City Hall and CSX on shaky ground

By Benjamin Land

Take a trip north on Charles Street and look to your right on the corner of 26th Street. There you will see construction vehicles and personnel working to finish construction of a retaining wall. A wall that, when finished, will close the chapter on a story that began in April of this year when the previous structure collapsed. This incident was largely caused by years of neglect from city officials, inadequate inspections by the Department of Transportation and CSX Transportation, and, finally, a period of heavy rains in the area. With all of these factors in place, the street collapsed and forced not only the residents affected to relocate, but also forced City Hall to take a look into how this happened in the first place.

According to the Baltimore Brew, citizens had previously notified the city about the lack of structural integrity of 26th Street between Charles and St. Paul. These complaints were sent over a 12- to 14-month period, which was then followed up with visual inspections carried out by personnel who weren’t licensed structural or geotechnical engineers. This information was released via a report from City Hall on Aug. 17, and further states that, “There should have been more coordination by CSX and the City to identify the cause of the road and sidewalk collapse beyond a visual inspection.”

As such, the 100-year-old wall fell on April 30, showing the effects of the temporary repairs that the city made following the resident’s complaints. However, these repairs weren’t taken further and in doing so, there were no measures taken to ascertain the stability of the road in the long term. The collapse has prompted the city to follow new protocols when the city DOT receives citizen complaints of sunken sidewalks, sink holes and curb lines. Additionally, inspectors will be better trained from now on to identify potential risks to curtail any reoccurring incidents.

CSX agreed last month to pay $10 million towards the construction of the new wall, splitting the current amount of $18.6 million with the city. The freight transportation company also agreed to share the costs of any third party lawsuits that would come out of the street collapse at large. However, CSX’s standing with another construction site east of 26th Street, which also falls on the same train line, is problematic. The Sinclair Lane Bridge began construction around 2011 and remains unfinished to this day. The contract for the construction of the bridge has stalled due to cost overruns, created after the discovery of structural integrity issues. The final bill for this site is unknown at this moment, but the city will cover 25 percent of the associated costs.

Currently, the relationship between City Hall and CSX appears to be one that will be either hit or miss in the future. Recently, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake withdrew interest in an inner-city CSX yard that was planned to provide a local hub for the transportation company. So far, no alternative plans have been announced as to what will happen with the partnership outside of the 26th Street wall and Sinclair Lane project. But given that CSX’s presence in the city is hard to miss, 2015 will likely bring new developments to this relationship.