Saturday, February 17, 2007

I-170 A Scar From a Dark Past

I-170, The Former I-170, I-595, Interstate 0, Highway in the Ditch, Highway to nowhere, and the Franklin-Mulberry Expressway. These are just a few of the nick names given to the 1.5 mile stretch of U.S. 40 that randomly becomes an expressway in West Baltimore just before Downtown. If there were as many solutions for this roadway as there are nicknames we be in much better shape.I-70 was supposed to go beyond its current terminus through Leakin and Gwynns Falls park, meet Hilton Parkway, and have a spur called I-170 that would run between route 40 (Franklin Street Westbound and Mulberry Street East bound) and eventually end at I-95 near Caton Avenue where there are still ghost ramps as evidence. Work began on I-170 by destroying hundreds of middle class black row homes along Franklin and Mulberry Streets to make room for I-170. The neighborhoods of Harlem Park, Midtown Edmodson, Upton, Murphy Homes (Now Heritage Crossing) used to connect to the neighborhoods of Carroll South Hilton, Franklin Square and Poppleton. These neighborhoods have now become crime ridden and blighted.
A part of I-170 opened in 1976 under the assumption that I-70 would extend to meet I-95. Well funny story the city opposed the I-70 extension so much that it was canceled and the part of I-170 was eventually renamed as a part of route 40. I-170/Route 40 was constructed below grade and its cross streets have bridges going over them no interchanges and some of these bridges are for pedestrians not cars further tearing neighborhoods on either side of the freeway apart. Space was left for a rail line in between the directions of the freeway. Not surprisingly the neighborhoods have decayed significantly since the construction of the freeway. Public Housing high rises built after World War II also contributed greatly to the decline of these neighborhoods.
Today this section of West Baltimore has seen an unprecedented amount of interest as far as investment goes. The Red line of Baltimore's Regional Rail Plan will run through the corridor, there has been redevelopment in Harlem Park, and Murphy Homes and Lexington Terrace high rises have been replaced by the mixed income communities of Heritage Crossing and Townes at the Terraces respectively. Perhaps the biggest level of investment has been University of Maryland's new biotech park in poppleton.
Now where does that leave the former I-170? The same place it was when the roadway opened minus the name change to Route 40. Since the neighborhoods surrounding the corridor have a long way to go something should still be done. And that something is? Dismantle the whole road and reroute all traffic to Franklin and Mulberry Streets just like it was before the whole interstate revolt started and rebuild the homes that were demolished to build the freeway. The bridges that are pedestrian only would be reopened to vehicular traffic literally sewing the neighborhoods back together. The Red line will be underground where the freeway is now so as not to interrupt the neighborhoods as should all rail lines present and future. With the dismantling of one of the biggest highway mistakes these neighborhoods will once again thrive.


Douglas A. Willinger said...

Deck over the depressed trench with new development and add a light rail in its median would be infinitely more sensible then demolition.

Anonymous said...

They should continue the bulldozing and finish the project - connect it to I-70. West baltimore is worthless, so why not at least make it easy to get into and out of the only good part of Baltimore.

Douglas A. Willinger said...

"and some of these bridges are for pedestrians not cars further tearing neighborhoods on either side of the freeway apart."

By that standard, failing to complete the freeway tears apart neighborhoods regionally.

Anonymous said...

It seems that this is now happening, from the current news reports. Obama said that building roads would improve the economy. I guess Baltimore would prefer to remain destitute. :-(

Douglas A. Willinger said...

Likewise with that failure to connect the MLK corridor with I-83.

Note that the buildings along the northern MLK and just beyond towards I-83, such as the music hall and the "Fitzgerald" are relatively new, so preservation was NOT the reason, nor a lack of distance for a tunnel transition beneath the Howard Street RR tunnel.

Anonymous said...

I-170 / US-40 took all that traffic off the surface streets. Lots of folks would love a bypass like that where they live so they can actually walk around their neighborhood without all the annoying traffic. Interesting that you say the pedestrian bridges have severed the neighborhood. Those bridges are 1 block long. Roads are for people to drive through; pedestrian bridges are where you see, speak, and pass you neighbors all the way.

You are using the freeway as an excuse for the blight which would have happened anyway. A road to nowhere? Nope, a road from the west side to the downtown, soon to have a light rail system as well.