The Baltimore Harbor Tunnel carries Interstate 895 under the Patapsco River and the Inner Harbor in Baltimore, Maryland.
The idea of crossing the Patapsco River south of downtown Baltimore had been studied since the 1930s. In 1938, the Maryland State Roads Commission launched a study, Maryland’s Primary Bridge Program, to examine the feasibility of building major bridges or tunnels across significant transportation barriers, including one across the Patapsco River southeast of the Inner Harbor. 1 Another study conducted in 1944 examined the idea of building a bridge with a limited-access approach running from US Route 1 in Elkridge to US Route 1 near Erdman Avenue in east Baltimore. 2
In 1947, the Maryland General Assembly passed an act that allowed for the pooling of revenue bonds and toll receipts between the state’s tolled bridges to finance the construction of the Patapsco River crossing. 3 A study in 1953 examined three different routes over the river between Canton and Fairfield, Canton and Fort McHenry, and Canton, Fort McHenry and Fairfield. 4 The study also examined whether or not the crossing should be a high-level bridge or a tunnel.
In 1954, the Commission opted to construct a tunnel between Canton and Fairfield that would include three approach highways: a west approach from US Route 1 in Elkridge, a south approach from Maryland Route 2 in Glen Burnie to connect with the west approach in Brooklyn Park, and a north approach from US Route 40 and Erdman Avenue in east Baltimore. The approach roadways were to be limited-access with partial interchanges for tunnel traffic only. 4
Shortly after the construction began of the tunnel under the Patapsco River on April 7, 1955, several changes were made to the plans for the approach highways. 5 The northern terminus at US Route 40 was altered to allow for an extension from US Route 40 to the southern end of the future Northeastern Expressway (today’s Interstate 95/John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway). The south approach was also modified to have a connection to the Glen Burnie Bypass (today’s Interstate 97).
An official groundbreaking ceremony for the tunnel, designed by Singstad & Baillie and J. E. Greiner Co., was held on April 21, 1955. 7 Each of the tunnel’s 21 twin-tube sections, 300-foot in length, were built in nearby shipyards and towed by tugs to the site. The first section was sunk in a trench dredged in the Harbor’s bottom on April 11, 1956, and subsequent sections were joined underwater and backfilled with rock.
The tunnel and approach highways opened to traffic on November 29, 1957, 6 7 10 with a dedication ceremony hosted by Governor Theodore McKeldin, 10 and officially referred to as the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel and the Harbor Tunnel Thruway. 6 7 Completed at the cost of $150 million, 9 the tunnel was the fifth-longest underwater vehicular tunnel in the world when it was dedicated. 7 For motorists, the use of the Tunnel and Thruway eliminated 51 traffic lights from the route of motorists passing through the city. 7 8
High traffic volume and congestion led to the development of the nearby Fort McHenry Tunnel in 1985, completing Interstate 95 in Maryland. The Baltimore Harbor Tunnel was then closed in phases for extensive rehabilitation between March 1987 and 1990. 11 It was repaired and upgraded at the cost of $28 million in 2018-19. 12
- State: Maryland
- Route: Interstate 895
- Type: Tunnel
- Status: Active - Automobile
- Total Length: 7,650 feet (per tube)
- Roadway Width: 22 feet (per tube)
- Above Vertical Clearance: 14 feet
- Navigational Clearance:
- Beall, J. Glenn, Elmer R. Jarboe, and George F. Obrecht Sr. Report of the State Roads Commission of Maryland. Baltimore: Maryland State Roads Commission, 4 Mar. 1939. p. 73.
- Whitman, Ezra B., P. Watson Webb, and W. Frank Thomas. Report of the State Roads Commission of Maryland. Baltimore: Maryland State Roads Commission, 1 Mar. 1945. p. 5.
- Reindollar, Robert M., Joseph M. George, and Russell H. McCain. Report of the State Roads Commission of Maryland. Baltimore: Maryland State Roads Commission, 20 Dec. 1950. p. 7.
- McCain, Russell H., Edgar T. Bennett, and Bramwell Kelly. Report of the State Roads Commission of Maryland. Baltimore: Maryland State Roads Commission, 12 Nov. 1954. pp. 14–48.
- Bonnell, Robert O., Edgar T. Bennett, and John J. McMullen. Report of the State Roads Commission of Maryland. Baltimore: Maryland State Roads Commission, 2 Nov. 1956. pp. 15–35.
- Bonnell, Robert O., Edgar T. Bennett, and John J. McMullen. Report of the State Roads Commission of Maryland. Baltimore: Maryland State Roads Commission, 15 Dec. 1958. pp. 7–8.
- “Baltimore Harbor Tunnel.” Maryland Transportation Authority.
- “Baltimore Harbor Tunnel 50th Anniversary.” Maryland Transportation Authority, 29 Nov. 2007.
- Hirzel, Donald. “Dedication of Harbor Tunnel Tomorrow Caps 36-Year Battle.” Evening Sun [Baltimore], 28 Nov. 1957, p. 45.
- Trewhitt, Henry L. “$144,000,000 Harbor Tunnel Is Opened By Governor McKeldin.” The Baltimore Sun, 30 Nov. 1957, p. 26.
- McCord, Joel. “Harbor Tunnel work to force rerouting of northbound traffic.” The Baltimore Sun, 11 Mar. 1987, p. 18.
- “Project Timeline.” Maryland Transportation Authority.