There’s life anew in “The Ditch,” “The Highway to Nowhere” or whatever else you like to call the 1.39-mile, six-lane freeway that runs through part of West Baltimore, thanks to Blue Water Baltimore and partner organizations and state agencies.
Over the last two years, volunteers and staff planted 477 trees in a seven-acre along the median between Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard and Fulton Avenue as part of a “greening” initiative. Trees can help absorb water, reducing stormwater runoff and pollution—a big boon to the ailing harbor—and also help to add green space, making an area simply look nicer.
Carl Simon, director of programs for Blue Water Baltimore, said in an email that the Baltimore Tree Trust helped pay for more than 200 of the trees planted this season, during the project’s final phase. The Maryland Port Administration was the primary funder of the $150,000 effort, a cost that also includes maintaining the newly green lot for three years. The state’s Department of Natural Resources and Baltimore Gas and Electric also helped with funding.
The site is relatively tough to access—it sits in an expanse stretching nine blocks through a carved-out ditch separating W. Franklin and W. Mulberry streets—so Simon said they don’t immediately see it having many additional future uses.
Still, he said, it will serve as “a great educational tool and high visibility project at Baltimore’s western gateway with hundreds of people driving by each day.” Neighbors will also get a better view, he noted, and they should benefit from improved air and water quality.
Simon said other green tools could help the area, including an air scrubber, a filter that removes particles, chemicals and more from the air, for surrounding neighborhoods in West Baltimore.
For those who aren’t familiar, the Highway to Nowhere was supposed to be an interchange connecting I-70 with the city’s Central Business District, passing through Gwynns Falls and Leakin Park. But with opposition from civic groups and others, it was delayed indefinitely until officials abandoned the project—of course, not before displacing nearly 1,000 families from their homes.
It was also considered as the route for the state-operated light rail system that would have connected East and West Baltimore, known as the Red Line, but Gov. Larry Hogan infamously nixed the $2.9 billion plan months into his first term in 2015.
Simon said they’re also considering similar greening projects with partners in 2019 in Auchentoroly Terrace and Rosemont on the west side, and in Clifton Park and Belair-Edison in Northeast Baltimore.
This post has been updated.