Demolition of “Highway to Nowhere” Begins in West Baltimore

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Baltimore has begun to demolition of its "highway to nowhere". A 1.4 mile segment of what was once designated Interstate I-170 is being removed. Originally conceived as a spur providing direct access to the Central Business District from I-70. The road is officially designated as US 40. The segment being demolished was built in the late 1970's, but was never connected to I-70 as a result of local environmental and community opposition.

While US 40 is a sunken highway and it crossed by 10 consecutive blocks of overpasses, its presence tore a gash through some of West Baltimore's neighborhoods, destroyed more than 700 homes and businesses and displaced more than 1,000 residents. Mayor Rawlings-Blake is quoted on the Governor's website as saying, “In the coming months, an artificial barrier to the progress of communities in West Baltimore will be removed forever. Once cleared of this blight, we can begin the dramatic renewal and transformation that will make these neighborhoods better, safer and stronger.”

The removal of the highway coincides with expanded parking at the West Baltimore MARC Station and a future Red Line is planned for the highway corridor, with room for significant TOD potential. The demolition cost is nearly $3M and is being funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Long disconnected streets will be reconnected as well.

It's past time to examine the role of the Interstate highway system in our cities. The Mayor's statement could be used in hundreds of locations if the priority were making neighborhoods better, safer and stronger. Of course Interstate highways have a very important role to play in the economic life of our cities, regions and nation, but their predominance over nearly all other considerations should end.

We know that traffic is no like water, that there is not a set, predictable volume that must fit somewhere. We know this from rigorous study, from many cases across the country, but the only example needed in St. Louis is the closure and rebuilding of 11 miles of I-64. Although not permanently closed, two years of closing 5.5 mile segments failed to produce the gridlock many predicted. That's because drivers find alternative routes and times to travel. Traffic will largely go where we tell it to.

The removal of US 40 may seem like a no-brainer because it is in fact a dead end, but it's removal more than 30 years after its construction should serve as a reminder of two things: 1) local involvement and opposition can have a significant impact and any victory is important as it sets the stage for future development, and 2) even when something makes sense to a whole lot of people, it can take decades to happen.

{planned western end of I-170}

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  • Curt C. Richerund

    Having spent a couple of years working in and around this side of Baltimore– on a consulting work assignment– I can only ask if this sort of “well meaning” activism on the part of the liberal-progressive community in this area hasn’t contributed to Baltimore’s standing as a bonafide “cesspool of the universe”?

    The Politburo of Baltimore (ie the ruling Dems) spent most of the 1960s and 1970s opposing every, single transit improvement in this region_- Metro, Light Rail, subway, commuter rail, freeways, parkways, that would have connected the inner city (they were so keen on the “Inner Harbor” development that they completely forgot to make it accessible) to the growing, prosperous suburbs.

    As a result some sections of Arbutus to West Baltimore continue to look like war zones from the race riots in the mid 1960s. It’s appalling. Meanwhile, 10 miles away in thriving Howard and Anne Arundel counties– well, they are up there with Westchester and Santa Barbara as the most affluent counties in the country.

    It’s crazy and 100% due to silly Dem pandering. Barbara Mikulski built an entire political career around this bizarre obstructionism… and Baltimore clearly has the leaders it richly deserves.

  • Highway person

    Hi Alex, your story is incorrect. The only thing that was demolished was the western end bridge abutment. The highway is not being demolished and is still in use as of 2015.