Thwarting a threat

Baltimore region answers the call, avoids tunnel terrorist incident

Safety Article November 01, 2005
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Baltimore knows how to protect a streak of longevity. The Orioles’ Cal Ripken Jr. set the all-time mark for consecutive major league baseball games played a few years ago, and in mid-October local and federal authorities preserved another record involving the safety of this country. Not since Sept. 11, 2001, have terrorists launched a deadly attack on U.S. soil. The streak was challenged on Oct. 18, but emergency responders were able to defuse the threat.

For two hours the Maryland Transportation Authority shut the I-95 Baltimore Harbor Tunnel and reduced traffic down to one lane at the Fort McHenry Tunnel as officials acted on a threat. The Federal Bureau of Investigation received a tip that someone was plotting to drive a vehicle loaded with explosives into one of Baltimore’s tunnels. Federal officials said the foreign informant warned of a threat against an unspecified tunnel and that the party likely to make the attempt was a former resident of Egypt living in the East Coast city. It was later reported that four men were detained by federal authorities. Immigration officials said the group had been ordered to be deported from the U.S. and failed to comply.

“Acting out of an abundance of caution the Maryland Transportation Authority Police elected to close the Harbor Tunnel in both directions and to allow only limited access at the Fort McHenry tunnel,” said Jim Pettit, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Transportation. Attempts by ROADS & BRIDGES to contact the Maryland Transportation Authority Police were unsuccessful.

Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich Jr. thought everyone involved responded accordingly.

“It was done the way you would hope it would be done,” he told the Capital News Service.

Ehrlich met with Virginia Gov. Mark Warner and Washington, D.C., Mayor Anthony Williams a week later to discuss a full plate of issues, including transportation and homeland security. All three agreed the right steps were taken during the tunnel threat, but also concluded that more needs to be done in emergency preparedness.

“We still have to get better,” Ehrlich told the Capital News. “We will get better every day in our three jurisdictions.”

Regional congestion also was a hot topic with the trio. Maryland and Virginia will spend about $1 million each on two studies that will look at ways to reduce gridlock on the Woodrow Wilson and American Legion bridges. Officials are looking at several options, including dedicated rail and bus lanes, toll lanes and car-pool lanes. Both states have been working separately to solve the congestion problem, but Warner and Ehrlich announced a partnership at the meeting.

“Technology in use on one side of the bridge will go for naught unless there is appropriate technology on the other side of the bridge,” Ehrlich told the Capital News Service.

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