Baltimore City Interstates

The plan for the Interstate highway system in the City of Baltimore went through multiple iterations, from 1956 to the 1980s. The original plan was called the Baltimore 10-D Interstate System, and it was officially approved in 1962. In the 10-D System, I-95 would have run east-west, passing across the Inner Harbor just north of Federal Hill, and through the Fells Point neighborhood, and down the Boston Street corridor, crossing the Harbor Tunnel Thruway, then following from there along what is today's I-95 alignment, northward. I-83 would have interchanged with I-95 at the northeast corner of the inner harbor in the central business district (CBD). I-70N (today’s I-70) would have come in from the west, through Leakin Park, down the Franklin Street / Mulberry Street corridor where I-170 (now US-40) was constructed, then heading south to junction I-95 about a mile west of the inner harbor. These highways would generally have been 8 lanes wide.

It was generally felt by city officials, that the 10-D System would be very disruptive to the fabric of the city, particularly to the Inner Harbor and Fells Point areas.

In 1966, Baltimore pioneered a technique of highway planning aimed at overcoming the considerable public resistance that had emerged. An oversight committee created a "Design Concept Team" was formed to bring together the necessary disciplines to get the Interstate system built without unnecessarily disrupting the fabric of the City. Comprised of highway, traffic and transit engineers, architects and urban planners, and supplemented by consultants in specialized fields such as urban land economics, sociology, landscape design, community relations and other disciplines, the Concept Team was allocated planning funds over and above those normally provided for preliminary highway engineering and design, and charged with the task of designing a highway system which would provide for the social, economic, and aesthetic needs of the City's environment as well as provide an efficient transportation facility.

The Baltimore 3-A Interstate and Boulevard System concept was the result of the Design Concept Team, and the system was officially adopted in 1969. In the 3-A System, I-95 was moved south onto the Locust Point peninsula, where it was eventually constructed. I-70N was planned to pass through Leakin Park and Gwynns Falls Park, junctioning I-95 near where today's I-95 crosses Washington Blvd. The I-70N designation between Frederick, Md. and Baltimore, Md. was changed to I-70 in 1975 (at the same time that I-70S between Frederick and Washington, D.C. was changed to I-270). I-170 was planned as a spur from I-70 in West Baltimore to the western edge of the central business district. I-395 was planned as a spur from I-95 to the south edge of the CBD. City Boulevard (today's Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard) was designed as a collector/distributor bypass to interface between the city streets and the termini of I-170 and I-395. I-83 would be a continuous route, yet would in many ways act as a northerly spur, and an easterly spur, to and from the CBD. I-83 would have continued from today's I-83 termini, eastward to junction with I-95 in East Baltimore near Boston Street. At first, I-83 was planned to pass through the Fells Point neighborhood on a 6-lane elevated viaduct, but that plan was changed in the mid 1970s so that I-83 would have passed through a 6-lane underwater tunnel just south of Fells Point, so that the Interstate would avoid the Fells Point neighborhood. On I-95, there would have been an 8-lane double-decked high-level bridge just north of Fort McHenry, and the vertical navigational clearance would have been about 180 feet, so that oceangoing ships could pass underneath. Around 1975, the Fort McHenry Tunnel concept was adopted due to aesthetic and historical concerns at the Fort McHenry national monument. Operationally, the bridge would have been superior, and it would have cost much less, but the bridge would have towered over Fort McHenry.

In a nutshell, the 3-A Interstate and Boulevard System was designed to bypass the central business district, rather than penetrate the CBD, utilizing freeway spurs to serve the CBD.

I-170 and I-395 were never proposed to extend to I-83. Various earlier Baltimore expressway studies found that one of the most difficult connections of all to make, was the northwest quadrant of an inner loop to connect I-70N to the I-83 Jones Falls Expressway north of the downtown; and the 3-A system with I-170 and MLK Blvd. faced the same issue. The combination of changing topography, railroad tunnels, railroad lines aboveground, and dense urban development, made it virtually impossible to build an adequate capacity interchange between the loop and I-83 north of the downtown. The 3-A system concept eliminated the 10-D system's east-west freeway segment through the Inner Harbor, so that eliminated the possibility of a freeway connection between I-395 and I-83 southeast of the downtown. The 10-D system provided full connections in the downtown area between I-70N, I-83 and I-95; and the 3-A system by its reduced scope in the downtown area did not connect the freeway spurs (I-170 and I-395) to I-83.

The Baltimore 3-A Interstate and Boulevard System plan also included Joint Development, which is peripheral development to urban highway projects for various kinds of mitigation and enhancement to counterbalance those resources that were displaced and impacted by the highways. Joint Development would include nearby places with replacement housing, replacement local shops, new community centers, new commercial centers, new industrial parks, and replacement recreational parks. It would be funded with federal and state highway trust funds just like the highways themselves. Given that the most impacting portions of the 3-A System were not built, most of the Joint Development was not built.

Most of the planning information on the Baltimore Interstate highways here comes from Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) planning documents, dating back to the 1970s. For a map of the originally proposed 3-A System, you can link to Mr. Kurumi's 3-Digit Interstate website. He has a map based on planning documents I sent him. I also have actual copies below. My other Baltimore expressway website articles have a lot more material and references.

Interstates 95 and 395

I-95 was completed through Baltimore when the eight-lane Fort McHenry Tunnel opened in November 1985. It crosses Baltimore Harbor (Patapsco River) just south of the Fort McHenry national monument. I-95 was constructed on the Locust Point peninsula, to bypass the central business district, and a spur, I-395, was built from I-95 to the south edge of the CBD. The I-95/I-395 interchange is built entirely on elevated bridge structure over the Middle Branch of Baltimore Harbor. I-395 itself is almost entirely an elevated twin-span viaduct, with three lanes each direction. It ends in a twin branch, with one branch to Howard Street / Conway Street near Oriole Park at Camden Yards, and the other branch, multi-lane directional elevated ramps that connect to MLK Blvd. I-395 is 1.5 miles long, and it was opened to traffic in November 1981. I-395 was never planned to go beyond that where it terminates today, no connection to I-83 was ever planned.

I-95 in the City of Baltimore is 10.4 miles long and cost $1.4 billion to build in total costs for engineering, right-of-way acquisition and construction, and its construction period spanned from 1972 to 1985. I-95 construction projects began at both edges of the city in the early 1970s, and project staging advanced successively inward from each side, and the last section completed in 1985 was across the harbor with the Fort McHenry Tunnel.

Maryland Interstate highway openings per the report Major Transportation Milestones in the Baltimore Region Since 1940, a 2004 report of the Baltimore Metropolitan Council. The Baltimore Metropolitan Council was chartered in 1992  as the successor to the Regional Planning Council and Baltimore Regional Council of Governments. The Baltimore Regional Transportation Board is the federally recognized Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for transportation planning in the Baltimore region.

The following openings are on the 10.4-mile-long section of I-95 in the City of Baltimore.
č I-695 Baltimore Beltway (Exit 49) to Caton Avenue (Exit 50), 1.3 mile (0.4 mile in City of Baltimore, 0.9 mile in Baltimore County), opened in 1973.
č Caton Avenue (Exit 50) to MD-295 Russell Street / B-W Expwy. (Exit 52), 1.9 mile, opened February 1978.
č MD-295 Russell Street / B-W Expwy. (Exit 52) to MD-2 Hanover Street (Exit 54), 1.0 mile, opened September 1979 and April 1980.
č MD-2 Hanover Street (Exit 54) to Key Highway (Exit 55), 0.8 mile, opened August 1981.
č Key Highway (Exit 55) to Keith Avenue (Exit 56), including Fort McHenry Tunnel, 2.5 mile, opened November 1985.
č Keith Avenue (Exit 56) to O’Donnell Street (Exit 56), 1.0 mile of I-95, including Keith Avenue to Vail Street and Broening Highway, opened March 1982.
č O’Donnell Street (Exit 56) to MD-150 Eastern Avenue (Exit 59), 0.6 mile, opened 1979.
č MD-150 Eastern Avenue (Exit 59) to I-95 JFK Highway, 2.2 miles, opened 1975.

I-95, between I-495 Capital Beltway (Exit 27) and I-695 Baltimore Beltway (Exit 49), 22 miles, opened in July 1971. This segment is in Baltimore County, Howard County, and Prince George’s County.

 I-95 / Northeast Expressway / John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway in Baltimore County, Harford County, and Cecil County.
č Harbor Tunnel Thruway (later designated I-895) (Exit 62) to I-695 Baltimore Beltway (Exit 64), 3 miles, opened October 1961. This opening included the extension of the Harbor Tunnel Thruway from Erdman Avenue to I-95.
č  I-695 Baltimore Beltway (Exit 64) to MD-43 White Marsh Boulevard (Exit 67), 3 miles, opened in 1962-1963.
č MD-43 White Marsh Boulevard (Exit 67 to the Delaware state line, 42 miles, opened in November 1963. The highway was renamed the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway in April 1964.

Harbor Tunnel Thruway (later designated as I-895) in Baltimore City, Anne Arundel County, Baltimore County, and Howard County. This highway was opened as a toll facility in November 1957 from US-1 in Elkridge via the Harbor Tunnel to US-40 / Pulaski Highway. The Thruway formed the southern section of the “interim” Baltimore Beltway (a 42 mile “interim” Baltimore Beltway was completed in July 1962, and this “interim” Beltway was formed by the western and northern sections of I-695 and the Harbor Tunnel Thruway). The Harbor Tunnel Thruway also included a roadway link which extends south from the main section of the Thruway to US-301 and MD-2 / Governor Ritchie Highway north of Ordinance Road. In October 1961, the Thruway was extended from north of Erdman Avenue and US-40 to the Baltimore City line. In 1973-1974, a further extension of the Thruway was opened from US 1 in Elkridge north to I-95.

Interstate 83 - Jones Falls Expressway

The 3-A System plan was to build I-83 to connect to I-95 in East Baltimore about a mile and a half north of the Fort McHenry Tunnel. The ramp stubs are still there on I-95, and they are scheduled for removal. I-83 would have extended south of its present terminus, and quickly turned east, swinging offshore into the Fells Point Tunnel (an avoidance alignment, not cross-harbor) and then back into East Baltimore, extending east to I-95. The proposed 4.4-mile-long extension was canceled in September 1982, and the money (about a billion dollars) was transferred to many other regional highway and transit projects. The reason for cancellation was more a cost/benefits issue than any major environmental issues. The tunnel was designed to avoid having the expressway go through the historic Fells Point community, and that seemed to address the environmental concerns, although the expressway would have been aboveground in the Little Italy area and in the area east of Fells Point. The 0.75-mile-long Jones Falls Boulevard (today's South President Street), a 6-lane boulevard completed in 1987, extends southward from the truncated south end of the I-83 Jones Falls Expressway into the downtown city streets, providing a smooth traffic transition between the end of I-83 and the city streets.

Interstates 70 and 170

In the 3-A System, I-170 was to be 2.3 miles long, and 1.4 miles of it opened in 1979. That section of I-170 has six lanes, and is mostly depressed below grade, with high retaining walls. An entire city block width of residential homes in the Franklin Street / Mulberry Street corridor was acquired to build the expressway. I-70 was completed for 12 miles from the city line westward in 1968. The 3.1 miles of proposed I-70 between western city line and I-170 was officially canceled in 1981, due to community opposition and concerns about the impacts to Leakin Park and Gwynns Falls Park. After that, the portion of I-70 from I-95 to I-170 was still proposed to be built, and that facility (I-70 & I-170) would have been designated I-595, and that was officially canceled in July 1983 -- the 0.9 miles of I-70 between I-170 and I-95, and 0.9 miles of I-170 between I-70 and existing I-170. The 1.4-mile-long segment of I-170 in the Franklin Street / Mulberry Street corridor, which was opened in 1979, would have also been part of the 3.2-mile-long I-595. The re-designation of this isolated section of I-170 to US-40, would have occurred soon after the July 1983 cancellation of proposed I-595, since that is when it became known that I-170 would never be connected to the Interstate system. The proposed I-595 designation only existed for about a year, and it never did have a final official approval (i.e. federal approval).

I-170 was never planned to go I-83, or beyond the western edge of the CBD. There was an article in the Baltimore Sun newspaper in March 1997 discussing a proposal by several neighborhoods to demolish and backfill the built portion of I-170 and build homes in place of the hundreds (about 700) that were removed 20 years before. Even though this is an isolated section of expressway, it still serves as a valuable portion of east-west US-40, carrying about 40,000 vehicles per day. Also, the median was designed with space to accommodate a future rapid rail transit line.

City Boulevard

City Boulevard was the planning name for Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., and it has six lanes and it is 1.5 miles long and it opened in 1982, and it was designed as a collector/distributor bypass to interface between the city streets and the termini of I-170 and I-395. The road runs from I-395 and Russell Street to Eutaw Street and Biddle Street, skirting the west edge of the CBD. This is an unusual road in that it is an at-grade limited-access urban thoroughfare. As MDOT said in their literature published in 1978, City Boulevard is "something more than a city street, but something less than an expressway". It was designed as a transitional interface between the city streets and the termini of the two Interstate spurs. The Boulevard also serves as an urban western local bypass of the CBD. Instead of the spurs dumping their huge volume of traffic out only at their termini, the traffic distributes onto MLK Boulevard, and distributes from there onto many city streets. The reverse process occurs when entering the spurs. This concept maximizes the huge capacity of the spurs. Waterfront Drive in Norfolk, Va. is a similar type road; it branches off of I-264 and skirts the south and west edges of the CBD.

Baltimore Interstate System Map

Click on above map for larger image webpage.

This is the Baltimore 3-A Interstate and Boulevard System.

Baltimore Harbor Interstate System Map

Click on above map for larger image webpage.

Roads to the Future article Fort McHenry Tunnel

Roads to the Future article Baltimore 10-D Interstate System Map

Roads to the Future article Baltimore City Interstates - Cancellations

Roads to the Future Related Articles

Baltimore Interstate System Map
Baltimore Harbor Interstate System Map
I-70, I-170, I-95, I-395, I-83 Interchanges
I-70 in Leakin Park
Baltimore Early Expressway Planning
Baltimore History of Expressway Planning - 1970
East-West Expressway Harbor Route - Aerial View
Baltimore Harbor Crossings
John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway (I-95)
Baltimore Beltway (I-695)

Copyright © 1997-2007 by Scott Kozel. All rights reserved. Reproduction, reuse, or distribution without permission is prohibited.

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By Scott M. Kozel, Roads to the Future

(Created 8-14-1997, last updated 5-8-2007)