From the Vault: Building the Baltimore Beltway

30 Photos

After 10 years of construction and $68 million spent, the Baltimore Beltway opened on July 1, 1962. At the time, its 32.8 toll-free miles made it the biggest urban highway project every undertaken by the State Roads Commission.

The first proposal for such a project was devised by Malcolm H. Dill, Baltimore county’s first planning director, in 1948. He drew attention to nine major communities with strong potential for future growth including Arbutus-Halethrope, Catonsville, Pikesville, Towson, Parkville-Overlea, Middle River, Essex, Dundalk and Sparrows Point. “You always have your radials-the spokes of the wheel,” explained Mr. Dill. They made be inadequate but at least there is continuity. There is no continuity in links between these suburban areas.”

In addition to the concept, Dill also provided the name. He coined the term “beltway” after “circumferential route” proved too cumbersome.

On November 12, 1952, four years after the county planning commission’s motorways proposal, the parties involved met at the Towson Court House. At the end of the meeting, roads commission chairman Russell H. McCain announced the beltway route had been agreed on. Two days later, the route was detailed and the cost of the project was set at $39 million.

With a business-like snip of a pair of office scissors, Governor Tawes opened the new beltway on July 1, 1962. Following the ceremony, an official motorcade led by the Governor toured the newly completed sections. It didn’t take long for the 65 mph traffic to slow to 20 mph and the first accident was reported at 4:30 p.m.

Reporting from the Baltimore Sun archives