houses that could be at imminent risk of crumbling after winds rose to 60 mph during the past week. The inspections will determine which houses should be razed immediately, which need to be stabilized and which need to be watched, he said.

"City housing officials maintain a list of nearly 17,000 vacant buildings — a figure that some groups say woefully undercounts the actual number — and the structures are divided among three categories. About 530 are examined three times a month. Another 3,300 are inspected every 30 days and the rest are inspected every four months, Braverman said. The city tore down about 1,300 in a recent five-year period.

"In the wake of the recent building collapses, residents and community activists questioned whether the city is doing enough."

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From the Washington Post: A victory for paid sick leave; bill approved by Maryland House

"The Maryland House of Delegates on Tuesday approved a bill that would require employers with at least 15 workers to provide paid sick leave for employees, a benefit currently mandated in only four U.S. states.

"The measure now moves to the Senate, where lawmakers said it faces steep odds.

"Paid sick leave has been proposed in Annapolis for years but had never before cleared a chamber.

"Senate Finance Committee Chairman Thomas M. Middleton (D-Charles) said he wants to at least give the proposal a hearing with his panel before the session ends Monday so that lawmakers can identify concerns and address them in preparation for further consideration next year.

"The bill also could be opposed by Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who has emphasized the importance of making Maryland an easier place to operate a business.

"Hogan was noncommittal Tuesday, saying he would give the bill 'every consideration' if the full legislature passes it."

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From the Baltimore Sun: Revised B&P Tunnel Replacement Plan on table ahead of open house 

"Federal, state and local transportation officials are expected to scrap two options and focus on a third today for replacing an aging railroad tunnel under West Baltimore that is considered a major choke point on Amtrak's busy Northeast Corridor.

"The revised plan would lower the impact of the $4 billion project on residents in neighborhoods stretching from Midtown-Edmondson to Bolton Hill. It will be presented at a 5 p.m. open house at Frederick Douglass High School, 2301 Gwynns Falls Parkway. All three plans faced community criticism at previous meetings in February.

"Amtrak wants to rebuild the tunnel, which opened in 1873, eight years after the Civil War, to increase the number of trains that can pass through it each day. The project would smooth out sharp curves in the tunnel, enabling trains to double their speed.

"About 140 Amtrak and MARC trains and a few freight trains use the 1.4-mile tunnel daily. The modification would make it possible for 388 trains to use the tunnel each day.

"Under the revised proposal, the tunnel would be bored through rock 115 feet below the city, deep enough to 'eliminate any noticeable vibrations from passing trains,' according to the Federal Railroad Administration.

"The project would displace 17 residents, instead of 41, the administration said. Amtrak would need to acquire 12 acres for the tunnel realignment, instead of 17 acres, or roughly 50 parcels.

"An air-vent plant for the tunnel would be relocated away from a community garden, and officials would solicit opinions on another location on North Avenue. Eighty-five on-street parking spots would be lost, instead of the originally proposed 150. The new proposal would decrease the number of displaced businesses from nine to six. Four community facilities, instead of the originally planned five, would be displaced.

"The plan includes a renovation to the West Baltimore MARC station."

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