This 2003 photo shows the eastbound John Hanson Highway (US 50) at EXIT 5 (MD 410 / East-West Highway) in Hyattsville. US 50 picks up the unsigned I-595 designation one mile ahead at the Capital Beltway (I-95 and I-495). (Photo by Alex Nitzman, www.aaroads.com.)
FIRST PLANNED AS A PARKWAY: In 1937, the Maryland State Planning Commission published a report (titled "Regional Planning Part IV; Baltimore-Washington-Annapolis Area, Guiding Principles and Criteria for Future Action for the 2,500 Square Mile Area") recommending construction of a parkway between the nation's capital and the Maryland state capital. The proposed road was to incorporate aspects of modern parkway design that had been developed during the previous decade.
In response to safety concerns, as well as the growing need for mobilizing national defense, the Maryland State Roads Commission began to develop its own plans for freeways throughout the state, including a new freeway between Washington and Annapolis. Although the state's plans were given a boost by the passage of the "Maryland Motorway Act of 1941," which stipulated access control for the first time, the "Annapolis-Washington Expressway" did not receive any special wartime funding.
A LINK TO THE BAY BRIDGE: It took the 1947 passage of legislation approving construction of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to expedite the Annapolis-Washington Expressway from the planning stage to the construction stage. The State Roads Commission awarded two contracts for the highway in 1949: a $2.4 million contract for building 11 miles of four-lane highway from EXIT 13 (US 301) in Bowie to EXIT 24 (MD 70) in Annapolis, and a $7 million contract for building the Severn River Bridge and three miles of approaches. The total cost of building 27 miles of highway from the District of Columbia-Maryland border to MD 2 east of the Severn River was estimated at $17 million.
The Severn River Bridge was built originally as a four-lane bridge with two 26-foot-wide roadways separated by a raised four-foot-wide median barrier and flanked by three-foot-wide sidewalks. The plate-girder bridge has 17 spans that each are spaced 168 feet apart. Spans near the shore are 38 feet above the river, while the center span has 80 feet of vertical clearance. Some of the piers were dug 90 feet through bedrock beneath the bottom of the river.
The 14 miles of US 50 from EXIT 13 east to EXIT 27 (MD 2 / MD 450) opened to traffic in 1953. The completed freeway connected to the east with a section of four-lane divided highway opened the previous year (and originally designated MD 404) to connect to the Bay Bridge. The divided highway between MD 2 and the Bay Bridge had at-grade intersections and curb cuts for local businesses. The newly completed highway was co-designated US 301 east of Bowie, and co-designated MD 2 for a four-mile stretch over the new Severn River Bridge.
Upon completion of the Bowie-to-Annapolis freeway section, construction crews moved to a five-mile, four-lane freeway section that continued west to EXIT 8 (MD 704) in Lanham. This section was completed in 1957.
The eight-mile-long, four-lane final section of the expressway was built between 1957 and 1961, and included construction of the interchange with the Capital Beltway (I-95 and I-495). Much of this section of US 50 was built alongside the right-of-way for the Pennsylvania Railroad (Amtrak).
NAMED FOR A REVOLUTIONARY WAR HERO: The Annapolis-Washington Expressway was renamed the John Hanson Highway in 1954. Hanson recruited and led Southern troops for the Revolutionary Army under General George Washington and later served as the president of the Continental Congress.
This 2005 photo shows the eastbound John Hanson Highway (US 50 / US 301) at EXIT 22 (MD 665 / Aris T. Allen Boulevard) in Annapolis. (Photo by Jim K. Georges.)
GETTING AN INTERSTATE HIGHWAY FOR ANNAPOLIS: By the mid-1970's, it became apparent that the four-lane John Hanson Highway was unable to handle the traffic load between Washington, Annapolis, and the Bay Bridge. The explosive growth of eastern Prince Georges and Anne Arundel counties only made the congestion worse.
Maryland officials never had submitted US 50 for Interstate funds because much of the John Hanson Highway was either completed or under construction when the Interstate highway program got underway in 1956. The existing highway was built on a 50-50 (Federal-state) formula common in the pre-Interstate era, but with the cancellation of several projects in the Baltimore and Washington metropolitan areas, state highway officials pushed to get Interstate (90-10, Federal-state) funding to improve US 50.
I-97, I-68, AND FAMILY: The John Hanson Highway improvement, which was approved as an Interstate-funded project in 1978, was designated originally as part of I-97 and I-197. Until 1983, the proposed route of I-97 was to follow the current 19-mile route from Baltimore southeast to Annapolis, then was to continue west along US 50 / US 301 to the Capital Beltway. The I-197 designation was to be used for a two-mile stretch from EXIT 22 (I-97) east to EXIT 24 (MD 70). (The I-297 designation was to have used along an eight-mile stretch of MD 3 between Millersville and Bowie.)
The present-day routing of I-97 was established in 1983, upon which time the I-197 and I-297 designations were dropped. (It did not help that the proposed I-197 designation was about ten miles away from the existing MD 197 designation on Collington Road in Bowie.) The 17 miles of US 50 was re-christened I-68, the designation under which much of the planning and early construction work was done.
BRINGING US 50 TO MODERN DESIGN STANDARDS: The earliest reconstruction work was done not on the Interstate-funded sections, but on the following non-Interstate sections. Much of this work was completed between 1986 and 1990:
From EXIT 7 (I-95 / I-495 / Capital Beltway) to a point just west of EXIT 5 (MD 410), the existing US 50 was widened from four to six lanes. More modest improvements were made west to the Baltimore-Washington Parkway (MD 295).
East of EXIT 27 (MD 2 and MD 450 / Ritchie Highway), the existing four-lane arterial highway was upgraded to a six-lane freeway on either side of the Bay Bridge. Service roads were built to serve existing businesses along US 50-US 301 as well as connect to the new mainline freeway. The Severn River Bridge also was rebuilt to accommodate six traffic lanes. However, parts of this section were built to non-Interstate specifications (such as narrow shoulders and sharp low-speed ramps).
Construction of the 17 miles of freeway that were eligible for Interstate funding took place between 1988 and 1995. By this time, the Interstate designation had changed from I-68 to I-595. (The I-68 designation had moved to the newly completed National Freeway through the Cumberland Gap area of western Maryland.) New signs erected during this period left an empty space for an I-595 shield to be inserted at a future date.
During this period, the existing four-lane roadway was rebuilt to accommodate three travel lanes in each direction, with right-of-way reserved in the median for additional lanes as necessary. Original cloverleaf interchanges were rebuilt with flyover ramps at EXIT 7 (I-95 / I-495 / Capital Beltway) and EXIT 13 (US 301 / MD 3 / Crain Highway), while new interchanges were built at EXIT 21 and EXIT 22 for two new freeways (I-97 and MD 665). Design touches such as brick overpasses and dark-colored lightposts and sign gantries improved the appearance of the highway.
When the reconstruction was completed in 1995, officials from the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) decided not to post I-595 shields along the John Hanson Highway because they believe most motorists already call the highway "Route 50," and that adding the I-595 designation would create more confusion. Nevertheless, the I-595 designation lives on in official state highway plans.
According to the Maryland SHA, the John Hanson Highway carries approximately 120,000 vehicles per day (AADT) between the Capital Beltway and the Severn River Bridge, about 90,000 vehicles per day between the Severn River Bridge and the Bay Bridge, and about 70,000 vehicles per day from the Bay Bridge to the US 50-US 301 split (EXIT 46) in Queenstown. These numbers can double easily on peak summer weekends.
NEW HOV LANES: Less than a decade after the John Hanson Highway was rebuilt to six lanes, congestion continued to build on the highway through eastern Prince Georges County. To ease this congestion, the Maryland SHA built ten miles of new HOV lanes in the center median from just west of EXIT 6 (Ardwick-Ardmore Road) to just east of EXIT 13 (US 301 / MD 3 / Crain Highway) beginning in 2001. The $19 million "design-build" HOV project, which was completed in November 2002, marked the opening of only the second set of HOV lanes in the state. Unlike most other HOV lanes, the HOV-2 restriction on US 50 / I-595 is in effect 24 hours a day, including on weekends and holidays.
This 2004 photo shows the eastbound John Hanson Highway (US 50 / US 301) approaching EXIT 37 (MD 8) in Stevensville. This is the first eastbound exit on Kent Island after the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. (Photo by Jim K. Georges.)
The I-66 designation should be extended east from Washington (through a new K Street Tunnel and New York Avenue Industrial Freeway) along US 50 (John Hanson Highway and Ocean Gateway) to Ocean City.
SOURCES: "Baltimore-Washington Parkway: A New Link Is Projected with the Nation's Capital" by Avery McBee, The Baltimore Sun (10/11/1936); "Maryland Lets Road Contract for 6-Mile Annapolis Bypass," The Washington Post (9/17/1949); "DC Freeway: Hanson Highway," The Baltimore Sun (8/12/1954); "John Hanson Highway," The Baltimore Sun (1/15/1957); KCI Technologies; Maryland State Highway Administration; Scott Kozel; Alexander Svirsky.
US 50, US 301, and I-66 shields by Scott Colbert. I-595 shield by Ralph Herman. Lightposts by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.