Schmoke's Fuzzy Concept

Road To Nowhere: Three Decades After Depressed Road Was Built, City Wants It Scrapped.

April 23, 1997

THE FRANKLIN-MULBERRY streets corridor was an old, declining and impoverished African-American neighborhood through which the city built an expressway in the 1970s. A school, 971 houses and 62 businesses were demolished; residents scattered to other areas.

But so many people opposed the plan -- which would have condemned other black West Baltimore neighborhoods -- that after running 1.36 miles along the corridor, the road known as Interstate 170 suddenly stops -- without linking downtown with I-70 in Woodlawn.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has now come up with an unusual plan. In the name of belated social justice, his administration wants to fill the trench of the six-lane expressway that runs 30 feet below the surrounding surface, re-establish the original street grid and offer the land for commercial and residential developers.

"This is a concept. Concepts are fuzzy at first," says Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III, who wants to create closer links among a number of West Baltimore neighborhoods targeted for future redevelopment.

From a practical standpoint this plan makes no sense. Surely the city has far more pressing needs. Yet City Hall appears sold on the idea.

Building the rump I-170 was a colossal mistake. But there it is. Hordes of daily commuters use the "road to nowhere" as a rapid means of connecting with U.S. 40.

Mr. Henson acknowledges as much, but says that a new six-lane highway could be built on the roadbeds of Franklin and Mulberry streets. That destroys much of the argument for reuniting a number of neighborhoods. But Mr. Henson says traffic lights would allow residents to cross the streets -- which in turn would clog commuter traffic.

The city is about to reconstruct the Lexington Terrace public housing project, where troubled high-rises have been demolished. Nearby Murphy Homes high-rises are to come down next. The road rerouting plan is part of an ambitious redevelopment program of those neighborhoods.

But before the Schmoke administration embarks on this very expensive and ill-conceived proposal, it ought to take a closer look at the city's priorities and the best ways to maximize Baltimore's limited resources.

Pub Date: 4/23/97

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