Category Archives: Maryland

How Maryland Does its Distance Signs

Since a few of you shared my interest in why Pennsylvania and Maryland have different distances to D.C. and Baltimore on their highway signs, I figured I would ask the Maryland State Highway Administration how they measure the distance, and how it might differ from PA’s method.

Here’s what they sent me:

Good Afternoon Mr. Swift:

This email is in response to your question regarding how Maryland determines the mileage for post interchange distance signs.  In the case of Baltimore City, Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) measures from the location of the sign to the Town Hall.  In the case of Washington D.C., the SHA measures from the sign location to the center of the Elipse.   The mileage is generally rounded up so as not to display decimals or fractions, particularly when the distance is great such as the distance from the Maryland / Pennsylvania State Line to the Baltimore and DC destinations.

Interchange guide signs, which do display fractions, are typically rounded down to the nearest ¼ mile so that the motorist is aware that their exit is eminent and that time to make necessary lane changes is limited.

Thank you for allowing the SHA the opportunity to respond to your concerns.

Cheryl Schreiber

Asst. Chief, Traffic Engineering Design Division

A Response from the Government

Driving back from St. Louis this Christmas, I finally bothered a government agency about something that had been bothering me: road signs.

After Breezewood — a town that makes me want to bring back earmarks so it can be paved over into a normal interchange — there are signs listing the distance to Baltimore, and to Washington. The mileage on one particular sign, as I recall (though I was groggy) varies. Normally it’s a two mile difference, but on another sign, it’s three miles.

So I wrote in:

To Whom it May Concern:

I am writing about the mileage distance signs on I-70 after an eastbound driver departs Breezewood.

I understand that, at some point in the future, the road splits and drivers can choose to head towards a variety of places, including Washington, DC and Baltimore, Maryland.

The first sign says they’re two miles apart, but 20 minutes later, the sign says they’re three/four miles apart. (Not exactly sure here, but point is, the mileage actually varies.)

As a kid, I asked my dad if the two towns were really only X miles apart and he helpfully explained to a 4th grade me that, no, this was the distance on that road system from that particular point, and in fact they were many miles apart.

My question is, why do the PADot signs have varying mileages for them, on the same road, just a few dozen miles apart?

How is this distance calculated? It just seems odd that it would vary on I-70 at one mile marker to another.

Thanks for your attention to my somewhat odd inquiry.

Two days later, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation wrote back:

Dear Mr. Swift:

I am responding to your email of Monday, December 28, 2015 concerning the Distance Signs on I-70 Eastbound since this matter falls directly under my area of responsibility.

The distance used on these signs is calculated from the location of the sign to the center city of the destination.  For a destination that is a considerable distance, there can be some variation in the distance depending on the specific route selected and the specific point selected for the center city.  There is no set national procedure for this process.  However, I do agree that once the two variables discussed above have been selected, there should be no variation in the difference in the total distance to each destination.

We have reviewed the sign on I-70 immediately east of the Breezewood interchange and the mileage indicated is South Breezewood 2, Washington D C 127 and Baltimore 129.  Thus, the difference between the distances to Baltimore and Washington D C is 2 miles and this difference should remain constant.  We have further reviewed the four remaining distance signs on I-70 between the first distance sign and the Maryland line, and in fact, found that the difference between the distances to Baltimore and Washington D C remains 2.  As an example, the Distance Sign immediately east of the Amaranth interchange has the mileage indicated as Warfordsburg 4, Washington D C 118 and Baltimore 120.  The last sign in Pennsylvania has the mileage indicated as Hancock 3, Washington D C 106 and Baltimore 108.  Based on the information you have provided, I can only conclude that there are signs you observed in Maryland that have the difference between the distances to Washington D C and Baltimore something other than 2 which may be the result of the Maryland State Highway Administration using different selection criteria than what I have discussed above.

Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on our transportation system and the possible conflict in our traffic signs.

Robert J. Pento, P.E. | Manager, Traffic Engineering and Permits

It was a great response! Very satisfying. I wrote back to say thanks, having written a few thousand responses to the public in my short tenure as a government employee, and noted that this was a response from a pro. Now I’ll have to find a Google streetview of that Maryland sign and bother them about the sign, assuming I didn’t misremember or am an undiagnosed dyslexic.

Together we can make change and bring consistency to highway distance signs.

UPDATE: Niels Lesniewski has found the offending sign. It’s just outside of Hagerstown. (And pointed out that there is a webpage dedicated to signs!)


Power You Didn’t Get vs. Restoration of Service

Lightning strike

I drove to work today. I don’t normally drive to work these days since getting to DuPont Circle from Huntington is a bit more difficult than driving to Capitol Hill. Today, though, I did because I had to haul in the boxes of stuff my company and our sister company acquired at the Republican and Democratic Conventions.

This morning on the hellish commute — some asshole got into a wreck on 295 — I heard WTOP reporters talking about the recent drive-by storm DC had, and how Maryland was going to allow PEPCO (a much hated public utility) to charge people for electricity they didn’t receive.

Framed this way, I’d understand why people would be mad. On the way home, News Radio 99.1 (a new station and inferior competitor to WTOP) ran a similar report.

However, it doesn’t tell the whole story. People — like Gawker’s Drew Magary — want to make you think that PEPCO execs are lighting cigars off of piles of money and doing lines of blow off of strippers. Yeah, not really. PEPCO’s stock price might be close to Facebook’s, but they’re nowhere near as valuable as a company (Facebook’s volume is 50M to PEPCO’s 1.6M). They’ve been offering quarterly dividends of about $.27 for the past five years. Even some conservative bloggers have jumped on the “I hate PEPCO” bandwagon.

Yes, some of their executives make a lot of money. I’ve heard somewhere CEO’s tend to make bank. Not surprising. But that’s not where all of this money is going. (For a primer on executive pay, please consult Thomas Sowell‘s fine work on the subject.)

And while I don’t live in Maryland (I hate Maryland, for the record), I don’t like PEPCO very much — because they’re Marylanders. I do think, on par, they provide inferior service to Dominion Virginia Power, who powers my home. Part of it is Maryland’s own damn fault for fighting them on tree trimmings, but some of it, I am sure is due to fact that everything in Maryland is inferior to Virginia.

Here’s a theory I haven’t heard being discussed much on the news:

Maybe, just maybe, the fees that are being charged help bring your electricity back faster.

Imagine for a second if Maryland and D.C. instituted laws that said PEPCO can’t pass along the higher costs of hiring out-of-state crews on overtime pay to come in and restore power and fix infrastructure after a Derecho or a Snow Storm. (At the end of the day, consumers bear all of the costs of production and electricity is no different.) If Martin O’Malley and Vince Gray teamed up to pass a pair of stupid laws, if I were PEPCO’s CEO, I’d probably just adjust the rates of Delaware and New Jersey residents to cover the costs.

After all, if I want continued investment in my company, I do have to compete with Dominion and other companies out there for investment. If I project losses or smaller dividends, it would make sense that people would be less inclined to invest in my company.

Now, not to be screwed by the crab cake eaters and Washingtonians, Delaware and New Jersey pass similar laws. What would happen? Would PEPCO be as inclined to spend a lot of financial resources to hire out-of-state crews on overtime pay to fix things? Probably not.

Could it mean longer power outages? That’s very likely. Do Marylanders and Washingtonians want that? No. Ironically, they want PEPCO to bury the lines — something that will cost billions of dollars. (Guess who will pay for that?)

I’m not saying PEPCO is a saint, or provides the best service. I just wanted to throw it out there that consumers will bear the costs of restoring their power and fixing the infrastructure that brings them the juice. Nobody likes to admit that, but it’s the way of the world. It’s not unreasonable.

So, rather than looking at it as “paying for electricity you didn’t receive” maybe you should look at it as your share of restoring the system. Power outages suck. Nobody disagrees with this, but we really should put a little more thought into it — and the unintended consequences of well intentioned but ultimately bad proposed laws — before we rant and rage.