Taking down the Highway to Nowhere and replacing it with the Red Line
By Katherina Capon,March 11, 2011
The blue benched cafeteria tables at Locker Bundy Elementary were filled with hungry residents of West Baltimore, but it was not brown bagged lunches that they were about to devour. The residents had gathered this night to take in information about the projects that will affect their community once the Highway to Nowhere is taken down.
“We’re here to make sure we get taken care of, and that them companies don’t forget about us, “said, a West Baltimore Resident,Natasha Daniels.
Representatives from the Department of Transportation, MTA, West Baltimore Strategic Alliance, Alternate Roots, and other organizations spoke to residents about the benefits of putting in the Red Line where the highway once stood.
History of the highway and where it is going
The Highway to Nowhere is the U.S Route 40 that was constructed from 1975 to 1979, and was suppose to connect the city to I-70. Construction of the highway displaced families and uprooted businesses. After enough people came together to rally against further construction the project ended and Baltimore was left with a segment of a highway that led to nowhere.
“It’s kind of like our own Berlin Wall, it was put up and separated families and the community,” said Bryon Alston the Director of Community Engagement for the Citizens Planning and Housing Administration.
Demolition on the Highway to Nowhere began on September 10, 2010. “It should have happened a long time ago, we would have really liked it to have been sooner,” said Alston.
Since the highway has been closed off it was earned itself a new nickname “,The Ditch.” Mounds of dirt and sand have replaced the concrete. “It’s an eyesore but at the same time it is a victory,” said John Bullock a Political Science Professor who teaches at Towson University.
“At the time before the highway it was the most stable community in the city. Stores, homes and neighbors were connected and they socialized,” said Alston.
Today, West Baltimore has become a food desert and a desert for unemployment. The blocks in the area are filled with abandoned homes that have been boarded up and left to deteriorate.
The Red Line that is going to replace the highway has generated hope in the community. The Red Line is a high- speed, light -rail that will stretch a proposed 14- miles East and West of Baltimore connecting the city from Woodlawn to the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. The addition of this transportation mode in West Baltimore has received much attention and has sparked the idea of a “rebirth for a community that has been forgotten,” said Ashley Milburn a community activist and member of Alternate Roots.
Opportunities brought about by taking down the highway
Bringing jobs to the area was one of the things discussed at the Maryland Area Regional Commuter meeting on March 7, 2011. The project will be hiring locals for such as jobs as pipe laying and operation of heavy machinery, according to Red Line representatives. Kenya Asli, the Red Line economic empowerment officer, said that the project would take around 10 years to be completed and that 9,000 jobs will go to local residents if they have the experience.
The Red Line will not be the only addition to the area, the neighborhood will also receive funding for public art space and landscaping. The community members were asked what kind of art they would like to see in the area, from murals to mosaics to banners.
“We really want to get a temperature reading on what you want. We really want to know what the residents of the community think will be best,” said George Hill, the MTA project manager.
Alston said that he hopes the beautification of the area will lead to small businesses wanting to open up in the area. He also would like to see a grocery store come to West Baltimore so that the people will have the options for fresh food.
“We have always focused on what makes us different rather than what unites us, it is together as owners,residents, homeowners and leasers that we will be able to make the changes we need in our community,” said Kirian Smith, founder of the West Baltimore Strategic Alliance.