July 1, 1962
A highway that had been built around a large part of Baltimore to help reduce traffic volumes in and near Maryland’s largest city was opened. This route has become most popularly known throughout the decades as the Baltimore Beltway.
The planning and construction of the original version of this highway was coordinated by the Maryland State Roads Commission (MDSRC), which had been established by the Maryland General Assembly (state legislature) in 1908. (MDSRC would continue to be Maryland’s preeminent roadbuilding agency until the Maryland Department of Transportation was created in 1970 to oversee various transportation functions within the state; the modal entity of the department that specifically replaced MDSRC is the Maryland State Highway Administration.)
On the day that the initial section of the present-day Baltimore Beltway opened in 1962, it was the focus of a Baltimore Sun article that had been prepared by feature writer John C. Schmidt. “Officially, the road is I 695, the ‘I’ indicating its blue-ribbon interstate status,” noted Schmidt. “Its 32.8 toll -free miles [52.8 toll-free kilometers] makes it the biggest urban highway project undertaken by the State Roads Commission.”
Construction on the Baltimore Beltway had started in 1954, when Theodore McKeldin was Maryland’s governor. Several segments of the highway were built over the next few years. The landmark 1956 act that created the Interstate Highway System made available federal funds for the highway, which would become a part of that national network. When J. Millard Tawes succeeded McKeldin as Maryland governor in 1959, work on I-695 in its original form took on added urgency. A major step in this regard was Tawes’ appointment of John B. Funk as the new MDSRC chairman. Funk made a big push to complete the the highway sooner than initially planned.
When finished, the first version of I-695 was shaped more like a horseshoe than a belt. The highway surrounded about three-fourths of the city of Baltimore in a clockwise formation between Maryland Route 2 on the west side and U.S. Route 40 on the east side. The dedication ceremony for the full length of this route took place near the Maryland Route 140 interchange along the northwestern section of I-695.
Thousands of people attended this mid-afternoon event, and Tawes used the opportunity to emphasize how MDSRC had completed the work on I-695 right on schedule. Tawes proclaimed, “This administration asked the State Roads Commission to determine the possibility of completing the highway at an earlier [than originally planned] date. This was done, and July 1, 1962, was announced as the target date for the opening of the Beltway.” Funk likewise addressed those attending the ceremony. “It’s a happy day for the state,” he said. “It’s a happy day for me.” As another part of the festivities, Tawes snipped a black-and-gold ribbon to formally clear that stretch of I-695 for traffic.
This route ultimately became a full loop 15 years later when a 19.4-mile (31.2-kilometer) portion along the southern edge of Baltimore was opened. This section of the Baltimore Beltway includes the Francis Scott Key Bridge, which crosses over the Patapsco River, and its approaches. While signed as I-695, this part of the beltway has been officially designated as Maryland Route 695.
Photo Credits: Famartin (licensed under Creative Commons)
For more information on the Baltimore Beltway, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interstate_695_(Maryland) and http://www.mdroads.com/routes/is695.html
Additional information on John B. Funk is available at https://msa.maryland.gov/megafile/msa/speccol/sc3500/sc3520/002700/002708/html/2708bio.html