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This 2004 photo shows the northbound Baltimore-Washington Parkway (MD 295) approaching the exit for MD 197 (Laurel-Bowie Road) in Laurel. (Photo by Alex Nitzman, www.aaroads.com.)

EARLY PARKWAY PLANNING: As early as 1923, business groups in Baltimore and Washington proposed a controlled-access parkway connecting the two cities. The design of the landscaped, 32-mile-long parkway was inspired by the parkway system being developed by master planner Robert Moses in the New York metropolitan area. In 1924, Harry W. Nice called for prompt construction of the parkway during his gubernatorial run that year.

Around this time, the National Capital Park and Planning Commission called for construction of a "Fort Meade Parkway" that was to connect Washington with Fort Meade, and eventually with Baltimore. The proposed route was to follow the existing US 1 (Baltimore-Washington Boulevard) and the B&O Railroad north to MD 198 (Fort Meade Road), then continue east to Fort Meade. However, the lack of a dedicated funding source - which proved crucial in the development of New York's parkway system - shelved plans for the parkway. Instead, officials focused on widening the existing US 1 from two to four lanes.

The proposed parkway appeared to receive a new lease on life during the 1930's. The New Deal programs instituted by President Franklin Roosevelt as a response to the Great Depression raised hopes for construction of the parkway, as did a 1937 report by the Maryland State Planning Commission (titled "Regional Planning Part IV; Baltimore-Washington-Annapolis
Area, Guiding Principles and Criteria for Future Action for the 2,500 Square Mile Area"). A preliminary proposal mapped the route of the parkway west of US 1 (roughly in the area of the current I-95) to serve a proposed national forest. However, in anticipation of suburban development, the updated proposal featured a parkway built to accommodate existing and future development of tracts owned by the Federal government.

To facilitate construction, the four-lane parkway was to be built mostly on an abandoned railroad right-of-way. Like the earlier proposal, the road was to incorporate aspects of modern parkway design that had been developed during the previous decade.

By the end of the 1930's, the existing four-lane US 1 no longer could handle the more than 10,000 vehicles per day (AADT) - which often skyrocketed to 25,000 vehicles per day during peak weekends - that traveled the road. The lethal mix of numerous roadside establishments, the absence of a median barrier, and the lack of left-turn lanes gave US 1 an accident rate more than double that of other state highways.

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 Baltimore and Washington. 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 Baltimore-Washington Parkway did not receive any special wartime funding.

This 2005 photo shows the northbound Baltimore-Washington Parkway (MD 295) approaching the exit for MD 175 (Jessup Road) in Jessup. At this point, jurisdiction over the parkway passes from the National Parks Service to the Maryland Department of Transportation. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)

THE WAR ACCELERATES PLANS: Despite the continuation of the war, Federal, state, and Baltimore city officials continued to draft plans for the parkway. Indeed, Maryland officials followed the lead of the Federal government in pushing for construction of the parkway for defense purposes, as well as promoting development of Friendship International Airport (now Baltimore-Washington International, or BWI Airport).

In 1944, Federal and state officials commissioned the firm J.E. Greiner Company to draft designs for the parkway. The following termini were selected for the parkway:

  • At its southern terminus, the parkway was to form a "Y"-intersection with New York Avenue (US 50) and the proposed Anacostia Freeway. Additional provisions were to be made for a future parkway connecting to Annapolis (which eventually became the John Hanson Highway).

  • At its northern terminus, the parkway was to split to the west by crossing Washington Boulevard (US 1) and Frederick Avenue (MD 144) before ending at Franklin Street west of downtown Baltimore. The easterly split of the parkway was to continue as a freeway over the Inner Harbor, continuing north and east to US 40 (Pulaski Highway).

The Greiner plan was modified plan in 1945 when Nathan L. Smith, Baltimore's chief engineer, recommended a straight run into downtown Baltimore via Russell Street. The route not only provided the most direct route into downtown, but also spared hundreds of residential properties. However, the issue of an east-west freeway across the Inner Harbor would not be resolved for several more decades.

BUILDING MARYLAND'S FIRST FREEWAY: The Baltimore-Washington Parkway was designed to be a demonstration project for the state's proposed interregional highway system (later the Interstate highway system.) Construction of the northernmost 12 miles of the parkway - the section under state jurisdiction - began in 1947. The parkway was designed with two 24-foot-wide concrete roadways (each carrying two through traffic lanes) separated by a landscaped median measuring as much as 113 feet wide. However, the roadbed was graded to accommodate an additional travel lane. Upon approach to Baltimore from the south, the roadways measured 40 feet wide (each accommodating three through traffic lanes and a small paved shoulder), and the two roadways were separated by a 10-foot-wide guiderailed median. Other features included extended acceleration-deceleration lanes and grades held to a maximum of two percent.

The 350-foot-wide right-of-way provided a landscaped buffer between the parkway and surrounding areas. Stone-arch overpasses carried intersecting roads over the parkway outside the city of Baltimore, while more conventional girder and concrete arch overpasses were used within city limits. Because Maryland law prohibited restrictions against trucks on state-built roads when the road was built, it was designated by the state as an "expressway."

The 18.8 miles of parkway under Federal jurisdiction from MD 175 south to US 50 began in 1950. Since trucks were to be prohibited along the Federal section, designers had more leeway to implement more landscape design elements such as tighter curves and stone (instead of steel) guiderails.

The state-owned section of parkway was completed in 1952, while the entire parkway opened to traffic on October 22, 1954. When it opened, motorists could travel the 30.8 miles in 45 minutes on the 55 MPH parkway. The total cost of the parkway was kept to $35 million because the road traversed mostly through parkland and Federally owned land.

THE PARKWAY PROMOTES SUBURBANIZATION: Around the time that the parkway opened, the National Capital Park and Planning Commission, as well as other government agencies, recommended that the Federal government relocate some Federal agencies outside the immediate vicinity of Washington in response to fears of a nuclear attack. The National Security Agency (NSA) moved to Fort Meade in 1957, followed by the establishment of the Goddard Space Center two years later. As government employees were relocated out of Washington, suburban developments were built in places such in Greenbelt, Beltsville, Laurel, Severn, and Bowie to house employees and their families.

To the north, the opening of the parkway promoted the development of Friendship (Baltimore-Washington) International Airport. The lure of inexpensive, spacious housing lured thousands of people out of Baltimore city and into Anne Arundel County, which was just a short drive down the parkway.

This 2003 photo shows the northbound Baltimore-Washington Parkway (MD 295) at the Ridge Road overpass approaching the exit for I-195 and BWI Airport in Linthicum Heights. (Photo by Jim K. Georges.)

IT WAS AN INTERSTATE HIGHWAY, BUT ONLY FOR A SHORT TIME: In 1963, the State Roads Commission, the National Parks Service, and the Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) agreed tentatively to turn over the 18.8 miles of Federally-run parkway to the state. Under this agreement, the state was to maintain the parkway and bring this section of parkway - which was the most dangerous section of roadway in the National Parks system - up to modern design standards. The agreement also permitted trucks and buses to use the parkway. However, this was an agreement Maryland officials were reluctant to carry out because of the construction costs involved with modernization, which was estimated at between $120 million and $150 million.

In 1968, the State Roads Commission proposed to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) that it would carry out the agreement if the entire length of the parkway was re-designated I-295. (At the time, the parkway was marked "Temporary I-95.") The I-295 designation would continue south onto the Anacostia Freeway in Washington. Although the parkway received the I-295 designation in January 1969, no money was available to modernize the parkway. Seven months later, I-295 was deleted from the Baltimore-Washington Parkway upon the restoration of several routes in the Washington metropolitan area to the Interstate system (many of these routes were traded in for that city's Metro system). The state-owned section of the parkway maintained the MD 295 designation, while the Federally-owned section received no route designation.

Despite the removal of the I-295 designation, state officials still desired to widen the existing parkway to six or eight lanes. The 1970 Highway Act provided $65 million in Federal funds to modernize and widen the parkway, but this was not enough to bring the parkway to current standards. The parkway appeared to have its best hope at modernization in 1973 when I-95 was cancelled from New York Avenue (US 50) north to the Capital Beltway (I-495); it was then suggested that I-95 be rerouted along New York Avenue and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.

Although this and subsequent widening proposals on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway were shelved, the completion of eight-lane I-95 between Baltimore and Washington in 1971 reduced congestion and removed most trucks from the parkway. Upon completion of this section of I-95, the ban on trucks and buses was reinstated on the Federally-owned section of parkway.

A CLOSE CALL: On August 31, 1989, a new overpass being built to carry MD 198 (Laurel-Fort Meade Road) over the parkway collapsed during the morning rush hour. About 400 tons of steel and concrete came crashing down on the roadway, injuring 14 motorists and construction workers. An independent investigation commissioned by the FHWA determined that faulty scaffolding (which supported the unfinished overpass) caused the accident. In the wake of this accident, Federal and state officials demanded better oversight of falsework construction plans.

MODERNIZING THE PARKWAY: In 2002, the Federal government completed a two-decade-long modernization of 18.8 miles of the parkway from Washington to Jessup. Although no new capacity was added, the $177 million project brought rebuilt bridges, ramps, and interchanges; improvements to pavement and drainage; and safety enhancements.

In October 2008, work began to widen 1.5 miles of the parkway from I-695 (Baltimore Beltway) south to I-195. First announced by then-Governor Robert Ehrlich in 2004, the $13 million project is scheduled for completion in late 2011. The state also is initiating studies for widening an additional three miles of parkway from I-195 south to MD 100 (Paul T. Pitcher Memorial Highway).

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Baltimore-Washington Parkway carries approximately 100,000 vehicles per day (AADT). This represents a five-fold traffic increase since the parkway opened more than 50 years ago.

MEMORIALIZING GLADYS SPELLMAN: The Baltimore-Washington Parkway was ceremonially renamed after Gladys Spellman upon her death in 1988. Spellman was an educator for many years in the Prince Georges County school system and chaired the National Mental Health Study Center. In 1962, she became the first woman elected to the county's Board of Commissioners, and later she chaired that body. Her six-year term in Congress beginning in 1975 was marked by her achievements in ending discrimination against the handicapped and elderly. A cardiac arrest left her paralyzed and forced her to leave Congress in 1981.

This 2005 photo shows the southbound Baltimore-Washington Parkway (MD 295) approaching the exit for MD 648 (Annapolis Road) within Baltimore city limits. (Photo by Jim K. Georges.)

FOR A SAFER PARKWAY: The Baltimore-Washington Parkway should be widened to six lanes (three in each direction) along the entire length of the parkway to alleviate congestion. In addition, appropriate lighting should be installed at interchanges. Finally, the MD 295 designation should be applied to the entire length of the parkway - included the currently unposted, Federally-maintained section - to avoid motorist confusion.

SOURCES: "Baltimore-Washington Parkway: A New Link Is Projected with the Nation's Capital" by Avery McBee, The Baltimore Sun (10/11/1936); "The Baltimore-Washington Parkway," Baltimore Magazine (August 1950); "Expressway Ribbons Cut" by George W. Combs, The Baltimore Sun (10/23/1954); "State to Get DC Parkway," The Baltimore News-Post (8/16/1963); "State Is Found Unwilling To Take Over the Parkway," The Baltimore Sun (4/20/1969); "Parkway Won't Become Part of Interstate" by Horace Ayres, The Baltimore Sun (8/22/1969); "Battle Brews on Widening of Baltimore-DC Road" by James D. Dilts, The Baltimore Sun (12/09/1974); "Parkway Plans Narrowed" by Barry C. Rascovar, The Baltimore Sun (7/05/1976); "Bridge Temporary Works Research Program," Public Roads (September 1991); "The Baltimore-Washington Parkway: The Modern Highway in the Suburban Context" by Anne C. Bruder, National Trust for Historic Preservation (2000); "1.5-Mile Stretch of BW Parkway Is Being Widened" by Michael Dresser, The Baltimore Sun (10/23/2008); Maryland Department of Transportation; National Parks Service; Robert V. Droz; Scott Kozel; Scott Oglesby; Mike Pruett; Douglas A. Willinger.

  • MD 295 shield by Mike Pruett.
  • I-295 shield by Ralph Herman.

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