Rail bridge graffiti concerns continue to rile residents
Wednesday, 26 March 2014 13:09

Local leaders work together to address issue

by Nicole Rodman

    Community members are continuing to make their voices heard, urging Norfolk Southern to take action regarding a graffiti-covered railroad bridge.
    The bridge, which runs over Merritt Boulevard between I-695 and North Point Road, is owned by Virginia-based Norfolk Southern railroad.
    It is one of the first sights to greet travelers as they exit the Beltway coming into Dundalk.
    Concerned citizens argue that the graffiti-covered bridge reflects poorly on the community.
    “The biggest thing is pride,” Dave Patro explained last week.
    In his dual roles as deputy director of community relations for North Point Police Precinct 12 and president of the North Point Village Civic Association, Patro is spearheading efforts to clean up the bridge.
    While acknowledging the graffiti, Norfolk Southern has steadfastly refused to repaint the bridge.
    As Norfolk Southern public relations manager David Pidgeon told The Eagle in January, the cost of removing graffiti on each of the railroad’s 9,000-plus bridges would be “astronomical.”
    According to Pidgeon, the company’s main focus is on the function of their bridges rather than the physical appearance.
    Though Norfolk Southern has refused to paint the bridge, Patro is not giving up on the issue.

He is hoping that the company will allow community members to paint the bridge.
    According to Patro, discussions with the railroad are ongoing.
    In the meantime, Patro is attempting to find local contractors willing to donate their time to paint the bridge.
    He is also preparing for the possibility that community volunteers may have to do the job.
    Patro is currently working to secure donations of paint and equipment (such as a cherry-picker to access the bridge).
    North Point Police Precinct 12 commander Capt. Jan Brown has already expressed support for the potential project.
    “We will absolutely block the roadway and set up barriers and/or police cars to make sure the work can be done,” Brown noted.
    When asked about thelogistics of blocking off such a heavily-travelled corridor, Brown explained that “it all depends on how long the work would take and if we could block one lane at a time on each side of Merritt.”
    “It cannot be attempted during a high-travel time, especially a weekday afternoon,” Brown continued, adding, “It will be an inconvenience, and we also may want to employ some type of traffic barriers and warning signs ahead of the area.”
    Patro has also enlisted the help of many local political candidates in his efforts to repaint the bridge.
    House of Delegates candidate Eric Washington is among those working with Patro.
    According to Washington, the current condition of the bridge gives visitors the wrong idea about Dundalk.
    “We want to have our community looked at as a place where people want to live, work and raise a family,” he said.
    Washington has volunteered to help paint the bridge if Patro is able to secure permission.
    “I will definitely put on my paint clothes, grab a brush and help clean it off,” he noted.
    Former state delegate Jake Mohorovic, who is currently seeking to recapture his old seat, is also working on the issue.
    He has been in contact with both Norfolk Southern and Alexander & Cleaver, the law firm that represents the railroad in Maryland.
    According to Mohorovic, this is not his first time dealing with the issue of graffiti on the Merritt Boulevard bridge.
    “As a delegate, I contacted the lobbyist representing Norfolk Southern, and the graffiti was removed and the bridge painted,” he explained.
    County Council candidate Joe DiCara is also leveraging his connections in an attempt to get the bridge painted.
    DiCara said he has  contacted an executive vice president at Norfolk Southern with whom he has worked before.
    According to DiCara, the executive vice president sent someone out to  look at the graffiti and is deciding how to handle the situation.
    Patro has also made Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz aware of the situation.
    During Kamenetz’s appearance at a North Point Village Civic Association meeting last month, Patro asked the county executive to intervene on the community’s behalf.
    Kamenetz responded that he would look into the issue but cautioned that railroads are regulated on the federal level.
    When reached for comment, county spokeswoman Ellen Kobler echoed Kamenetz’ remarks.
    “We’re disappointed to hear that Norfolk Southern is choosing not to perform this basic maintenance and eliminate a community eyesore,” Kobler said. “Unfortunately, the county is limited in terms of what it can require a railroad company to do, since they are federally regulated.”
    In 2010, a similar issue came before the Supreme Court of South Carolina in City of Cayce v. Norfolk Southern Railway Company.
    In that case, Cayce, S.C.,  officials attempted to cite Norfolk Southern for refusing to paint a graffiti-covered bridge that ran through the city.
    In its decision, the court ruled against Cayce, noting that the railroad is federally regulated and, under the Constitution, federal law supercedes state or local law.
    In the United States, railroads are regulated by the Federal Railroad Asministration (FRA).
    According to FRA public affairs officer Mike England, the agency does not regulate the aesthetic appearance of rail bridges but, rather, focuses on safety.
    “We only regulate the structure of the bridge and the track of the bridge,” England explained.
    While it appears that Norfolk Southern cannot be forced to paint the bridge, Patro and his supporters remain hopeful that an agreement can be reached that will allow for the bridge to be painted.
    “It’s the right thing to do, and I don’t see why they don’t want to do it,” Patro said.
    “We’re not looking for any money,” he concluded. “We just want to get it done.”