Aptly named, the “Highway to Nowhere” is a massive section of roadway that begins at the western edge of the Baltimore CBD (Lexington Market) and heads due west out of the city as part of US Route 40 through the neighborhoods of Poppleton, Harlem Park, Lafayette Square, and Rosemount. Once the starting point of an ambitious plan to connect I-95 as it passes through Baltimore with I-70, which terminates at the Baltimore Beltway (I-695) in the west, the highway would have been badged as I-170. However, the plan ran out of momentum and support before it could proceed beyond the railroad line and what is now the West Baltimore MARC station at Benatou and Franklin Streets. And thus it remains to this day—almost 30 years after it was opened to traffic in 1979 – a grade-separated superhighway that is only 1.4 miles long and comes to an abrupt halt at the MARC station. As illustrated in Figure 21, the right of way is a full city block wide and roughly 18 city blocks long, and the highway itself lies at a depressed elevation, constituting what many regard as a “ditch”, separating west Baltimore into northern and southern halves. The neighborhoods, largely low-income African-American, have struggled – without great success – to survive the physical and social trauma inflicted by the failed public works project.
The area has gained a reputation as a location for the drug trade, crime, and unkempt, abandoned buildings. Home ownership and the pride that goes with it has given way to poor upkeep and marginal rentals. Revitalization that has helped reclaim other close-in neighborhoods in Baltimore City has largely bypassed this area, despite its proximity to growth and renewal in and around the University of Maryland medical complex at the eastern end. Illustration 3 displays three of the areas primary impact zones where population declines and radical shifts were particularly noticeable. In the central portion (shaded yellow and encompassing the Orwasoo Community Association), from 1950 (its highest point) to 2000, population declined 67% – from 90,225 to 29,803. This decline was most rapid between 1950 and 1980. In the eastern portion (shaded purple and encompassing the Harlem Park Community Association) from 1950 (its highest point) to 2000, population declined a staggering 80% – from 29,676 to 5,832. In the western portion (shades green and encompassing the Midtown Edmonson Ave. Association), from 1960 (its highest point) to 2000, population declined 39% – from 33,819 to 20,592.
From 1940 to 2000, Baltimore’s White population fell 70%, while its Black population more than doubled (rising 253%). In the area-shaded yellow, both Black and White population declined, although White declined at a faster rate. Whereas in 1950, there had been about 62,000 Black and 28,000 White, by the year 2000, these amounts had declined to 25,000 Black and 4,000 White. Again, the decline was most rapid in the 30 years between 1950 and 1980. In the area-shaded purple, the picture was similar. Black and White both declined the latter at a faster rate. Whereas in 1950, there had been almost 24,000 Blacks and about 5,500 Whites, by the year 2000, these amounts had declined to just over 4,500 Blacks and just under 900 Whites.