Expert Opinion: Don’t Rubber Stamp the Ramp
Posted by Buzz Beeler on 21st January 2017
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September 17, 2015 12:06 pm ET

Traffic safety expert calls Paragon’s new ramp for the outlet mall a crooked deal

Source: Expert Opinion: Don’t Rubber Stamp the Ramp

Photo credit/Baltimore Sun

Folks, maybe it is my police training talking here, but I have always aspired to be a straight shooter.

With that said, I also know when I have a good shot, or when I need someone else to take the shot.

This time, it is the latter.

Rather than do the talking on this one, I have decided to let an expert get right to the point of the angles and dangles promised by the proposed developer Paragon to build the outlet store mall.

Today’s guest expert is Gene Simmers, a retired traffic engineer with over 37 years of service with the Maryland State Highway Administration. During his time at SHA, he worked in the Office of Traffic in various capacities. Mr. Simmers’ last 10 years at SHA were mainly spent reviewing consultant traffic management plans for developer projects throughout Maryland. He was also involved in several special assignments, such as developing evacuation plans for Fort Meade/NSA after 9/11 and acting as the lead SHA traffic engineer for developing the traffic management plan for the Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen. Mr. Simmers was also the SHA supervisor for the Traffic Operations Center at the Bay Bridge for summer beach traffic.

Mr. Simmers has made numerous appearances for media outlets to share his expertise, including: KYW in Philadelphia, The Baltimore Sun, Channel 47 in Salisbury, and WMAL in Washington DC.

To say that this man speaks often on these matters, and people listen to what he has to say because his words are not conceived as, to use a baseball metaphor, curve balls from a right handed pitcher that throws left handed change-up pitches.

So, without further delay, here is what Mr. Simmers has to say about the supposed fix-all ramp concept from the Paragon. You know, the developer that has more than a few friends on the County Council.

No curve ball on that statement—just right down the strike zone.

And now over to our expert:

I reviewed traffic studies for the State Highway Administration for many years during my 37 years of service. On a routine basis, I observed studies that contained gross errors and flawed assumptions. The consultants who submitted these studies, on many occasions, were former SHA employees who were taught sound traffic engineering principles. Despite their extensive SHA training and their college degrees with advanced certifications, I was appalled at how much knowledge they had forgotten or ignored when they became consultants. This has evidently continued with the Paragon development in White Marsh and the proposed Wal-Mart in Bel Air.

I am equally disturbed by the lack of SHA office review of those studies and the behavior of the consultants that SHA employs. Some of the actions of a consultant employed by SHA to review these studies included inflated billable hours and submission of expense reimbursements for money that wasn’t entitled under the consultant’s contract. It is outrageous that nobody at SHA, nor anyone at the consultant’s own office, caught these acts. The same consultant reviewed both studies under very questionable circumstances. Those actions are now being investigated by the Maryland Attorney General and other authorities. Taxpayers on both projects paid thousands of dollars to consultants to make “NO COMMENT” on both projects. As a traffic engineer for over 37 years, a proper and professional review of either project should have resulted in many comments.

One major mistake with the Paragon development is the fact that the bridge to MD 43 from MD 7 will be next to impossible to construct while meeting existing AASHTO guidelines. It is amazing to me that SHA didn’t catch this issue. Either SHA didn’t’ know how to review the study, or the agency just didn’t bother to review the study.

I have enormous concerns for the communities of White Marsh and Bel Air with the Paragon and Wal-Mart developments. Political insiders have hijacked the development review process at the SHA, as well as the Baltimore County traffic engineering office. Errors in both of the studies that I mentioned are so troubling on several levels. First, the mistakes defy traffic engineering guidelines and basic principles. Second, government officials are “asleep at the wheel” with reviewing both studies. The same SHA district office was supposed to review each project. I submitted a Maryland Public Information Act request for both projects and I could not find any comments from the SHA District 4 office in Hunt Valley. If I missed those comments, I wish someone at SHA would e-mail me at gene.simmers@yahhoo.com with the missing comments.

So there you have it, folks, from someone who knows his stuff.

For the sake of time, I will focus on Mr. Simmers’ comments as they are related to the White Marsh outlet mall issue as proposed by Paragon.

According to Council Chair Cathy Bevins, this new ramp will solve the horrendous traffic problems impacting the White Marsh area.

To the council members who voted for this boondoggle of a politically connected mess, I ask, “Did any of you bother to raise some of these questions?”

In case you didn’t know it, the country seems to rebelling against those pols who never seem to look behind the curtain, such as the government center and the deed issue with the state.

If you can’t grasp that, just look at the front page Sun article titled “Baltimore County schools feeling the heat politically, too.”

This crisis deals with county leadership and the failure to address the need for air conditioning in a significant number of schools.

It pays to look beyond the hype and money these developers thrust upon the seemingly clueless council members, who are running out of ink to rubber stamp many of the issues that come before them.

I gives me great pleasure to point out the fleecing of our taxpayers that these politicians do to fatten their campaign coffers, allowing them to stay in power and move up the food chain of the political fat cats.

What is equally disturbing is the number of editorials and coverage by some local reporters who just swallow the swill doled out by the government spin doctors.

It reminds me of the story about actor Michael Douglas, who suffered from severe stage fright early in his career. To combat that, he kept a bucket behind the stage curtain just in case.

You just never know what you will see, or smell, behind that curtain.

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