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Harry J. McCullough, former State Highway Administration official who worked on I-695 and Jones Falls Expressway, dies

Harry J. McCullough retired in 1992 as chief of the State Highway Administration's Interstate Division for Baltimore City.
Harry J. McCullough retired in 1992 as chief of the State Highway Administration's Interstate Division for Baltimore City.

Harry J. McCullough, a former Maryland State Highway Administration official who helped plan such transformative roads as the Baltimore Beltway, the Jones Falls Expressway and the ill-fated and much-fought extension of Interstate 70 through the city, died Feb. 28 of a heart attack at his Oak Crest Village Retirement Community home. He was 94.

“When the State Highway Administration set up its Interstate Division to handle the impact an interstate highway would have going through a major city, Harry was in a management position,” said Gene Neff, former head of the city’s Bureau of Operations in the Department of Public Works.

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“He was a very dedicated professional who was well-respected, and when Harry spoke to you, you listened,” said Mr. Neff, a Timonium resident. “He had a special gift when it came to explaining everything. Sometimes his plans were 4 inches thick, and he’d go through every page so you had full knowledge of them and his publication of them were always well-received.”

Richard M. Evans first worked with Mr. McCullough at the old Maryland State Roads Commission, a forerunner of today’s SHA, in 1954, and retired in 1984 as assistant chief of the SHA’s Bureau of Highway Design.

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“I met Harry on my first day of work at State Roads, and Harry was an assistant section chief. He was quite a mentor and he had the ability to calm roiled waters and smooth things over. His favorite line was, ‘This too shall pass.’”

Harry James McCullough, son of Harry C. McCullough Jr., a city firefighter, and his wife, Elizabeth Schelshorn McCullough, a homemaker, was born in Baltimore and raised in West Baltimore. As a boy, he was a communicant of St. Bernardine Roman Catholic Church on Edmondson Avenue.

After graduating in 1944 from Polytechnic Institute, he immediately began working as a junior draftsman for the State Roads Commission. His work with the commission was one of on-the-job training and continual advancement that culminated in 1972 with a management position with the Interstate Division of Baltimore City.

In 1979, after taking engineering courses at the Johns Hopkins University’s McCoy College, Mr. McCullough gained certification as a highway engineer. He became district engineer for Baltimore and Harford counties.

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Three years later, he took over as chief of the Interstate Division for Baltimore City, a position he held until retiring in 1992. Major projects he was associated with during his tenure included the building of I-695, the Jones Falls Expressway and its rebuilding in the 1980s, and the Fort McHenry Tunnel.

During his career, there were road extension controversies that at times challenged Mr. McCullough and his characteristic resilience: the proposed extension of the Jones Falls Expressway, or I-83, which would have gone past President Street through Fells Point and Canton to connect with I-95 on the east side of the city; the extension of I-70 that terminates at Leakin Park, known as the East-West Expressway, and a former stretch of the proposed road through the Mulberry Street corridor that earned the nickname of the “road to nowhere”; and the 1980s face-lift of the JFX that resulted in a six-lane highway.

“When it came to federal regulations with interstates, Harry was an expert,” Mr. Neff said. “We were about to go to contract with I-70 when the curtain came down and it became the road to nowhere.”

At some of the community meetings, Mr. Evans admitted to becoming “extremely agitated.”

“Harry would say, ‘I’m OK, you’re OK.’ I never saw him get angry at those meetings and he let it flow like water off a duck’s back. He accepted things that went on at meetings and then he went on. He’d say, ‘It’s the system, not you.’ He was always able to dig out something good out of a bad situation, and when he asked if he could help you, he meant it.”

He added that he “admired” Mr. McCullough’s sense of humor.

After retiring, Mr. McCullough was a consultant on the development of BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport’s International Terminal and Baltimore’s Penn Station.

His work with both the state and city resulted in leadership roles with the Maryland Classified Employees Association, and he was a charter member of the American Society of Engineers and was a member of the Maryland Association of Highway Engineers, serving as president in 1986 and as treasurer from 1992 to 2005.

“His skills in public speaking, project planning, community engagement, coordination with federal, state and city agencies, and the ability to bring the right people together for a successful project were the hallmarks of his work,” according to a family biographical profile of Mr. McCullough. “He gained the respect of his peers and was looked up to as a capable leader in highway planning, and many Marylanders have since benefited from his efforts.”

He was also a member of the Hibernian Society and had served on the board of Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Maryland.

In 1949, Mr. McCullough married the former Dorothy Simon, his high school sweetheart, and for years the couple lived in Riderwood’s Thornleigh neighborhood and later in Towson before moving to Oak Crest Village in 2010.

He and his wife were world travelers and for years were involved with the Senior Star Showcase that was based at CCBC Essex, where the theatrical troupe performed musicals at area retirement communities.

Other pastimes included reading, family genealogy and following the Orioles, Ravens and the old Baltimore Colts.

His wife of 70 years died in 2019.

Funeral services for Mr. McCullough were held Friday at the Ruck Towson Funeral Home.

He is survived by two sons, Michael McCullough of Baldwin and Paul McCullough of Purcellville, Virginia; two daughters, Kathleen Taylor of Ellicott City and Jeannie McCullough of Phoenix, Baltimore County; a brother, Carl McCullough of Catonsville; a sister, Margaret Trentler of Highlandtown; seven grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

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