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News Obituaries

Walter E. Woodford Jr., highway engineer

Walter E. Woodford Jr., a state highway engineer and executive who supervised road construction projects from Ocean City to Garrett County and headed the building of the second span of the Bay Bridge in 1973, died of congestive heart failure May 22 at the Hospice Center in Centreville. He was 88 and had lived in Timonium and Centreville.

"If you are a transportation engineer, you have to say he was a key player in the greatest generation of highway engineers, those who built the national interstate system, the largest public works project in our history," said former Maryland Transportation Secretary William K. Hellmann.

Born in Centreville, Mr. Woodford was the son of Walter E. Woodford, a Centreville postmaster, and Margaret Foard, a homemaker. A 1941 Centreville High School graduate, he played alto saxophone in a school band and attended Washington College.

He entered the Army during World War II and was assigned to an engineering unit as a technical sergeant. Assigned to the Pacific, he earned a battle star during the invasion of Okinawa.

After the war, he earned a bachelor's degree in engineering from the Johns Hopkins University. He then became a construction project engineer for the old Maryland State Roads Commission, later the State Highway Administration.

He immediately began work on the Bay Bridge and its approach roads, including U.S. 50 and 301, as well as Route 404 at Denton. Mr. Woodford supervised construction for numerous Eastern Shore secondary routes as well.

"He was interviewed on Maryland Public Television about the impact of the first Bay Bridge," said his son, Walter Wallace Woodford of Timonium. "He recalled how much time was needed to go to Baltimore for shopping on the old ferry and how it was an all-day affair. He also said it was the Bay Bridge that made Ocean City."

Mr. Woodford was named a district construction engineer in 1957 and oversaw state highway and bridge construction from the Choptank River to the Susquehanna River. In 1960, he became chief of the highway agency's administrative division. He worked on the planning of what is now Interstate 95 in Cecil County.

In an autobiographical sketch, Mr. Woodford said he walked the interstate's early alignment from a spot near Port Deposit to the Delaware state line. He was also named to a panel for the Appalachian Region Highway, later Interstate 68, from Cumberland to West Virginia.

He also recalled a meeting at the Rayburn Office Building in Washington where plans were hashed out to build that section of I-68, which he said was finally completed after he had left state service.

He later was chief engineer and oversaw all construction for the parallel span of the Bay Bridge, which opened in 1973.

That year, Mr. Woodford resigned from his state work and joined the Rouse Co. and worked in Columbia. He became a vice president and director of engineering and spent the next 14 years helping complete Columbia and other Rouse projects.

"He was a competent, pleasant man who basically did the engineering for Columbia," said former Rouse Co. chief executive officer Mathias J. DeVito of Baltimore.

In 1991, he was named to a seat on the Maryland Transportation Authority, which operates toll roads and bridges as well as the Seagirt Marine Terminal.

Mr. Hellmann, who also serves on the transportation panel, called him a great influence on the authority. He also said that Mr. Woodford took time to assist young engineers.

"He was a believer that if a driver paid a toll and the gas tax, the money needed to be spent on keeping the road or bridge well maintained," said Mr. Hellmann, who lives in Severna Park. "He said that before you spend money to build something new, you had to maintain good service on what you already had."

Another transportation authority member, the Rev. Walter C. Calhoun, called him a "man of integrity and impeccable character" who mentored his fellow panel members.

"He was a bridge builder and a bridge builder of people, too," Mr. Calhoun said.

He retired in 2010 after serving many years as a consultant in planning, zoning, development, traffic, project administration and general civil engineering.

A state-owned engineering building at the Maryland Port Authority is to be named in Mr. Woodford's honor.

He was also active in the Maryland Scenic By-Way program, Corsica River Conservancy, the Masonic Centreville Lodge, Centreville Rotary Club and the American Legion, among other organizations.

Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. June 8 at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Centreville, where he was an active communicant.

In addition to his son, survivors include another son, Thomas Kevin Woodford of Fallston; four grandchildren; and two step-grandsons. His wife of nearly 56 years, the former Elizabeth Gannon, died in 2007.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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