The Pratt Street Route

Pratt Street Route

Some may wonder – the schematic plan shown on this page (with the expressway following Pratt Street and crossing the Inner Harbor piers) – who was responsible for that monstrosity? This was Planning Director Phil Darling’s 1960 plan. Here is a short excerpt from the book:

“To the critics of the urban planning profession, the City Planning Department’s 1960 highway plan is a marvelous illustration of the point that planners have no better crystal ball than the average guy on the street. Planning Director Phil Darling’s 1960 “Study for the East-West Expressway” moves many of the pieces on the highway chessboard, almost all going in a disastrously wrong direction, at least from a 20/20 hindsight point of view. Shockingly, the Planning Director (the number one guy whose job it was think in the long-term) promoted a plan to run the East-West expressway between Pratt Street and the Inner Harbor basin. But that was only the start of this wrong-headed highway masterplan.

The 1960 plan deletes one of the good ideas of the 1957 plan (the mostly industrial route with the harbor crossing Fort McHenry and then serving the Canton industrial area). It repeats the 1957 ill-conceived plans for putting I-170 through Leakin Park/Rosemont and for routing the Southwest Expressway through Montgomery Street and Federal Hill. Another hallmark and a first: it moves the east Baltimore section from the rail corridor to the Harbor East-Fells Point-Canton waterfront.

In the downtown area, the highway crosses over the Inner Harbor piers (that now house the Aquarium, the Power Plant and the Pier 6 concert Pavilion) to a full interchange in (now termed) Harbor East. 

That Darling in 1960 had a completely opaque Inner Harbor crystal ball would be forgivable if the chronology of the Inner Harbor vision and plan started with Mayor McKeldin in 1963 and the Wallace, McHarg, Roberts, and Todd (WMRT) Inner Harbor Plan of 1964. However, that is just not the case. It was actually Darling’s predecessor, Arthur D. McVoy who first conceptualized the Inner Harbor redevelopment in 1955…

Sadly, McVoy passed away only a year later, a victim of pneumonia at age 47. His vision for the Inner Harbor was not the only thing that he had gotten right. He also pushed for the industrial corridor expressway with the Fort McHenry harbor crossing, using a tunnel instead of a bridge. In 1950 he elevated that plan to second priority, right behind completion of the Jones Falls expressway. As evidenced in later chapters, it took another 25 years before Baltimore came back around to making that Fort McHenry route the top priority. Clearly, a man ahead of his time, had McVoy lived, Baltimore almost certainly would have taken a few short-cuts to get to the point of having a viable highway plan.”