Baltimore will receive $2 million in federal funds as a next step in planning for the redevelopment of the Highway to Nowhere, a controversial 1.4-mile stretch of roadway that forced the displacement of over 1,000 residents in a predominantly Black community when it was built decades ago.
The funds, announced Tuesday by Maryland Congressional members, were requested by the city last fall for a planning study that will help advance redevelopment plans and “set in motion the next steps to finally deliver on those promises made,” according to its proposal.
The funding comes from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program, which was established by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and is dedicated to reconnecting communities cut off from opportunities due to transportation infrastructure decisions, according to the department.
Maryland Democratic Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, as well as Reps. Kweisi Mfume, Steny Hoyer, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes, Jamie Raskin, David Trone, and then-Rep. Anthony Brown wrote to U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in support of the city’s application for funds, according to a news release.
Originally billed as a way to connect Interstate 70 with Interstates 83 and 95, the stretch of road forced the demolition of hundreds of homes and dozens of businesses, and also displaced about 1,500 people in a predominately Black community in West Baltimore.
Construction on the roadway — which was also intended to be a way to attach Baltimore’s white suburbs to the city’s downtown business district, Baltimore magazine reported — halted in the early 1970s after white suburban residents opposed the project. Given that it wasn’t ever connected to a major highway, it’s now referred to as the Highway to Nowhere.
“It took a neighborhood that was fully occupied and thriving,” said Audrey McFarlane, a professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law specializing in land use, property and economic development, “and essentially destroyed it by dividing it into half.”
The community was tightknit at the time, The Banner’s media partner WYPR reported, with supermarkets, clothing stores and hardly any violent crime. People resisted, but deeply entrenched racism meant the plans moved ahead, forever changing the neighborhood’s trajectory.
“The forced relocation that you see here really sadly been has almost really been part of the Black residential experience,” McFarlane added. “Lots of these development projects and highway projects were carelessly or deliberately put through their neighborhoods as a form of social control, and as a way to exploit the land for someone else’s benefit.”
Now, the highway means that it can take hours for West Baltimore residents who don’t own cars to get across to East Baltimore on public transportation, McFarlane said. That makes it harder for people living in West Baltimore to take advantage of jobs on the east side, which has been developing economically, she added.
In a release, the city called the road a “physical and symbolic barrier to progress,” adding that it continues to divide parts of West Baltimore that were once connected.
The planning grant, Mfume said in a Tuesday release, seeks to “empower and reconnect communities to one another as a first step,” and to “connect those same communities to economic opportunities, more academic possibilities, arts and entertainment, healthy food options, safe and inviting open-space options, and so much more.”
In the release, Gov. Wes Moore added that the funding is a “critical step forward” in “improving the standard of living for the citizens of Baltimore City who have been unjustly isolated for far too long.”
According to the release, the planning study will include a public engagement process, and the Baltimore City Department of Transportation held its first listening session last week to hear residents’ concerns.