This 2002 photo shows the northbound Northwest Expressway (I-795) at EXIT 4 (Owings Mills Boulevard) in Owings Mills. Engineers set aside the center median for the Baltimore Metro extension to Owings Mills, which was completed in 1987, two years after this section of I-795 was completed. (Photo by Jim K. Georges.)
FOUR DECADES FROM DRAWING BOARD TO REALITY: Plans for the Northwest Expressway date back to at least 1947 when Governor William Preston Lane, Jr. announced the "Maryland Highway Program" that envisioned new freeways to replace US 140, US 111, US 40, and US 1 out of Baltimore City. The freeway to parallel US 1--the Baltimore-Washington Parkway (MD 295)--was first, and the US 40 and US 111 routes were incorporated into state plans for the Interstate highway system a decade later as I-95, I-70, and I-83. Without Interstate funds to secure construction plans, construction of the "Northwest" route to Reistertown--then designated US 140--would be delayed for decades to come.
The denial of Interstate funding did not stop the Maryland State Roads Commission (SRC) from purchasing rights-of-way along the route, and the SRC even built stub ramps on the Baltimore Beltway (I-695) as part of the original 1961 construction for a future cloverleaf interchange with the Northwest Expressway at the site of the current EXIT 19 on I-695. In the vicinity of the current EXIT 7 (Franklin Boulevard) on I-795, there was to have been an interchange with the proposed but unbuilt Baltimore Outer Loop (MD 100 / US 29). However, controversy over the route south of the beltway--particularly in the historic planned community of Sudbrook Park--added to the delays.
By 1971, the route of the expressway had become intertwined with that of the Baltimore Region Rapid Transit System (BRRTS), later renamed the Baltimore Metro. With a wider right-of-way required to accommodate both the expressway and the rail line, which often was in an open cut 300 feet wide or more, residents became even more concerned that their communities would be severed.
As planned in 1972, the Northwest Expressway was to run 11 miles from the Baltimore City line northwest to Reisterstown and an additional three lanes within Baltimore City. It was to have been built as a six-lane freeway with a wide median for two additional lanes and a rapid transit line. The expressway was forecast to have carried 85,000 vehicles per day (AADT) in its final eight-lane configuration by the 1990's, and was to have cost $217 million for just the construction in Baltimore County.
The "inside the beltway" section of the Northwest Expressway was canceled in 1973, but plans remained active for the expressway between I-695 and Reisterstown. The Baltimore Metro transit line was to be built along four of the expressway's nine miles to Owings Mills, and in recognition of the proposed Metro line terminus, officials in Baltimore County named Owings Mills as a designated area for commercial and light industrial growth in the county's 1979 master plan. Perhaps in recognition of Owings Mills' status as a selected growth area, the Northwest Expressway shed its now-decommissioned US 140 designation and became the future I-795 in 1980. Funding for I-795 would come eventually from other highway projects canceled throughout the state, particularly the unbuilt highways in Baltimore City.
ON THE FAST TRACK: Ground was broken for the Northwest Expressway in 1982. The initial six-lane section from the southern terminus at EXIT 1 (I-695) in Pikesville north to EXIT 4 (Owings Mills Boulevard) in Owings Mills opened to traffic in November 1985; it featured a concrete surface and a wide median to accommodate construction of the Baltimore Metro and the Owings Mills Station. The northbound EXIT 4 ramp splits into two for the northbound and southbound lanes of Owings Mills Boulevard, while a C/D road and two separate exit ramps were built for traffic from southbound I-795.
Construction continued into 1986 with the completion of the section to EXIT 7 (Franklin Boulevard) in Reisterstown in July of that year and to its northern terminus at EXIT 9 (MD 140 / MD 30) in October of that year. Unlike the earlier section of I-795, these sections were built with only four traffic lanes (two in each direction) and an asphalt surface. These sections also had a wide median, but this was presumably was to accommodate two extra travel lanes as there were no plans to extend the Baltimore Metro past Owings Mills. At the northern terminus, I-795 splits into EXIT 9A (unsigned MD 795 connector to MD 30 and MD 140 eastbound) and EXIT 9B (MD 140 westbound).
In July 1987, the $255 million "Section B" of the Baltimore Metro between the Reisterstown Plaza and Owings Mills stations went into service. The Owings Mills Station, which lies in the median of I-795, is accessible from Painters Mill Road.
IMPROVING I-795: According to the SHA, I-795 carries approximately 60,000 vehicles per day between EXIT 1 and EXIT 4; 45,000 vehicles per day between EXIT 4 and EXIT 7; and 30,000 vehicles per day between EXIT 7 and EXIT 9. In anticipation of increased development in northwest Baltimore County and Carroll County, the SHA has long-range plans to build a third through-traffic lane in each direction between EXIT 4 and EXIT 9; however, the state has not allocated funds for its construction.
More likely to be built in the intermediate term--regardless of the SHA's decision to expand I-795 to six lanes north of EXIT 4--is a new interchange at EXIT 5 (Pleasant Hill Road / Dolfield Bouelvard) in Owings Mills. The project, which is estimated to cost $100 million and for which advanced design work now is underway, is intended to serve a rapidly developing area of office and industrial parks along Red Run Boulevard. Most of the current alternatives include the construction of an auxiliary weaving lane between EXIT 4 and the future EXIT 5 in both directions. If a full widening of I-795 to six lanes is undertaken north to EXIT 7, the cost of the combined project would be pushed to "several hundred million" according to SHA spokesman David Buck.
This 2005 photo shows the southbound Northwest Expressway (I-695) approaching its southern terminus at EXIT 1 (I-695 / Baltimore Beltway). Original plans from the early 1970's called for widening I-795 to eight lanes, but current traffic counts appear not to warrant such an expansion. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)
INSIDE THE BELTWAY: South of I-695, the Northwest Expressway was to retain the six-lane profile of the section that actually was built, including a wide median for a two-track rapid transit line. Inside the city line, the Northwest Expressway was to have been routed along the current Metro line and Wabash Avenue, terminating at Reisterstown Road (old US 140 and current MD 140) just south of the Metro-West Coldspring Station. One planning map suggested the Northwest Expressway would have terminated at a proposed Cold Spring-Moravia (Loop) Freeway (undesignated).
No cost estimate was provided for the Northwest Expressway within Baltimore City, but given the rising costs of the 10-D Interstate construction program and even the less aggressive 3-A plan, the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) focused on completion of the most essential elements of the plan--completing I-95, extending I-83, and building I-395--while shifting some unused highway funds toward Metro construction.
The Northwest Expressway never was particularly popular inside the Baltimore Beltway, but faced the fiercest opposition in the Sudbrook Park, a suburban village with winding streets designed by Frederick L. Olmsted. The state began condemning properties quietly along the proposed route in the 1950's, but as anti-highway activism gained steam in Baltimore and other cities in the 1960's, residents fought plans that would have severed Sudbrook Park with a 300-foot-wide highway and rapid transit line, severing their community and potentially destroying the landmarked 1890 one-lane bridge that carries Sudbrook Lane over the Western Maryland Railway (now CSX).
Soon after Sudbrook Park was named a National Register Historic District in 1973, the state dropped plans to build the expressway into Baltimore City. However, Sudbrook Park and the Sudbrook Lane bridge remained under threat from Metro construction, and in 1978, a compromise was reached in which a two-track tunnel was built along nearly 300 yards underneath Sudbrook Park.
NORTH OF REISTERSTOWN: Throughout the 1990's and 2000's, officials in Carroll County--led by County Commissioner Donald Dell--have proposed extending I-795 approximately 31 miles through northwest Baltimore County and Carroll County roughly along the MD 140 corridor; this would join US 15 near the Maryland-Pennsylvania border. Although bypasses of MD 140 are planned for Westminster and Taneytown by the SHA, it is not perceived by some as a comprehensive solution that would relieve congestion along the length of MD 140.
SOURCES: Interstate Highways 70N and 95, the East-West and Southwest Expressways, Preliminary Engineering Report, City of Baltimore Department of Public Works (1961); "Maryland Plans Six More Toll Roads," The Washington Post (2/08/1968); "Greater Baltimore Committee: Traffic Evaluation Summary," Urban Design Concept Associates (1968); "US 140 (Northwest Expressway), Baltimore City Line to Reisterstown and Phase 1 Rapid Transit: Final Environmental Impact Statement," Federal Highway Administration and Maryland State Highway Administration (1977); "The Other Metro" by Stephen J. Lynton, The Washington Post (10/30/1983); "Mayor Reconsiders Extension of I-795," The Baltimore Sun (2/25/1993); "Finksburg Residents Thrash Dell's I-795 Plan" by Kerry O'Rourke, The Baltimore Sun (4/08/1993); "Baltimore County Asks for New Interchange on Interstate 795" by Jay Apperson, The Baltimore Sun (7/29/1998); "Carroll Commissioner Revives Plan To Extend I-795 To Ease Congestion" by Sheridan Lyons, The Baltimore Sun (9/18/1998); "Bridge Reopening Another Chapter of Sudbrook Story" by Melanie Anson, Owings Mills Times (10/19/2006); "Major Transportation Milestones in the Baltimore Region Since 1940," Baltimore Metropolitan Council (2006); "Feasibility Study: Interchange of I-795 With Pleasant Hill Road (Future Dolfield Boulevard)," Maryland State Highway Administration (2006); "Highway Planning Begins" by Lind Strowbridge, Owings Mills Times (1/04/2008); HistoricAerials.com; Sudbrook Park, Inc.; Robert V. Droz; Adam Froehlig; Scott Kozel; Mike Pruett; Alexander Svirsky.
I-795 shield by Ralph Herman. US 140 shield by Barry L. Camp. Lightposts by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.