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Baltimore City

Baltimore seeks a federal grant to kick-start demolition of ‘Highway to Nowhere’ expressway

As the Baltimore Department of Transportation eyes tearing out the infamous “Highway to Nowhere” that bisects West Baltimore, the agency has applied for a Federal Highway Administration grant of up to $2 million to help with planning.

The grant is available thanks to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which created a pilot program called Reconnecting Communities; its mission is to repair harmful transportation infrastructure that separated communities from economic opportunities. The grant would help cover the planning phase of a project named “West Baltimore United.”

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Marly Cardona-Moz, a city transportation department spokesperson, said the agency, which announced the grant application Oct. 21, expects to hear by next spring whether its grant was approved. The budget for the project’s planning phase is $3.1 million.

“We believe we have a very strong application. This specific project has garnered a broad range of support from informed citizens and elected officials,” Cardona-Moz said in a statement. “Most importantly, we have the partnership of the residents and stakeholders of the West Baltimore communities most impacted by this project.”

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The futile stretch of thoroughfare constructed in the late 1970s displaced flourishing Black neighborhoods in West Baltimore during a failed effort to connect Interstate 70 to downtown Baltimore. After razing 14 blocks of homes of predominantly Black middle-class families, further construction was abandoned two years later because of community blowback.

For more than 40 years since, the concrete trench and its four-lane expressway has cut off Harlem Park from Franklin Square and Poppleton.

Locating a funding source to demolish and redevelop the nearly 1.4-mile, 600-acre space has been a significant challenge for the city, as it could cost hundreds of millions of dollars, Cardona-Moz said.

In 2021, Maryland’s congressional delegation and Mayor Brandon Scott stood in a parking lot that overlooked the neglected expressway and pledged to seize an opportunity for federal funds that the Reconnecting Communities Act could provide.

Perhaps green space could be restored in place of U.S. 40 Franklin - Mulberry Expressway, suggested Steve Sharkey, director of the city’s transportation department, in a statement. The agency plans to work closely with community organizers throughout the project.

If the federal grant is approved, the Environmental Justice Journalism Initiative, a nonprofit, will create a documentary about the highway’s history and negative impact.

“Our residents are deserving of this opportunity to revive this once thriving community and create their own unified vision of West Baltimore,” Sharkey said in a statement.

One of the goals of the planning study is to analyze how to reconnect communities that were divided by the highway with bicycle, pedestrian, transit and road infrastructure. Reducing inequities and creating economic opportunities and access to employment is another focus.

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The "Highway to Nowhere," looking east below Monroe Street, as seen from the parking lot for the West Baltimore MARC station

City agencies could continue to apply for other grants to finance the project, including from the Department of Planning, Baltimore Development Corporation, and Maryland Department of Transportation’s Maryland Transit Administration, which were involved in submitting the Reconnecting Communities grant.

Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen, who said in a statement he authored a model for the Reconnecting Communities program to address the Highway to Nowhere, emphasized the progress that the grant application represents.

“Baltimore City has taken an important step to move beyond the destructive legacy of the Highway to Nowhere, and toward a future where the West Baltimore community it divided can finally reunite and grow together,” he said in a statement.


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