Re-Connect West Baltimore aims to bridge old neighborhood divides

By Robbie Webber

Construction on a bridge project in West Baltimore will soon begin, and federal and local officials hope it will improve connectivity in a neighborhood that has long suffered from the legacy of urban highways built through low-income and minority communities.

USDOT Secretary Anthony Foxx has been speaking out recently about the harm that was inflicted on many urban neighborhoods when highways were built in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Almost every large city has examples of neighborhoods that were bulldozed or divided for an interstate or spur highway. Now FHWA is urging cities to repair that damage and reconnect neighborhoods with opportunities and ways to meet daily needs.

One of these locations is West Baltimore and the economically disadvantaged neighborhoods that never recovered from a highway project that was never finished. In the 1970s construction of U.S. 40 leveled twenty blocks, including 971 homes, 62 businesses, and one school. More than 1,500 families were displaced. But the sunken highway, intended to connect the downtown Baltimore interstates to I-70 to the west, was stopped by neighborhood opposition, and it has been a gap in the neighborhood network for decades. Although local streets cross the highway, the bridges are often not friendly to those on foot or bicycle.

The Fulton Ave. Bridge reconstruction, also called Re-Connect West Baltimore, will spend $4 million to reconfigure lanes, add pedestrian and bicycle improvements, calm traffic, and upgrade traffic signals. The sidewalks will be ADA accessible, and the project is meant to lessen the isolation of the neighborhoods to the north and south of U.S. 40. West Baltimore is one of the neighborhoods in the Ladders of Opportunity Transportation Empowerment Pilot that aims to improve connections and opportunities in challenged areas of seven cities.

Robbie Webber is a Senior Associate at SSTI.