This 2005 photo shows the beginning of Southeast Boulevard (MD 702) at the multi-level interchange with the Baltimore Beltway (I-695). The initial stretch of MD 702 was built as the "Southeast Freeway" and eventually was to link to a new crossing over Chesapeake Bay. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)
PLANNED ORIGINALLY AS PART OF THE BELTWAY: As the original 35 miles of the Baltimore Beltway were being completed as part of I-695 in the early 1960s, officials at the Maryland State Roads Commission (SRC) devised a plan to close the loop to the east of the city. Because this plan was not covered under the state's Interstate highway mileage allocation, the proposed missing link originally received the MD 695 designation.
The 1964 Baltimore Metropolitan Area Transportation Study (BMATS) devised the following route for the eastern part of the beltway as follows:
Continue southeast of the I-695 / MD 702 interchange along the current alignment of MD 702 (Southeast Boulevard) and Back River Neck Road; then
Veer southwest to a new bridge over the Back River to the Patapsco Freeway (part of the current I-695 / Baltimore Beltway. The wide landscaped median between EXIT 41 and EXIT 42) was to be for the interchange between the original Southeast Freeway extension and the Patapsco Freeway.
The Southeast Freeway received preliminary approval in 1966, and the SRC acquired rights-of-way as far southeast as Back River Neck Road (just past Turkey Point Road) in Essex. Bids went out on the initial construction contracts in 1968; work on the $7.5 million project, which extended from the current site of the I-695 / MD 702 interchange east to Old Eastern Avenue, began in 1969. The project included a fully-directional, but partially completed "stack" interchange at the Windlass Freeway (which featured a 1,407-foot-long curved steel plate girder bridge, at the time the longest in the state), a partial cloverleaf at MD 150 (Eastern Avenue), and a T-intersection at Old Eastern Avenue.
As work was well underway on the Southeast Freeway, the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA), the successor to the SRC, rerouted the eastern portion of the Baltimore Beltway in 1972. Although community concerns weighed heavily on this decision, the rerouting eliminated the need for a bridge over the Back River near Essex Airport. (A remnant of this old plan can be found in the wide median of I-695 between EXIT 41 and EXIT 42; the interchange with the Southeast Freeway / Back River bridge route would have been built there.) Not long after this rerouting, the Southeast Freeway received a new designation: MD 702.
The original 2.1-mile-section of MD 702 was opened to traffic in 1973. The SHA appeared poised to extend the expressway another 2.1 miles southeast to Back Neck River Road, but a lack of funding shelved plans for the extension by 1978. Over the years, the MD 702 terminus at Old Eastern Avenue averaged more than 50 accidents per year, prompting officials to install rumble strips toward the end of the expressway and a double-steel guardrail to prevent nearby property damage.
BUILT PARTIALLY AS A BOULEVARD: With the cancellation of the Southeast Expressway plan in 1978, officials at the SRC developed new plans for MD 702. In deference to community concerns, the route was to be developed as a four-lane arterial boulevard with a 40 MPH maximum speed limit (raised to 45 MPH in 2000), a prohibition on trucks weighing more than five tons, and sound walls along residential neighborhoods. Like the original expressway plan, the proposed boulevard was to end at Back River Neck Road.
Signaled intersections were placed at the following locations:
Old Eastern Avenue (former MD 702 terminus) East Homberg Avenue Mansfield Road Middleborough Road Hyde Park Road (converted into a roundabout in 2005)
Construction began on Southeast Boulevard extension in 1987. The entire length of MD 702 was completed in 1990.
According to the SHA, MD 702 carries approximately 50,000 vehicles per day (AADT) from the I-695 interchange southeast to MD 150, about 25,000 vehicles per day from MD 150 southeast to Middleborough Road, and 15,000 vehicles per day from Middleborough Road southeast to Back River Neck Road. Although MD 702 serves has eased congestion on nearby Back Neck River Road, the combination of high speeds and at-grade intersections continue to contribute to a high rate of accidents on this highway.
This 2005 photo shows Southeast Boulevard (MD 702) looking southeast toward the Mansfield Road intersection in Essex. Southeast Boulevard was built in the late 1980s as a limited-access arterial in the right-of-way reserved for the originally planned Southeast Freeway, which was to have had full access control. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)
CANCELING EXPRESSWAY PLANS: Through much of the 1960s, the SRC favored building the Southeast Freeway as far south as Back River Neck Road, with a jog southwest over the Back River to the Patapsco Freeway / Baltimore Beltway alignment. The Regional Planning Council (RPC), an independent state agency, drafted a "Suggested Development Plan" in 1967 that included the Southeast Freeway, but funds were not allocated for this freeway, with the exception of the initial 2.1-mile-long stretch between I-695 and MD 150.
By the mid-1970s, the SHA focused its attention on completing the Interstate highway network in Baltimore City, leaving lower-priority route like the Southeast Freeway devoid of funding. In 1977, the RPC drafted that eliminated many of the freeways recommended in the 1964 BMATS plan and the 1967 "Suggested Development Plan," shifting the focus of development in favor of the Baltimore Metro and other mass transit. With the formal adoption of the plan in 1978, the Southeast Freeway was canceled.
AN APPROACH FOR A NEW BAY BRIDGE? The Southeast Freeway was considered as a western approach route for the long-proposed bridge connecting Essex with Tolchester Beach over Chesapeake Bay. Plans for the proposed Essex-Tolchester Beach bridge were first developed in 1907; the Great Depression killed a 1927 plan to build a privately-financed bridge, while World War II killed a 1938 plan to build a toll-financed bridge built by the state. Perhaps the most serious attempt at an Essex-Tolchester Beach bridge came in a 1964 SRC study, which proposed a 6.9-mile-long span connecting Tolchester Beach with Hart-Miller Island, and a western 1.0-mile-long span connecting Hart-Miller Island with Essex.
The bridge itself was to have had only two lanes (one in each direction), but the "Back River Neck Approach" would have connected directly into the Southeast Freeway. On the Eastern Shore, a highway on new right-of-way would have linked the proposed bridge to US 301 near Centreville, Queen Anne's County.
Some posters in the misc.transport.road newsgroup have suggested that if it were built today, the northern Chesapeake Bay Crossing would receive the I-70 designation, with I-70 being extended along the northern half of the Baltimore Beltway and the Southeast Freeway to the bridge. However, the SRC has no current plans to either build the northern Bay Bridge or extend I-70 eastward.
SOURCES: "Tawes OK's $60 Million Roads Plan," The Baltimore Sun (7/03/1966); "20-Year Highway Needs Study," Maryland State Roads Commission (1968); "Contracts Given for Nine Projects," The Baltimore Sun (7/13/1970); "State Primary Highway System," Maryland Department of Transportation (1972); "Life at the End of the Expressway Can Be Hazardous" by Russ Robinson, The Baltimore Sun (11/18/1980); " Roundabout To Be Built at Intersection in Essex" "by Joe Nawrozki, The Baltimore Sun (9/09/2005); Major Transportation Milestones in the Baltimore Region Since 1940," Baltimore Metropolitan Council (2006); HistoricAerials.com; Scott Kozel; Mike Pruett; Alexander Svirsky.
MD 702 and I-70 shields by Scott Colbert. Lightposts by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.