Baltimore Beltway (I-695)

The Baltimore Beltway was the first beltway completed in the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. The construction of the Interstate system was initiated by the 1956 Federal Highway Act. The first metropolitan beltway in the country was Route 128 around Boston, completed in 1951.

The Baltimore Beltway was completed in 1962 as a 36-mile-long circumferential freeway bypass of the city, although it did not become a 53-mile-long full circle until 1977 when the eastern portion was completed across the Outer Harbor. The portion completed in 1962 ran from MD-2 Governor Ritchie Highway south of the city, around the south, west and north of the city, to US-40 Pulaski Highway northeast of the city; and it passed through Anne Arundel and Baltimore Counties, entirely outside the city of Baltimore. The Beltway had 32 interchanges, including all the radial expressways and arterials which crossed it. This 36-mile-long section of the Baltimore Beltway, in conjunction with the Harbor Tunnel Thruway that was opened in 1957, did comprise a complete freeway loop around and through the City of Baltimore, and it did provide a complete I-95 bypass of the city.

The Baltimore Beltway had its genesis in 1949 as a project of the Baltimore County Planning Commission. The Baltimore area had numerous radial arterials already in place, but there were no highways connecting the various suburban communities, places such as Linthicum, Catonsville, Pikesville, Towson, Parkville, Essex, and Dundalk. These communities had grown up on the radial highways which head out of the city, and the Beltway was intended to link them together, as well as provide a freeway bypass of the city of Baltimore.

The Baltimore Beltway project started as a county project funded by local taxpayers, but the state of Maryland took over the project in 1953. In 1956, the project was included in the Interstate Highway System, and Interstate funds (90% federal funds from the Highway Trust Fund and 10% Maryland state highway funds) provided nearly all the funding, and nearly all the construction took place after 1956.

The Patapsco Freeway section of the Baltimore Beltway, between US-40 and MD-151, opened in 1973. The original plan for the Baltimore Beltway was for it to traverse the Essex Peninsula and cross the Back River near the Essex Skypark, and connect into today's I-695 alignment. The MD-702 Southeast Boulevard is a scaled-down portion of this highway that was finished in the 1980s.

The Outer Harbor Crossing, an 11-mile-long toll facility from MD-10 to MD-151, was completed in March 1977, and completed the Baltimore Beltway. All funding for this segment of the Baltimore Beltway, including its expansion projects, came from the proceeds of toll revenue bonds sold by the Maryland Transportation Authority (MdTA). The Outer Harbor Crossing was planned as a two-lane (one lane each way) freeway on ultimate four-lane (two lanes each way) right-of-way, with a two-lane harbor tunnel about one mile long. The two-lane freeway was built, the harbor causeways for the tunnel portals were built, and when the tunnel was advertised for construction in 1972, the bids were so high that it was determined that a four-lane high-level bridge could be built for about the same cost (about $50 million). The bridge was built, the Francis Scott Key Bridge. Piers for the high-level approaches were constructed on the causeways. The bridge is 1.6 miles long, and the main span of the bridge consists of a cantilever arch span with 180 feet of vertical clearance and 1,200 feet of horizontal clearance.

The originally planned two-lane tunnel concept explains why the Key Bridge was built with two-lane approaches. The south approach includes a bascule drawspan (with 60 feet of vertical navigational clearance when closed) at Curtis Creek, and was dualized to four lanes by 1981. The 3.5 mile north approach was an elevated viaduct over Bear Creek and also skirted the edge of the Sparrows Point Bethlehem Steel complex. Four-lane widening and elimination of most of the viaduct at a cost of $89.5 million was completed in January 2000. The entire eastern portion of the Beltway now has four lanes (two each way) at the minimum.

Related Roads to the Future Articles

Baltimore Outer Harbor Crossing (Francis Scott Key Bridge)
Baltimore City Interstates
Baltimore Interstate System Map
Baltimore Harbor Interstate System Map
Baltimore 10-D Interstate System Map
Baltimore History of Expressway Planning - 1970
Fort McHenry Tunnel
Baltimore Harbor Crossings
Baltimore Early Expressway Planning

Copyright 2005 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 12-1-2005, minor update 6-4-2023)