Demolition of “Highway to Nowhere” Begins in West Baltimore

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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