Work continues in Charles Village one month following road collapse

BALTIMORE - It's been exactly one month since the granite retaining wall gave way pulling down a Charles Village streetscape, one month since the heavy rains washed away almost as many nerves as it did cars.

Not nearly as dramatic but still a feat in its own, repair work has been nonstop on the block since.

Giant machines drilling holes in the street and dropping steel beams for added support, a process that this week came at a steep price.

"On the Board of Estimates agenda it was $18.5 million  approved for repairs, you know we had to do the temporary retaining wall and then the installation of the permanent repairs," Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said.

Repairs which while on time needed an even timelier budget.

The more than $18 million was approved to a contractor without a bidding process, an attempt the mayor says was to make the area safe and return affected residents to their homes.

"We are doing it in a way to do it as efficiently and effectively as possible so we can keep to the schedule,” Rawlings-Blake said. “We had a goal of getting the families back in their house in 40 days and we hope to keep to that schedule. We expect to."

But who will foot that near $20 million bill is still a daunting and complex question: who is responsible, the railroad or the city?

The answer may be buried deep in books and documents that will literally fall apart as you touch them.

With the help of the Baltimore City Archives, the B & O Railroad Museum and the Maryland Historical Society, you can be given a good place to start.

The 26th Street tunnel and open cut was built as part of what the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad called the Belt Line.

A seven-mile line including the Howard street tunnel and up the west side of the city, then cutting east along 26th street to connect with another rail; a line the railroad said it needed at the time to be competitive.

The city ordinance was passed in May 1890 and work took $7 million and 6 years to complete.

Back then Baltimore was growing and the city wanted the railroad below the street level on the north end creating three cut and short tunnels; short tunnels spanned by open cuts,

26th street which was in a neighborhood then called Peabody Heights was the middle of the three.

There is specific mention about 26th Street and the granite retaining wall the city wanted built along with a decorative iron fence on top, a design you can still see today along this part of the line.

At one point the area between St. Paul and Charles was to be a railroad station, but that was never built leaving this below street level open air pass for the railroad.

There is a lot of history between the ordinance that granted the Belt Line and the collapse last month.

Somewhere in between may be the answer as to who is to maintain and repair the infrastructure along the old line, but until the needle is found in this historical haystack it is as if the city of Baltimore and now, CSX are neighbors disputing over a property line drawn generations ago.

An issue the mayor says is not unique to Baltimore.

"You know that is something that we've spoken about, making sure we are taking a look at not just in our city but this has brought other jurisdictions to that same question. CSX operates lines all over the country and many people are taking a look at those things," the mayor said.

Rawlings-Blake says she has a team looking through the city past to see if it cannot find any resolution or ordinance that deals specifically with who is left to maintain and repair the line.

Her administration is also currently in negotiations with CSX to divide the cost of 26th Street.


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