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This 2010 photo shows the southbound I-95 at EXIT 53 (I-395 / Cal Ripken Way) in Baltimore. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)


11.9 miles (19.2 kilometers)

EARLY PLANNING FOR BALTIMORE'S EXPRESSWAYS: In 1942, with the U.S. involvement in World War II well underway, officials in Baltimore developed plans for an express bypass of the city. The city proposed two separate routes: a tunnel under Franklin Street (which later became US 40 / Franklin-Mulberry Expressway) and an elevated expressway above Pratt Street. Both routes were to have an east-west orientation. The Baltimore City Planning Commission (BCPC) approved this plan in 1943, though this decision was non-binding.

The following year, Robert Moses, who was the master planner for New York's arterial highway system, was hired as a consultant by the BCPC to develop its plans further. Although the plans contemplated parkway-like design treatment for the proposed East-West (Pratt) Expressway and the Franklin (Mulberry) Expressway, and Moses defended his designs by stating they would help defeat urban blight, the BCPC ultimately rejected Moses' plans.

Between 1942 and 1957, city planners developed nine separate plans for a city-wide freeway system. The most prominent of these was developed by City Engineer Nathan Smith in 1945. The "Smith Report," as it soon became known, formed the basis of Baltimore's expressway planning. The core of the plan was comprised of the following three routes, and ultimately was adopted by the Federal Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) in its 1955 "Yellow Book" proposal for new urban Interstate highway routes:

  • East-West Expressway (comprising I-95 through Baltimore City to the east and north, and what was to have been I-70N from Baltimore City west)
  • Southwest Expressway (comprising I-95 from Baltimore City south)
  • Jones Falls Expressway (comprising I-83)

The Smith Report gained acceptance within the planning community, but local leaders never really warmed to the plan, citing concern that the East-West Expressway in particular would be routed either through downtown Baltimore (via the Inner Harbor alignment) or north of the central business district (via the Biddle Street alignment, which was one mile north of the Inner Harbor alignment). Even without definitive alignments for two of the three routes, the BPR still approved all three routes submitted by the state and city--the East-West, Southwest, and Jones Falls Expressways--as part of the Interstate highway system in 1956.

This 1957 photo shows proposed routings for the East-West Expressway, which includes (1) a preferred routing along the edge of the Inner Harbor; (2) a southern alternate routing that was the basis of what later became the "Fort McHenry" alignment of today's I-95; (3) a northern alternate routing that would have taken I-95 north of downtown Baltimore and continued straight west as I-70N; and (4) an inner loop freeway encircling downtown Baltimore. The Jones Falls Expressway (I-83), which was to enter the city from the north, was included in all alternatives. (Map from City of Baltimore-Department of Planning archives.)

THE 10-D PLAN; "D" IS FOR DARLING: In 1958, Baltimore mayor Thomas D'Alesandro, Jr. named Phillip Darling of the city's planning department. Darling saw the threat posed by the construction of the Baltimore Beltway (I-695) in luring business out of the city, and thought it was necessary that the city respond by building radial expressways to not only address the needs of commuters and shippers, but also help the city retain and attract business.

After two years of study, Darling published the report, "A Study for an East-West Expressway," in 1960. The Darling plan maintained the same radial axes as the Smith Report from 15 years earlier, but there were key changes to the plan that represented an initial attempt to balance the needs of the business community with those of residents. All three radial expressways were to have been eight lanes wide.

  • I-95: Beginning at the Baltimore Beltway (I-695), I-95 was to enter Baltimore along the Southwest Expressway alignment, similar to the current alignment. Beginning in the area of the current EXIT 53 (I-395 / Cal Ripken Way), I-95 was to veer northeast through the South Baltimore and Sharp-Leadenhall neighborhoods on its way to the Inner Harbor, where a 50-foot-high bridge was to cross the harbor. At the edge the harbor, in the vicinity of Pratt Street and President Street, there was to have been a multi-level interchange between I-95, I-70N (East-West Expressway), and I-83 (Jones Falls Expressway). I-95 was to continue the "East-West Expressway" name east along the "Harbor" alignment through the Fells Point neighborhood. It was to have ended at the current I-895 (Harbor Tunnel Thruway), north of which the existing Harbor Tunnel Thruway would have been widened from four to eight lanes north to the thruway's terminus at US 40. (The I-95 designation was to continue north as the Northeast Expressway / John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway, as it does today.

  • I-70N: Continuing east from the Baltimore Beltway (I-695), I-70N was to have been routed through Leakin Park and Gwynns Falls Park, pass through the Rosemont neighborhood, and head east between Franklin Street and Mulberry Street, the latter part of which the current Franklin-Mulberry Expressway (US 40) stub exists today. I-70N was to then turn south near Pine Street (Martin L. King, Jr. Boulevard) and turn east again to follow an elevated highway just south of Pratt Street. The elevated I-70N was to continue east to the multi-level interchange with I-95 and I-83 at the edge of the Inner Harbor.

  • I-83: The Jones Falls Expressway, which already was under construction when the 10-D report was released, was to enter Baltimore as it does today, though it was to have continued as an elevated highway along President Street to the I-83 / I-95 / I-70N interchange.

The 10-D "harbor route" alignment was preferred over the north-of-downtown alignment proposed in 1957, as it would have required the removal of 3,187 dwelling units, four business buildings, and no churches for the 10-D alignment, versus 5,582 dwelling units, 18 business buildings, and six churches for the northerly alignment. The cost difference between the 10-D and northerly alternatives was nominal; the estimated cost was about $225 million for the 10-D alignment, versus $194 million for the northerly alignment.

This map shows the original 10-D expressway plan devised by the Baltimore City Department of Planning. Note how I-95, I-70N, and I-83 were to converge at a major interchange at the northeast corner of the Inner Harbor. (Map from City of Baltimore-Department of Planning Archives.)

This illustration shows the major interchange between I-95, I-70N, and I-83 that was proposed for the northeast corner of the Inner Harbor under the original 10-D plan. View is toward the northwest. (Map from City of Baltimore-Department of Planning Archives.)

AN INITIAL ALTERNATIVE TO 10-D: The city hired a locally-based consortium called Expressway Consultants to review Darling's 10-D proposal. The consortium was comprised of J.E. Greiner Company, which worked on the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel and the William Preston Lane Jr.-Chesapeake Bay Bridge; Remmel, Klepper & Kahl, which worked on the Baltimore Beltway, and Knoerle, Graef, Bender & Asssociates, which worked on the Jones Falls Expressway.

The key differences between the Expressway Consultants plan and Darling's 10-D plan were as follows:

  • I-95: The route was to enter the city as the Southwest Expressway, but was to continue on a straight line northeast toward Carroll Park then veer east in the area of Carey Street en route to the Inner Harbor. There was to have been an interchange with the East-West Expressway (I-70N) in the area of Scott Street. I-95 was to cross the Inner Harbor between Federal Hill and Fells Point on a 50-foot-high bridge, then intersect with the Jones Falls Expressway (I-83) at President Street in the Fells Point neighborhood. I-95 was then to continue east roughly along Eastern Avenue, Boston Street, and O'Donnell Street to the Harbor Tunnel Thruway, where it was to continue north along the Harbor Tunnel Thruway alignment to the Northeast Expressway.

  • I-70N: Beginning at the I-95 (Southwest Expressway) interchange, I-70N was to head northwest toward the Franklin-Mulberry alignment, then head west toward Leakin Park and the current alignment for I-70.

  • I-83: Beginning at I-95 in the Fells Point neighborhood, I-83 was to have been built along the eastern edge of the Inner Harbor, then north along President Street toward the current I-83 alignment.

The Expressway Consultants alternative addressed concerns about routing the East-West Expressway along the northern edge of the Inner Harbor, including the need to fill in parts of the harbor. However, neither alternative addressed concerns about the effects of the I-95 Inner Harbor bridge and approach viaducts in the Federal Hill and Fells Point neighborhoods. Moreover, neither proposal addressed environmental concerns about the I-70N section of the East-West Expressway through Leakin Park. By the mid-1960s, groups favoring the 10-D proposal and those favoring the Expressway Consultants proposal had reached an impasse.

This map shows Expressway Consultants' response to the 10-D plan devised by the Baltimore City Planning Department. Under this plan, I-95 would have avoided downtown Baltimore, while there would have been separate interchanges with I-70N (East-West Expressway) and I-83 (Jones Falls Expressway). (Map from City of Baltimore-Department of Planning Archives.)

This illustration shows the major interchange between I-95 and I-83 that was proposed for the eastern edge of the Inner Harbor under the Expressway Consultants alternative. View is toward the northwest. (Map from City of Baltimore-Department of Planning Archives.)

COLLABORATING FOR A BETTER SOLUTION: In response to concerns expressed by pro-expressway groups and community advocates, the City of Baltimore and the Bureau of Public Roads (later the Federal Highway Administration [FHWA]) collaborated on a new technique of highway planning which included participation by the public in the planning stages of a project and consideration of public comments for proposed plans. This technique is commonplace in modern highway planning, but was a novel concept in the 1960s.

What emerged from this collaboration was the Urban Design Concept Associates (UDCA), known internally as the "Concept Team," which was formed in 1966 from Expressway Consultants (which had worked earlier on an alternative to the 10-D plan), two technical consulting firms (Parsons, Brinckeroff, Quade & Douglas and Wilbur Smith & Associates), architects from Skidmore Owings & Merrill, and other experts. In early 1969, the UDCA published their reasoning for developing a new highway plan as follows:

While environmental and social factors had been previously considered in expressway planning, it was not until major parts of urban Interstate roads were finished, or being finished in other cities, that their impact on the environment and socioeconomic structure of the cities could be assessed. These impacts, which were more severe in fact than in plan, alerted city, state, and Federal officials to the need for a new approach to urban freeway design.

In response to these concerns, the City of Baltimore and the Federal Highway Administration (then the Bureau of Public Roads) pioneered a technique of highway planning which included participation by the public in the planning stages of a project and consideration of public comments for proposed plans. The task was to seek methods that would preserve the physical and environmental qualities of the city and at the same time provide the needed transportation network. Baltimore's solution was to establish a multi-disciplinary team consisting of experts in the fields of highway engineering, planning, architecture, and urban planning, as well as specialists in sociology, housing, and systems analysis. The UDCA, known as the "Design Team," was charged with the task of designing a highway system that would… "provide for the social, economic, and aesthetic needs of the city's environment, as well as provide an efficient transportation facility.

INTRODUCING THE 3-A PLAN: On August 22, 1968, the UDCA team presented to the City/State Policy Advisory Board the results of its traffic analysis of the 10-D plan, as well as five other alternate proposals. It was in this analysis that a southern bypass of the Inner Harbor area was first proposed for I-95, as well as a hybrid freeway-and-boulevard built from the southern bypass north along the western edge of the Inner Harbor to downtown (shown in planning maps as the "Sharp-Leadenhall Corridor"). The southern bypass was to serve primarily through traffic, as a study from Wilbur Smith & Associates found that 43% of traffic on the route would be through traffic that had neither an origin nor a destination in downtown Baltimore.

Although the early plans kept an "East-West Expressway" through downtown, the southern bypass theoretically was seen as a second "East-West Expressway." The double East-West Expressway plan became known as the "3C"-plan. However, the proposed southerly bypass, along with the freeway-and-boulevard spur, would provide downtown access without having to build a new Interstate highway downtown. The plan without the East-West Expressway through downtown, and only the southern bypass, became known as the "3-A" plan.

On December 22, 1968, Mayor Thomas D'Allesandro, the father of future House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, decided on the 3-A plan after a two-and-one-half hour closed-door meeting with the UDCA team, and that he would seek Federal financing for the plan. The plan was to cost $600 million, with the Federal government paying $500 million of the cost, though it was not a traditional 90% Federal reimbursement because the plan included surface-level boulevards that were not eligible for Interstate funding. Nevertheless, the plan was seen as a victory as the 3-A plan saved $60 million, and spared as many as 1,400 homes, relative to the 3-C plan that initially had been favored by the UDCA team. The FHWA gave final approval to the 3-A expressway plan in January 1969.

In its final report published in December 1970, the UDCA team gave its blessing to the 3-A plan as follows:

The 3-A System is based on the fundamental principle that the heart of the city, the Central Business District (CBD) and its immediate environs, should continue to serve as the center of commerce and culture of the Baltimore Metropolitan Area. As such, the highway network should maximize accessibility to the CBD, but minimize impacts by routing "through" traffic around this area through other corridors.

This principle dictates the separation of local CBD-destined traffic from "through" traffic and required major changes in the 10-D System, including the following:

  • Reduction in size and type of facility in the Inner City. Rather than I-95 and I-70N passing through the Inner City, a non-Interstate "City Boulevard" (now Martin L. King, Jr. Boulevard) was proposed which would ring the CBD and utilize existing at-grade city streets.

  • Elimination of the I-95 bridge across the Inner Harbor.

  • Provision of three freeway "spurs" to carry local traffic to and from the CBD: I-395, I-170, and I-83. I-395 will be a spur from I-95 serving traffic to and from the south of the city. I-170 is to be a spur from I-70N serving traffic to and from the west, while I-83, when complete, will be a route between I-695 and I-95 serving traffic to and from the north and east, but also functioning as two spurs.

This illustration shows the 3-A expressway system as approved by the Federal government in 1969, with updates through 1981. Although the 3-A system mileage was only half-completed, all of the I-95 mileage was opened in 1985 with the completion of the Fort McHenry Tunnel and immediate approaches. (Map adapted from the original Interstate Division for Baltimore City, 3-A System Current Status Map [1981].)

THE SECOND BATTLE OF FORT MCHENRY: In 1970, officials announced plans to build an eight-lane, dual-deck suspension bridge across Baltimore Harbor at the site of the current tunnel. Under the Section 4(f) provisions of the US Department of Transportation Act of 1966, the Fort McHenry National Monument - the site where Francis Scott Key penned the "Star-Spangled Banner" during the Battle of Baltimore in 1814 - was considered a historic site requiring protection. This point was not lost on the residents of the Locust Point, who protested the elevated highway plans for I-95 in a 1971 public hearing. After studies found that the bridge would have deleterious effects on Fort McHenry and the Locust Point peninsula, officials pushed for a tunnel alternative.

In April 1974, Mayor William Schaefer made the following announcement concerning the Fort McHenry Tunnel proposal:

An alternative alignment has been developed for the Fort McHenry segment of the 3-A expressway system that will minimize, if not eliminate completely, the highway impact on the Fort McHenry National Monument.

The proposed eight-lane tunnel and its approaches were estimated to cost $350 million, or one-quarter of the cost of the entire 22-mile expressway network scheduled for completion. As tunnel plans were developed, the alignment was shifted south from directly underneath Fort McHenry. Toward the end of 1974, plans were floated for a freight rail tunnel along the alignment of the Fort McHenry Tunnel to relieve congestion along the B&O (now CSX) Howard Street tunnel, but these plans were short-lived.

Like the Harbor Tunnel before it, the Fort McHenry Tunnel was to be of an immersed-tube design, but there were to be two sets of twin tubes side-by-side. State officials originally sought to use a concrete-box tube design, but Federal officials insisted on a steel tubular design, which the state finally approved in 1976.

The Baltimore City Board of Estimates initially rejected all three design bids for the Fort McHenry Tunnel in November 1977. However, the Board of Estimates eventually negotiated an $8.7 million contract with Sverdrup / Parsons Brinkerhoff (otherwise known as the SPB Joint Venture) because of its experience in tunnel design.

FINANCING HURDLES: As the estimated cost of the tunnel topped the $400 million mark in 1978, work had yet to begin because Maryland law required that Baltimore City pick up the 10 percent of the project cost, and the city was unable to finance this cost. A proposal advanced by U.S. Senator Charles Mathias (R-Maryland) to have the Federal government advance 10 percent of the cost - with Baltimore City repaying the estimated $40 million through tolls until its share was paid off - was rejected by a 45-to-8 vote in August 1978. However, a joint Senate-House conference committee in October 1978 reversed that decision, and by doing so authorized full Federal funding for the tunnel provided that Baltimore City repay its share. The tunnel received the final go-ahead on January 10, 1980, when the U.S. Department of Transportation approved a $100 million grant.

This 2005 photo shows the northbound I-95 approaching EXIT 55 (Key Highway) in the Locust Point neighborhood of Baltimore. The weathering ("corten") steel sign gantry shown here was part of the original construction in the early 1980s and was replaced by 2010. (Photo by Jim K. Georges.)

CONSTRUCTION PROGRESSES: In 1971, work began on a short segment of I-95 near the southern boundary of Baltimore City, and the following year, work began on a segment of I-95 near the northern boundary of Baltimore City. Under the 3-A plan, the more northerly segment of I-95 was given a new alignment east of the existing Harbor Tunnel Thruway (now I-895), as it would be designed to serve local traffic, while I-895 served express traffic.

Completion of I-95 through Baltimore City progressed by section as follows:

  • 1973: 1.3 miles (2.1 kilometers) from EXIT 49 (I-695 / Baltimore Beltway) to EXIT 50 (Caton Avenue.

  • 1975: 2.2 miles (3.6 kilometers) from EXIT 59 (MD 150 / Eastern Avenue) to EXIT 62 (I-895 / Harbor Tunnel Thruway).

  • 1978: 1.9 miles (3.1 kilometers) from EXIT 50 to EXIT 52 (MD 295 / Baltimore-Washington Parkway).

  • 1979: 1.3 miles (2.1 kilometers) from EXIT 57 (O'Donnell Street) to EXIT 59.

  • 1980: 1.0 mile (1.6 kilometers) from EXIT 52 to EXIT 54 (MD 2 / Hanover Street).

  • 1981: 0.8 mile (1.2 kilometers) from EXIT 54 to EXIT 55 (Key Highway).

  • 1982: 0.9 mile (1.5 kilometers) from EXIT 56 (Keith Avenue) to EXIT 57.

  • 1985: 2.5 miles (4.0 kilometers) from EXIT 55 to EXIT 56, including Fort McHenry Tunnel.

AT LONG LAST, I-95 IS COMPLETED THROUGH BALTIMORE: On the afternoon of November 23, 1985, the eight-lane Fort McHenry Tunnel was completed after more than five years of construction, while the completion of the immediate I-95 approaches capped 14 years of construction. When it opened, the Fort McHenry Tunnel was the widest underwater tunnel in the world, a title it still holds today. As construction progressed, the estimated cost had more than doubled to $825 million, but the project was completed under budget at $750 million. Nevertheless, the Fort McHenry Tunnel was the single most expensive project on the Interstate highway system until Boston's $14.5 billion "Big Dig" project of the 1990s and 2000s.

This 2016 photo shows the southbound I-95 approaching EXIT 57 (O'Donnell Street) in Southeast Baltimore. This interchange was to have been the starting point for the Jones Falls Expressway (I-83) under the 3-A expressway plan. The I-83 extension was canceled in the early 1980s. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)

MAJOR RECONSTRUCTION: The first major reconstruction project along this segment was a $24 million project to repair and resurface 22 bridges along I-95 from the Fort McHenry Tunnel north to the I-895 junction. Begun in November 2004, the project was completed in October 2006.

In the spring of 2014, the Maryland Transportation Authority (MdTA), which oversees the state's bridges, tunnels, and immediate approach roads, began work on a $64 million project on the elevated section of I-95 south of the Fort McHenry Tunnel. The project, which was funded by toll revenues, featured the removal and replacement of the existing roadway deck along 4.4 miles of mainline I-95, including 28 bridges, as well as on connecting ramps. It also included roadway drainage work, replacement of expansion joints, and other miscellaneous structural repairs. The project was completed in 2016.

In April 2017, the MdTA began a $49 million project to reconfigure travel lanes on a four-mile stretch of I-95 north of the Fort McHenry Tunnel. The section between EXIT 57 and EXIT 60 was built with only three continuous through lanes in each direction with merge lanes, but upon completion of the project, four through lanes were provided in each direction. The project was completed in the summer of 2018.

According to the MdTA, which has taken over jurisdiction of Baltimore's I-95 from the city, I-95 carries about 120,000 vehicles per day in the area of the Fort McHenry Tunnel, and as many as 170,000 vehicles per day between I-395 and I-695. I-95 has eight continuous through lanes through nearly the entire section, except in the area of EXIT 53 where one through lane in each direction is sent to I-395 (the extra through lane is recovered in each direction after the interchange).

This 2014 photo shows the southbound I-95 approaching EXIT 56 (Keith Avenue) in Southeast Baltimore. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)

SOURCES: "Expressway Pool Plan Announced" by Louis O'Donnell, The Baltimore Sun (3/17/1945); "Plans To Push Expressway," The Baltimore Sun (8/07/1947); "Southwest Expressway Plan Mapped" by Joseph Sterne, The Baltimore Sun (12/16/1956); "Schaefer's Road Advice: Give Up Plan" by John E. Woodruff, The Baltimore Sun (8/21/1966); "Route Is Set on East-West Expressway," The Baltimore Sun (10/19/1968); "Group Supports Road Route Rejected by Design Team," The Baltimore Sun (12/08/1968); "Mayor's Route Choice Averts Harbor Span, Bypasses Rosemont" by John B. O'Donnell, Jr., The Baltimore Sun (12/24/1968); Transportation, Environmental, and Cost Summary: An Evaluation of Three Concepts for Expressway Routes in Baltimore City, Urban Design Concept Associates (1968); "City's 3-A Route Wins Approval of US Agency" by John B. O'Donnell, Jr., The Baltimore Sun (1/18/1969); "Report Asks Fund Shift for Bridge" by Kathy Kraus, The Baltimore Sun (10/27/1970); "Locust Point Bridge Spurs Angry Debate" by James D. Dilts, The Baltimore Sun (3/31/1971); "Bill Would Bar I-95 in South Baltimore," The Baltimore Sun (2/26/1972); "Expressway Opponents Tell Why They Switched to Supporting Road" by James D. Dilts, The Baltimore Sun (2/28/1972); "I-95 Projects Are Begun," The Baltimore Sun (11/04/1972); "Mayor Endorses Tunnel Plan for 3A Expressway" by James D. Dilts, The Baltimore Sun (4/08/1974); "The Road Battle at Fort McHenry" by James D. Dilts, The Baltimore Sun (12/08/1974); Baltimore Regional Environmental Impact Study, Alan M. Vorhees and Associates (1974); "Baltimore Will Get Second Harbor Tunnel" by Ben A. Franklin, Jr., The New York Times (1/11/1980); "Fort McHenry Tunnel Set To Open Soon," The Washington Post (9/24/1985); "I-95 Drivers Get Remedy for Harbor Headache" by Susan Schmidt, The Washington Post (11/23/1985); "Tunnel Speeds I-95 Flow Through Baltimore" by Robert D. Hershey, Jr., The New York Times (11/27/1985); "Mainline Construction To Continue on Mainline Interstate 95," WBAL-TV (3/20/2015); Maryland Department of Transportation; Maryland Transportation Authority; Wagman, Inc.; Alex Nitzman; Mike Pruett; Scott Kozel.

  • I-95 shield by Ralph Herman.
  • I-70N and I-83 shields by Scott Colbert.
  • Lightpost by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.





  • I-95 (Maryland) exit list by Steve Anderson.

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