Finally, a destination for the road to nowhere Ramp: A lonely reminder of a long-dead highway plan, the mystery I-95 connector is on its way to oblivion.

March 07, 1997|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,SUN STAFF

That puzzling highway ramp that juts out from Interstate 95 south of town and abruptly ends in midair finally has a new destination: The scrap heap.

The decades-old unconnected ramp between the Washington Boulevard and Caton Avenue exits is being demolished by the Maryland Transportation Authority beginning this week. The job should be done in four months.

The ramp stood as a brash commitment by city leaders to plow through West Baltimore's neighborhoods to connect I-95 to Interstate 70. But the Southwest Highway, as it was called, was beaten back by community leaders who believed the road would obliterate their rowhouses as well as nearby Leakin Park.

"I kept wondering when they would take that ramp down," said George Tyson, a West Baltimore resident who led the battle against the roadway beginning in 1971. "It seemed to say that there was a possibility that the highway would be built someday."

The prospect of an I-95/I-70 connection died in 1983 when then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer decided to give up the fight and use the hundreds of millions of dollars to finance reconstruction of Interstate 83 and to build the Metro from Charles Center to the Johns Hopkins station.

The I-95/I-70 highway would have run along the Gwynns Falls stream valley and then northeast along and over the Amtrak line and down into the Franklin-Mulberry corridor. All that came of the project was an isolated 1 1/2 -mile east-west roadway through West Baltimore.

"We saved Leakin Park," said Mary Louise Wolf, a Dickeyville resident who fought the road project for nine years in the 1970s and 1980s. "I remember we would meet at Edmondson High School, the city would bring their experts and we would bring our people to shout them down."

The soon-to-be scrapped ramp was constructed in 1974 as I-95 was being extended from Caton Avenue, even though approval for the connection to I-70 was far from final, said Bill Hellmann, who worked for the city's interstate division and eventually became the department's chief.

"It was done then so as to minimize construction because once we built 95, you didn't want to come back," said Hellmann yesterday. "It didn't work out that way."

Built at a cost of $2.5 million, the state will spend $696,000 taking down the ramp.

The ramp, which soars 70 feet in the air, will be dismantled piece by piece. First the deck, then the steel frame and then the columns. Two of the columns may be blown up using dynamite.

State engineers predict minimal interruptions on I-95. One lane may close down on weekends.

Lori A. Vidil, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Transportation Authority, which oversees bridges, tunnels and turnpikes, said state officials have sought the removal of the ramp for years.

"Governor [Parris N.] Glendening and [Mayor Kurt L.] Schmoke wanted the ramp removed," Vidil said. "The ramp served as an obstruction to the view of the city and it is one of the reasons why people wanted it removed."

The city transferred ownership of the ramp to the MdTA last June, allowing the state agency to begin removing it.

Vidil said another ramp that runs northbound under I-95 will remain because it is generally not visible to passers-by.

Pub Date: 3/07/97

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