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This 2002 photo shows the southbound John F. Kennedy Highway (I-95) about one mile north of EXIT 64 (I-695 / Baltimore Beltway) in White Marsh. (Photo by Jim K. Georges.)

PLANNED AS A BYPASS OF US 1 AND US 40: As early as 1939, Federal officials had planned a freeway through northeastern Maryland to bypass congested US 1 and US 40. The route was part of a skeletal 14,300-mile-long Interstate highway system, and was an integral part of wartime highway plans. Later, the route was conceived as a link to a proposed crossing of Baltimore's Inner Harbor. However, with non-essential funding reallocated to immediate wartime uses, the proposed freeway had to wait.

Officials in Maryland began to draft specific plans for what was then called the "Northeast Expressway" in 1955. One year later, the route was included in the Interstate highway system as I-95, making it eligible for 90 percent Federal funding. However, funding for other Interstate highways such as the Baltimore (I-695) and Capital (I-495) beltways, as well as urban freeways in those two metropolitan areas, took precedence over the Northeast Expressway. The state highway development program scheduled construction of the Northeast Expressway between 1966 and 1970, long after the aforementioned projects were to be scheduled for completion.

ON THE FAST TRACK TO CONSTRUCTION: In order to expedite construction of I-95, the Maryland State Roads Commission decided to finance construction and maintenance of the expressway with bonds backed by toll revenue. The state, which floated a $73 million bond issue to finance construction of the Northeast Expressway, did not violate Federal highway law because state funds were used to finance construction. However, the highway was to be built to Interstate standards.

With financing obtained, officials finally were able to transition from design to construction work. Crews began construction of the Northeast Expressway in January 1962. The road originally was 49 miles long, beginning at US 40 (Pulaski Highway) in Baltimore and continuing north to the Maryland-Delaware border. (The southernmost 0.6 mile of the route was incorporated into I-895 / Harbor Tunnel Thruway more than 20 years later.)

Interchanges were built at the following locations (they were sequentially numbered at the time of construction, and did not convert to a mileage-based system until the mid-1980's):

  • old EXIT 1 / current EXIT 62: I-95 / I-895 split, Baltimore; this exit did not open until the late 1970's

  • old EXIT 2 / current EXIT 64: I-695 (Baltimore Beltway), Rosedale

  • old EXIT 3 / current EXIT 67: MD 43 (White Marsh Boulevard), White Marsh

  • old EXIT 4 / current EXIT 77: MD 24, Abingdon

  • old EXIT 5 / current EXIT 85: MD 22, Bel Air

  • old EXIT 6 / current EXIT 89: MD 155, Havre de Grace

  • old EXIT 7 / current EXIT 93: US 222 (now MD 222), Perryville

  • old EXIT 8 / current EXIT 100: MD 272, North East

  • old EXIT 9 / current EXIT 109: MD 279, Elkton

The expressway was designed with three through travel lanes in each direction from US 40 in Baltimore north to MD 43 in White Marsh, and two lanes in each direction from MD 43 north to the Maryland-Delaware border. Variable grass medians and strategically placed hills added variety to the route, helping motorists avoid the "highway hypnosis" associated with long stretches of straight highway. The wide grass median was designed to accommodate up to two additional travel lanes in each direction.

A one-dollar toll was charged upon crossing the new Susquehanna River bridge named in honor of Millard E. Tydings, a longtime Congressman and Senator who died in 1961. The Millard E. Tydings Bridge, a multi-span girder span connecting Havre de Grace with Perryville, was built originally to accommodate six travel lanes, but when it opened it carried four travel lanes and full-width shoulders. It was restriped to accommodate two additional travel lanes in 1972. Additional ramp tolls also were erected, but they were removed by the early 1980's.

Just north of MD 543 (current EXIT 80) in Aberdeen, a service area was built in the median of the expressway. The Maryland House service area has two service stations and a two-story brick restaurant. When it opened, the lower floor had a conventional dining area, snack bar, and tourist information center, while the upper floor was reserved for private parties. Unlike the "cookie-cutter" restaurants found along other turnpikes of the era, this restaurant served traditional Maryland dishes such as fresh chicken and soft shell crab.

On November 15, 1963, just one week before his assassination, President John F. Kennedy opened the 49 miles of the Northeast Expressway and the 11 miles of the Delaware Turnpike at the Delaware-Maryland border. The border, more popularly known as the Mason-Dixon line, also celebrated its bicentennial that day. In addition to President Kennedy, Robert Moses presided over the opening of I-95 in Delaware and Maryland.

On April 7, 1964, the Northeast Expressway was renamed the "John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway" in honor of the slain 35th President.

This 2005 photo shows the southbound John F. Kennedy Highway (I-95) approaching EXIT 100 (MD 272) in North East. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)

EXPANDING TO MEET GROWING TRAFFIC NEEDS: In 1971, the Maryland Transportation Authority (MdTA) was organized to assume control of the state's bridges, tunnels, and toll roads, including the J.F. Kennedy Memorial Highway.

As the transition from the State Roads Commission to the MdTA took place, construction was underway to widen I-95 to six lanes from MD 43 in White Marsh north to the Maryland-Delaware border. This work, which was completed in 1972, included a realignment of carriageways near milepost 97 in North East to accommodate a wider median for a second service area. The Chesapeake House, which has two service stations and a restaurant building of more contemporary design, was opened in 1975.

During the late 1980's and early 1990's, the MdTA undertook a second major expansion project. I-95 was widened to eight lanes from EXIT 62 (I-895) north to EXIT 77 (MD 24) in 1994. It also was during this period that two new exits were built: EXIT 74 (MD 152) in Joppa and EXIT 80 (MD 543) in Aberdeen. New ramps also were built at EXIT 77 (MD 24) and EXIT 85 (MD 22). However, a plan to create an HOV lane in the newly constructed left-hand lanes never was implemented.

The 1990's also saw other changes to the highway. In 1991, the MdTA opened a newly expanded toll plaza in Perryville to collect tolls from northbound traffic. Southbound traffic no longer had to pay a toll. In conjunction with this project, interchange ramps at EXIT 93 (MD 222) from northbound I-95 were moved past the MD 222 underpass. Five years later, a truck weigh station was built along the southbound lanes of I-95 at the site of the Perryville toll plaza.

The MdTA plans to spend $22 million through 2010 to install new express EZ-Pass lanes on the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway (I-95), as well as at the Fort McHenry and Harbor tunnels. At the JFK toll plaza, workers plan to remove the four innermost tollbooths and replace them with two 30 MPH "high speed" lanes (one northbound and one southbound).

MORE IMPROVEMENTS PLANNED: In 2001, the MdTA initiated studies for expanding the entire length of the John F. Kennedy Highway from EXIT 62 (I-895) north to the Maryland-Delaware border. In addition to the "no-build" alternative, the following five alternatives were discussed:

  • ALTERNATIVE 2 (all tolled lanes): This alternative would keep the existing lane configurations, but all lanes would be tolled from the Baltimore city line to the Delaware-Maryland border. Because implementation of this alternative likely would divert traffic onto congested US 40 and US 1, the MdTA dropped this alternative from further study.

  • ALTERNATIVE 3 (widening with HOV lanes): Under this alternative, there would be widening from the current 4-4 lane configuration to a 6-6 setup from EXIT 62 (I-895) north to EXIT 64 (I-695); widening from the current 4-4 lane configuration to a 5-5 setup (the inner lane in each direction would be an HOV lane) from EXIT 64 north to EXIT 67 (MD 43); keeping the current 4-4 lane configuration from EXIT 67 north to EXIT 77 (MD 24); and widening from the current 3-3 lane configuration to a 4-4 setup from EXIT 77 north to the Maryland-Delaware border. Because the HOV lane was found to provide minimal traffic relief, particularly on weekends when the HOV restriction likely would be dropped, the MdTA dropped this alternative from further study.

  • ALTERNATIVE 4 (widening with reversible toll express lanes): Under this alternative, there would be widening from the current 4-4 and 3-3 lane configurations to a 4-2-4 setup from EXIT 62 (I-895) north to EXIT 80 (MD 543); and widening from the current 3-3 lane configuration to a 4-4 setup from EXIT 80 north to the Maryland-Delaware border, with all lanes open to free general use. The reversible two lanes in the median (technically called "managed lanes") would be express toll lanes. Because the reversible lanes were likely to contribute to operational failure during peak weekend periods, the MdTA dropped this alternative from further study.

  • ALTERNATIVE 5: The existing I-95 would be widened from its current 4-4 and 3-3 lane configurations to a 4-2-2-4 lane configuration from EXIT 62 (I-895) north to EXIT 80 (MD 543). The center express lanes would be tolled electronically. From EXIT 80 north to the Maryland-Delaware border, the existing 3-3 lane configuration would be widened to a 4-4 setup, with all lanes open to free general use. This alternative was kept for further evaluation.

  • ALTERNATIVE 6: Under this alternative, there would be widening from the current 4-4 lane configuration to a 6-6 setup from EXIT 62 (I-895) north to EXIT 64 (I-695); widening from the current 4-4 lane configuration to a 2-5-5-2 setup (outer lanes would be collector-distributor lanes) from EXIT 64 north to EXIT 67 (MD 43); widening from the current 4-4 lane configuration to a 6-6 setup from EXIT 67 north to EXIT 74 (MD 152); widening from the current 4-4 and 3-3 lane configurations to a 5-5 setup from EXIT 74 north to EXIT 80 (MD 543); and widening from the current 3-3 lane configuration to a 4-4 setup from EXIT 80 north to the Maryland-Delaware border. This alternative was kept for further evaluation.

After four years of design studies and public hearings, the MdTA decided upon the following alternative for the southernmost section of the highway:

  • SECTION 100 (eight miles long; from EXIT 62 to milepost 70): This section currently carries about 165,000 vehicles per day (AADT), a number that is expected to increase to 225,000 vehicles per day by 2025. To accommodate this additional volume, the MdTA adopted "alternative 5," which calls for a 4-2-2-4 lane setup with express toll lanes. In addition, EXIT 62 is being rebuilt to eliminate left-lane exit and entrance ramps to and from I-895, EXIT 64 is being rebuilt as a multi-level "stack" interchange that would eliminate left-lane exits and entrances along the main roadways (as well as the brief carriageway "crossovers" on both I-95 and I-695), and EXIT 67 is being rebuilt to replace cloverleaf loop ramps with flyover ramps connecting to and from MD 43. The $830 million project began in 2006 and is slated for completion in 2011.

  • SECTION 200 (seven miles long; from milepost 70 to EXIT 77): This section currently carries about 140,000 vehicles per day, and is likely to carry more than 200,000 vehicles per day by 2025. To meet growing traffic needs, the existing 4-4 lane configuration would be expanded to a 4-2-2-4 lane configuration (with express toll "managed" lanes) north to EXIT 80 (MD 543). North of EXIT 80, the existing roadway would be expanded from its current 3-3 lane configuration to a 4-4 lane configuration. Although no construction or cost estimates have been provided for building this section, one piece of the project has received the green light. Additional improvements at EXIT 77 (MD 24) includes widened ramps with improved sight distances between I-95 and MD 24, and a new grade-separated "diamond" interchange on MD 24 with nearby MD 924. The I-95 / MD 24 / MD 924 interchange project began in late 2006, with completion scheduled for early 2009.

The MdTA still is studying the following sections of the highway, with a description of the most likely scenario:

  • SECTION 300 (three miles long, from EXIT 77 to EXIT 80): This section currently carries about 100,000 vehicles per day, but is expected to carry 50 percent more traffic by 2025. The MdTA is likely to expand the current 3-3 lane configuration in section 300 to a 4-4 lane configuration.

  • SECTION 400 (30 miles long, from EXIT 80 to the Maryland-Delaware border): This section currently carries about 75,000 vehicles per day, but is expected to carry more than 110,000 vehicles per day by 2025. Like in section 300, the MdTA is likely to expand the current 3-3 lane configuration in section 400 to a 4-4 lane configuration. This setup is likely to require a major reconstruction of the Millard E. Tydings (Susquehanna River) Bridge.

YESTERDAY: This 1964 photo shows the northbound I-95 over the Millard E. Tydings Memorial Bridge over the Susquehanna River. Note there are only four travel lanes on the bridge. (Photo by Maryland State Highway Administration.)

AND TODAY: This 2002 photo shows the northbound I-95 coming off the Millard E. Tydings Memorial Bridge. The right shoulders in each direction were replaced by two additional travel lanes in 1971. Longer-term plans call for a reconstruction and widening of the bridge with two more travel lanes and additional shoulders. (Photo by Jim K. Georges.)

SOURCES: "North by East: 20,000 Cars a Day" by Edward J. Birrane, The Baltimore News-American (9/29/1963); "New York-Washington Road Now Nonstop" by Ben A. Franklin, The New York Times (11/14/1963); "Kennedy, on Mason-Dixon Line, Opens Part of North-South Road" by Marjorie Hunter, The New York Times (11/15/1963); Maryland State Highway Administration; Maryland Transportation Authority; Scott Kozel; Alex Nitzman; Mike Pruett; William F. Yurasko.

  • I-95 shield by Ralph Herman.
  • John F. Kennedy Highway shield photo by Alex Nitzman
  • Lightposts by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.

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