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Decades-old plans to put an interstate through the center of Baltimore were a topic of conversation at the White House Wednesday, but there wasn’t a threat this time. Barbara Mikulski received the highest honor a civilian can get from President Barack Obama.

Mikulski, who is set to retire after her term is up next year, was among the luminaries who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. During the ceremony, Obama spun some anecdotes about the recipients. For Maryland’s senior senator, the President turned to the Battle of the Road. Planners wanted to build a 16-lane interstate through neighborhoods like Fells Point, Canton and Sharp-Leadenhall. Mikulski organized residents to fight the interstate, and her side eventually won.

“Back in 1966, plans were laid to lay a highway through some of Baltimore’s most diverse neighborhoods,” Obama said. “The new road seemed like a go. It was about to happen. That is, until it ran into a young social worker, and let’s just say, you don’t want to be on the wrong side of Barbara Mikulski. She stopped that highway, and jumpstarted one of the finest public service careers we’ve ever seen.”

Among the other awardees were Barbara Streisand, Willie Mays, Steven Spielberg and James Taylor.

Stephen Babcock is the editor of Baltimore and an editor-at-large of Baltimore Fishbowl.