Interstate 68 - National Freeway
Interstate 68 follows the National Freeway from the state of West Virginia east to Interstate 70 at Hancock. The highway travels across the Appalachian Mountains across the Maryland panhandle through the city of Cumberland. The 82 mile route overlaps with U.S. 40 for all but the westernmost 14 miles.
Constructed in stages between 1963 and 1991 as part of Appalachian Regional Development Corridor E, Interstate 68 was originally intended to remain U.S. 48 until it was determined that the National Freeway was a good, toll-free alternate route to the Pennsylvania Turnpike (Interstates 70 and 76). The Interstate 68 designation, which was originally considered for the current U.S. 50 (hidden Interstate 595) corridor between the Capital Beltway (Interstate 95-495) and Annapolis, was transferred to U.S. 48 in 1991.
Interstate 68 Maryland Guides
|Johnson Street travels eastbound under I-68/U.S. 40 as the National Freeway rises on a viaduct over local streets and Wills Creek into downtown Cumberland. 08/07/04|
|Johnson Street curves northward underneath I-68/U.S. 40 to intersect Greene Street (former U.S. 220). Greene Street travels adjacent to I-68 between Water Street and the exchange where U.S. 220 departs from the National Freeway. 08/07/04|
|This trailblazer directing motorists to WV 28 Alternate was replaced by 2009 with a trailblazer for MD 51 (West Industrial Boulevard). 08/07/04|
|Greene Street (former U.S. 220) eastbound on the approach to Bridge Street. Bridge Street crosses the northern branch of the Potomac River into West Virginia as WV 28 Alternate while Greene Street turns north one block to an end at Baltimore Street. 08/07/04|
|Bridge Street passes beneath I-68/U.S. 40 ahead of a steel arch bridge over the northern branch of the Potomac River into West Virginia.|
WV 28 Alternate passes under a low clearance railroad crossing 0.25 miles ahead at Mulligan Street. 08/07/04
|Crossing the Potomac River along Bridge Street southbound between I-68/U.S. 40 and the beginning of WV 28 Alternate. 08/07/04|
|Bridge Street enters the Mountain State at the south end of the Blue Bridge. Built in 1954, the Blue Bridge is one of the few remaining steel tied-arch spans in Maryland.1 08/07/04|
|Bridge Street northbound ties into Greene Street beyond the north branch of the Potomac River and I-68/U.S. 40 viaduct. 08/07/04|
|This sign assembly stands along Johnson Street west near right-on right-off (RIRO) ramps for I-68/U.S. 40 (Exit 43A). 08/07/04|
|Johnson Street ends ahead as traffic enters the RIRO for I-68/U.S. 40 (National Freeway east). The National Freeway travels east across Wills Creek between Johnson Street and Downtown Cumberland. 08/07/04|
- Blue Bridge, www.bridgehunter.com
08/07/04 by AARoads
U.S. 522 - Washington County
Page Updated 03-14-2005.
Interstate in West Virginia and Maryland
"I-68" redirects here. For other uses, see I-68 (disambiguation).
I-68 highlighted in red
|Maintained by WVDOH and MDSHA|
|Length||112.9 mi (181.7 km)|
|Historic National Road|
Mountain Maryland Scenic Byway
|West end||I-79 in Morgantown, WV|
|East end||I-70 / US 40 / US 522 in Hancock, MD|
|States||West Virginia, Maryland|
MD:Garrett, Allegany, Washington
Interstate 68 (I-68) is a 112.9-mile (181.7 km) Interstate Highway in the U.S. states of West Virginia and Maryland, connecting I-79 in Morgantown, West Virginia, to I-70 in Hancock, Maryland. I-68 is also Corridor E of the Appalachian Development Highway System. From 1965 until the freeway's construction was completed in 1991, it was designated as U.S. Route 48 (US 48). In Maryland, the highway is known as the National Freeway, an homage to the historic National Road, which I-68 parallels between Keysers Ridge and Hancock. The freeway mainly spans rural areas and crosses numerous mountain ridges along its route. A road cut at Sideling Hill exposed geological features of the mountain and has become a tourist attraction.
US 219 and US 220overlap I-68 in Garrett County and Cumberland, respectively, and US 40 overlaps with the freeway from Keysers Ridge to the eastern end of the freeway at Hancock.
The construction of I-68 began in 1965 and continued for over 25 years, with completion on August 2, 1991. While the road was under construction, it was predicted that economic conditions would improve along the corridor for the five counties connected by I-68: Allegany, Garrett, and Washington in Maryland, and Preston and Monongalia in West Virginia. The two largest cities connected by the highway are Morgantown, West Virginia, and Cumberland, Maryland. Although the freeway serves no major metropolitan areas, it provides a major transportation route in western Maryland and northern West Virginia and also provides an alternative to the Pennsylvania Turnpike for westbound traffic from Washington, D.C., and Baltimore.
Various West Virginia officials have proposed extending the highway westward to the Ohio Valley, ending in either Moundsville, West Virginia or Wheeling, West Virginia. An extension to Moundsville was approved by federal officials at one point, but shelved due to funding problems.
Prior to the construction of the freeway from Morgantown to Hancock, several different routes carried traffic across the region. West Virginia Route 73 (WV 73) extended from Bridgeport to Bruceton Mills, serving regions now served by I-79 (Bridgeport to Morgantown) and I-68 (Morgantown to Bruceton Mills). After the I-68 freeway, then known as US 48, was completed in West Virginia, the WV 73 designation was removed. Portions of the road still exist as County Route 73 (CR 73), CR 73/73, and CR 857. Between I-68's exit 10 at Cheat Lake and exit 15 at Coopers Rock, I-68 was largely built directly over old WV 73's roadbed.
At Bruceton Mills, WV 73 ended at WV 26, which from there runs northeast into Pennsylvania, becoming Pennsylvania Route 281 at the state line and meeting US 40 north of the border. From there eastbound traffic would follow US 40 into Maryland. I-68 now parallels US 40 through western Maryland.
US 40 followed the route of the National Road through Pennsylvania and Maryland. The National Road was the first federally funded road built in the United States, authorized by Congress in 1806. Construction lasted from 1811 to 1837, establishing a road that extended from Cumberland to Vandalia, Illinois. Upon the establishment of the U.S. Highway System in 1926, the route of the National Road became part of US 40.
In the early 1960s, as the Interstate Highway System was being built throughout the United States, east–west travel through western Maryland was difficult, as US 40, the predecessor to I-68, was a two-lane country road with steep grades and hairpin turns. In Cumberland, the traffic situation was particularly problematic, as the usage of US 40 exceeded the capacity of the city's narrow streets. Traffic following US 40 through Cumberland entered through the Cumberland Narrows and followed Henderson Avenue to Baltimore Avenue. After the construction of I-68, this route through Cumberland became US 40 Alternate (US 40 Alt.).
Construction began on one of the first sections of what would become I-68, the Cumberland Thruway, on June 10, 1965. This portion of the highway, which consists of a mile-long elevated bridge, was completed and opened to the public on December 5, 1966. The elevated highway connected Lee Street in west Cumberland to Maryland Avenue in east Cumberland, providing a quicker path for motorists traveling through the town on US 40 and US 220. The Cumberland Thruway was extended to US 220 and then to Vocke Road (Maryland Route 658, MD 658) by 1970. Problems quickly emerged with the highway, especially near an area called "Moose Curve". At Moose Curve, the road curves sharply at the bottom of Haystack Mountain, and traffic accidents are common.
For the current US 48, see U.S. Route 48.
In 1965, the Appalachian Development Act was passed, authorizing the establishment of the Appalachian Development Highway System, which was meant to provide access to areas throughout the Appalachian Mountains that were not previously served by the Interstate Highway System. A set of corridors was defined, comprising 3,090 miles (4,970 km) of highways from New York to Mississippi. Corridor E in this system was defined to have endpoints at I-79 in Morgantown, West Virginia, and I-70 in Hancock, Maryland. At the time, there were no freeways along the corridor, though construction on the Cumberland Thruway began that year. It was this corridor that would eventually become I-68.
The construction of Corridor E, which was also designated as US 48, took over 20 years and hundreds of millions of dollars to complete. The cost of completing the freeway in West Virginia has been estimated at $113 million (equivalent to $403 million in 2019) The cost of building I-68 from Cumberland to the West Virginia state line came to $126 million ($450 million in 2019); the portion between Cumberland and Sideling Hill cost $182 million ($311 million in 2019); and the section at Sideling Hill cost $44 million ($75.1 million in 2019).
Much of the work in building the freeway was completed during the 1970s, with US 48 opened from Vocke Road in LaVale to MD 36 in Frostburg on October 12, 1973, and to MD 546 on November 1, 1974. On November 15, 1975, the West Virginia portion and a 14-mile (23 km) portion from the West Virginia state line to Keysers Ridge in Maryland opened, followed by the remainder of the freeway in Garrett County on August 13, 1976.
In the 1980s, the focus of construction shifted to the east of Cumberland, where a 19-mile (31 km) section of the road still had not been completed. The first corridor for the construction to be approved by the Maryland State Highway Administration (MDSHA) ran south of US 40. This corridor would have bypassed towns in eastern Allegany County such as Flintstone, leaving them without access to the freeway, and would have passed directly through Green Ridge State Forest, the largest state forest in Maryland. This proposed corridor provoked strong opposition, largely due to the environmental damage that would be caused by the road construction in Green Ridge State Forest. Environmental groups sued MDSHA in order to halt the planned construction, but the court ruled in favor of the State Highway Administration. In 1984, however, MDSHA reversed its earlier decision and chose an alignment that closely paralleled US 40, passing through Flintstone and to the north of Green Ridge State Forest. Construction on the final section of I-68 began May 25, 1987, and was completed on August 2, 1991.
Designation as I-68
Though the National Freeway was designated as US 48, as the completion of the freeway neared, the possibility of the freeway being designated as an Interstate Highway came up. In the 1980s, the project to improve US 50 between Washington, D.C., and Annapolis to Interstate Highway standards had been assigned the designation of I-68. MDSHA, however, later concluded that adding additional route shields to the US 50 freeway would not be helpful to drivers, since about half the freeway already had two route designations (US 50 and US 301) and drivers on the freeway were already familiar with the US 50 designation. This made the designation to be applied to that freeway more flexible, and so in 1989, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the organization composed of the various state departments of transportation that decides route numbering in the United States, approved MDSHA's request to renumber the US 50 freeway from I-68 to I-595. That same year, AASHTO approved changing US 48's designation to I-68. This change took effect upon the completion of the last section of the National Freeway, on August 2, 1991.
With the completion of I-68 and the change in its route number, the US 48 designation was removed. In 2002, AASHTO approved the establishment of a new US 48, this time for the Corridor H highway from Weston, West Virginia, to Strasburg, Virginia. This marks the third time that the US 48 number has been assigned to a highway, the first use being for a highway in California that existed in the 1920s.
In April 2021, legislation was introduced into the West Virginia House of Delegates that would name the section of I-68 in West Virginia the President Donald J. Trump Highway after former President Donald Trump. The legislation is sponsored by two dozen Republican legislators led by Delegate Gary Howell.
Numerous accidents and incidents have occurred on I-68. On June 1, 1991, a gasoline tanker descending into downtown Cumberland from the east attempted to exit the freeway at exit 43D, Maryland Avenue. The tanker went out of control and overturned as the driver tried to go around the sharp turn at the exit. Gasoline began to leak from the damaged tanker, forcing the evacuation of a three-block area of Cumberland. Approximately 30 minutes later, the tanker exploded, setting eight houses on fire. The fire caused an estimated $250,000 in damages (equivalent to $430,000 in 2019), and prompted MDSHA to place signs prohibiting hazardous materials trucks from exiting at the Maryland Avenue exit.
On May 23, 2003, poor visibility due to fog was a major contributing factor to an 85-vehicle pileup on I-68 on Savage Mountain west of Frostburg. Two people were killed and nearly 100 people were injured. Because of the extent of the wreckage on the road, I-68 remained blocked for 24 hours while the wreckage was cleared. In the aftermath of the pileup, the question of how to deal with fog in the future was discussed. Though the cost of a fog warning system can be considerable, MDSHA installed such a system in 2005 at a cost of $230,000 ($300,000 in 2019). The system alerts drivers when visibility drops below 1,000 feet (300 m).
Effect on surrounding region
One of the arguments in favor of the construction of I-68 was that the freeway would improve the poor economic conditions in western Maryland. The economy of the surrounding area has improved since the construction of the freeway, especially in Garrett County, where the freeway opened up the county to tourism from Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. Correspondingly, Garrett County saw a sharp increase in population and employment during and after the construction of the road, with full- and part-time employment increasing from 8,868 in 1976 to 15,334 in 1991. However, economic difficulties remain in Allegany and Garrett counties. There were concerns over loss of customers to businesses that have been cut off from the main highway due to the construction of the new alignment in the 1980s, leading to protests when then-Governor Harry Hughes visited the Sideling Hill road cut when it was opened.
In the 1990s, there was discussion about a future westward extension to I-68. Such an extension would connect the western terminus of I-68 in Morgantown to WV 2 in Moundsville. A 1989 proposal had suggested a toll road be built along this corridor. In 2003, the Federal Highway Administration approved the extension, paving the way for federal funding and for the road to become part of the National Highway System on completion. However, the project ran into problems due to lack of funds, and in 2008, West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin suggested dropping the project altogether, making construction of a westward extension of I-68 unlikely in the near future.
In 2014, Marshall County officials brought the extension of I-68 up again as a way for oil companies to have easier access to drill into the area, likely by fracking. Much like the second leg of the Southern Beltway in the Pittsburgh area, an extension of I-68 is being spurred in response to the Marcellus natural gas trend. If the extension were to be built, it would also include a widening of WV 2 to four lanes and would cost an estimated $5 million per mile. It is expected that the project would be divided into two legs, first from Morgantown to Cameron, then Cameron to Moundsville.
Others have proposed extending I-68 to Wheeling, West Virginia and connecting it with I-470.
I-68 spans 112.6 miles (181.2 km)—81.1 miles (130.5 km) in Maryland and 31.5 miles (50.7 km) in West Virginia—connecting I-79 in Morgantown, West Virginia to I-70 in Hancock, Maryland, across the Appalachian Mountains. The control cities—the cities officially chosen to be the destinations shown on guide signs—for I-68 are Morgantown, Cumberland, and Hancock. I-68 is the main route connecting western Maryland to the rest of Maryland. I-68 is also advertised to drivers on I-70 as an "alternate route to Ohio and points west" by the MDSHA.
I-68 begins at exit 148 on I-79 near Morgantown and runs eastward, meeting with US 119 one mile (1.6 km) east of its terminus at I-79. I-68 turns northeastward, curving around Morgantown, with four interchanges in the Morgantown area—I-79, US 119, WV 7, and WV 705. Leaving the Morgantown area, I-68 again runs eastward, interchanging with WV 43, which provides access to Cheat Lake and Uniontown, Pennsylvania. Near this interchange, I-68 passes over Cheat Lake and climbs a steep ascent out of Cheat Canyon.
Entering Preston County, the route interchanges with CR 73/12, which provides access to Coopers Rock State Forest. In contrast to the Morgantown area, the portion of Preston County that I-68 crosses is more rural, with the only town along the route being Bruceton Mills. In Bruceton Mills, I-68 meets WV 26. I-68 meets CR 5 (Hazelton Road) at its last exit before entering Garrett County, Maryland.
The region of West Virginia through which the freeway passes is rural and mountainous. There are several sections that have steep grades, especially near the Cheat River Canyon, where there is a truck escape ramp in case trucks lose their brakes descending the steep grade.
The peak traffic density in terms of average annual daily traffic on I-68 in West Virginia is 32,900 vehicles per day at the interchange with I-79 in Morgantown. The traffic gradually decreases further eastward, reaching a low point at 14,600 vehicles per day at the Hazelton exit.
After entering Garrett County, I-68 continues its run through rural areas, crossing the northern part of the county. The terrain through this area consists of ridges that extend from southwest to northeast, with I-68 crossing the ridges through its east–west run. The first exit in Maryland is at MD 42 in Friendsville. I-68 ascends Keysers Ridge, where it meets US 40 and US 219, both of which join the highway at Keysers Ridge. The roadway that used to be the surface alignment of US 40 parallels I-68 to Cumberland, and is now designated as US 40 Alt. I-68 crosses Negro Mountain, which was the highest point along the historic National Road that the freeway parallels east of Keysers Ridge. This is the source of the name of the freeway in Maryland: the National Freeway. Three miles (4.8 km) east of Grantsville, US 219 leaves the National Freeway to run northward towards Meyersdale, Pennsylvania, while I-68 continues eastward, crossing Savage Mountain before entering Allegany County.
The section of I-68 west of Dans Mountain in Allegany County is located in the Allegheny Mountains, characterized in Garrett County by a series of uphill and downhill stretches along the freeway, each corresponding to a ridge that the freeway crosses. In Allegany County, the freeway crosses the Allegheny Front, where, from Savage Mountain to LaVale, the highway drops in elevation by 1,800 feet (550 m) in a distance of nine miles (14 km).
The traffic density on I-68 in Garrett County is rather sparse compared to that of Allegany County. At the Maryland–West Virginia state line, there is an annual average daily traffic of 11,581 vehicles per day. This density increases to its highest point in Garrett County at exit 22, where US 219 leaves I-68; 19,551 vehicles per day drive through this section. At the Allegany County line, the traffic density decreases slightly to 18,408. In Allegany County, the vehicle count increases to 28,861 in LaVale, and to the freeway's peak of 46,191 at the first US 220 interchange (exit 42) in Cumberland. East of Cumberland, the vehicle count decreases to 16,551 at Martins Mountain and stays nearly constant to the eastern terminus of I-68 in Hancock.
After entering Allegany County, I-68 bypasses Frostburg to the south, with two exits, one to Midlothian Road (unsigned MD 736) and one to MD 36. Near the MD 36 exit is God's Ark of Safety church, which is known for its attempt to build a replica of Noah's Ark. This replica, which currently consists of a steel frame, can be seen from I-68.
East of Frostburg, I-68 crosses a bridge above Spruce Hollow near Clarysville, passing over MD 55, which runs along the bottom of the valley. The freeway runs along the hillside above US 40 Alt. in the valley formed by Braddock Run. Entering LaVale, I-68 has exits to US 40 Alt. and MD 658 (signed southbound as US 220 Truck). I-68 ascends Haystack Mountain, entering the city of Cumberland. This is the most congested section of the highway in Maryland. The speed limit on the highway drops from 70 miles per hour (110 km/h) in LaVale to 55 miles per hour (89 km/h) until the US 220 exit, and to 40 miles per hour (64 km/h) in downtown Cumberland. This drop in the speed limit is due to several factors, including heavy congestion, closely spaced interchanges, and a sharp curve in the road, known locally as "Moose Curve", located at the bottom of Haystack Mountain. This section of the highway was originally built in the 1960s as the Cumberland Thruway, a bypass to the original path of US 40 through Cumberland.
Until 2008, signs at exit 43A in downtown Cumberland labeled the exit as providing access to WV 28 Alt. Because of this, many truckers used this exit to get to WV 28. This created problems on WV 28 Alt. in Ridgeley, West Virginia, as trucks became stuck under a low railroad overpass, blocking traffic through Ridgeley. To reduce this problem, the Maryland State Highway Administration removed references to WV 28 Alt. from guide signs for exit 43A and placed warning signs in Cumberland and on I-68 approaching Cumberland advising truckers to instead use exit 43B to MD 51, which allows them to connect to WV 28 via Virginia Avenue, bypassing the low overpass in Ridgeley.
At exit 44 in east Cumberland, US 40 Alt. meets the freeway and ends, and at exit 46, US 220 leaves I-68 and runs northward toward Bedford, Pennsylvania. I-68 continues across northeastern Allegany County, passing Rocky Gap State Park near exit 50. In northeastern Allegany County, the former US 40 bypassed by I-68 is designated as MD 144, with several exits from I-68 along the route. I-68 crosses several mountain ridges along this section of the highway, including Martins Mountain, Town Hill, and Green Ridge, and the highway passes through Green Ridge State Forest. East of Green Ridge State Forest, MD 144 ends at US 40 Scenic, another former section of US 40.
I-68 crosses into Washington County at Sideling Hill Creek and ascends Sideling Hill. The road cut that was built into Sideling Hill for I-68 can be seen for several miles in each direction, and has become a tourist attraction as a result of the geologic structure exposed by the road cut.
On the east side of Sideling Hill, I-68 again interchanges with US 40 Scenic, at its eastern terminus at Woodmont Road. Here US 40 Scenic ends at a section of MD 144 separate from the section further west. Four miles (6.4 km) east of this interchange, I-68 ends at I-70 and US 522 in the town of Hancock.
- ^ abMelling, Carol (October 31, 2003). "I-68 Extension Now Eligible for Federal Funding" (Press release). West Virginia Department of Transportation. Archived from the original on May 23, 2009. Retrieved January 17, 2009.
- ^ abcdefghiHighway Information Services Division (December 31, 2013). Highway Location Reference. Maryland State Highway Administration. Retrieved January 21, 2010.
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- ^ ab"Demolition in Path of Bridge to Begin". Cumberland News. June 10, 1965. p. 12.
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Template:Attached KML/Interstate 68
KML is from Wikidata
|National Freeway (I-68)|
Interstate 68 is the 116-mile-long freeway between I-79 at Morgantown, West Virginia, and I-70 at Hancock, Maryland, and it is Appalachian Corridor "E". It was one of the approved highway corridors in the 1965 Appalachian Regional Development Act. The highway is built to full four-lane freeway standards.
Above, westbound on I-68 National Freeway, approaching the Sideling Hill Cut. Notice the overpass and visitor center right in front of the cut. This is a popular Maryland tourist site. There are diagrams inside the visitor center showing the geology of the cut.
I-68 near Flintstone, heading westbound.
Maryland has always used the name "National Freeway" for this highway from the time that it was first planned, and the reason why is because it parallels the corridor of the old National Road built back in the 1800s. The US-40 National Pike replaced the National Road. So the freeway bypass of US-40 was named the National Freeway. US-40 actually leaves Maryland near the northwest corner of the state and heads northwest into Pennsylvania. I-68 continues west to Morgantown, West Virginia. West Virginia did not and does not have a name for their section of the highway.
The Interstate designation was not planned for this highway until it was nearly completed. The Interstate I-68 designation was planned for the reconstructed US-50 John Hanson Highway from the Capital Beltway to Annapolis, and that highway was approved for Interstate construction as I-68, in the mid-1980s, and construction, involving widening to three lanes each way, and new interchanges, ran from 1990 to 1995. When the National Freeway in Western Maryland was completed in 1991, it was given the I-68 designation, and US-50 was given I-595 (never posted). See my article Interstate 595 in Maryland (US-50 from I-95/I-495 to Annapolis).
Maryland's main justification for the National Freeway was to provide modern highway access and economic development to Western Maryland. Garrett and Allegany Counties were formerly somewhat isolated, limiting economic development.
I-68 is one of the few mainline Interstate highways that does not directly serve a major metropolitan area (e.g. 500,000 or more population). However, it fits very well into the national Interstate highway grid, handling westerly traffic to/from the Baltimore-Washington area, heading to the Ohio Valley and west.
Construction of Appalachian Corridor "E" (one and the same with what is today designated I-68) spanned 28 years from 1963 to 1991, at a total cost of $481 million. I-68 in West Virginia was built as Appalachian Corridor E (US-48) between 1970 and 1976 at a cost of $113 million and stretches 31.8 miles from an interchange with I-79 at Exit 148 to the Maryland border. The US-48 National Freeway in Maryland was completed in several major segments: The 6-mile-long section near Piney Grove (opened 1967) and a 4-mile-long section between the Sideling Hill section and I-70 at Hancock (opened 1966), was built at a cost of $26 million, the 44-mile portion of the freeway from the West Virginia line to the eastern part of the city of Cumberland was built between 1964 and 1976 at a cost of $126 million, and was designated as US-48. The 4.5-mile Sideling Hill Cut segment opened on August 15, 1985, and the entire 8.7-mile Sideling Hill section was completed in 1986, and it includes a huge cut 380 feet deep through the ridge of the mountain, at a cost of $44 million, and it was designated as US-48. The 19-mile Cumberland-Green Ridge section had construction started in May, 1987, and the $182 million section was completed on August 2, 1991, and on that day the whole of Appalachian Corridor "E" between I-79 at Morgantown WV and I-70 at Hancock MD, was designated as Interstate I-68, and the US-48 designation was removed.
I-68 in conjunction with I-79 provides a toll-free alternate route to the I-70 portion of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Between the I-70/I-79 junction at Washington PA and the I-68/I-70 junction at Hancock MD, the distance is 150 miles on I-70, and 163 miles on I-68 and I-79. The Turnpike route mostly has a lower speed limit (mostly 55 mph, while I-68 in Maryland is mostly 65 mph and I-68 in West Virginia is mostly 70 mph) and it passes through Breezewood (a gap in I-70 which requires travel through that town) and through two toll plazas, and that section of the PA Turnpike has 22 miles of major reconstruction as of February 2004, and the PA Turnpike has more major reconstruction projects planned over the next 5 years. I-68 has steeper hills than the PA Turnpike in some places, but that section of the PA Turnpike has a lot of horizontal and vertical curvature. Comparatively, I-68 has 1) better pavement surface, 2) a modern depressed grass median, 3) wider clear roadsides, 4) closer interchange spacing, 5) no tunnels, 6) less traffic, and 7) no toll. Overall, I find I-68 to be faster and better.
Annual average traffic volumes for 2002 on I-68 in Maryland are 12,825 at the Maryland/West Virginia state line, 16,825 at MD-495, 18,325 at US-219 north, 20,175 at Finzel, 15,922 at Frostburg, 26,925 at MD-53, 39,825 at US-220 south, a high of 49,825 in downtown Cumberland, 31,025 at US-40 Alt./MD-952, 19,525 at US-220 north, 17,025 at MD-144 at Flintstone, 17,225 at Exit 68/Orleans Road, 22,425 at the Sideling Hill Cut, and 20,325 just east of the I-70/I-68 interchange. This data is from MDOT SHA and is detailed on the webpage Interstate 68 - Annual Average Daily Traffic by AA Roads. I haven't yet accessed the West Virginia I-68 traffic volumes.
Completing the National Freeway
The following are my comments about the National Freeway Location Study, Cumberland-Hancock Corridor, Stage II Report, November 1973, public hearing brochure, by Maryland Department of Transportation. At this point, of the 82 miles of the National Freeway in Maryland, all was built except for 19 miles just east of the city limits of Cumberland, and 8 miles in the Sideling Hill area. This highway location study evaluated 4 alternative routes for the 19-mile section and 5 alternative routes for the Sideling Hill section.
|Map of alternates from National Freeway Location Study, Cumberland-Hancock Corridor, Stage II Report, November 1973, public hearing brochure, by Maryland Department of Transportation. The routes that were close to what was ultimately built, was the "AGEA" route on the western section, and the "AJA" route on the eastern section. "North" is straight upward. |
Large image (337 kilobytes).
The 19-mile Cumberland-Green Ridge section of US-40 had 10 miles of 4-lane divided highway (not freeway) and 9 miles of 2-lane highway. Between Cumberland and I-70 at Hancock, there were previously-built sections of US-48 National Freeway; a 6-mile-long section near Piney Grove (opened 1967), and a 4-mile-long section between the Sideling Hill section and I-70 at Hancock (opened 1966). The two remaining unbuilt sections of the National Freeway would join seamlessly with these previously built sections of the freeway, making one continuous freeway.
One of the alternatives studied on the Cumberland-Green Ridge section paralleled closely to the existing US-40, usually within 1/4 mile or less, 19.3 miles long, and this basic concept was what was ultimately chosen and built. Another alternative would have been well to the south of US-40, as much as 6 miles to the south, and it was 16.9 miles long (this alternative was actually chosen by MDOT SHA and FHWA in 1980, but those agencies restudied the route in 1984 and in 1986 changed the decision to the closely paralleling route). Another alternative had the western portion relocated to the south, with the eastern portion paralleled closely to the existing US-40. The full relocation alternative compared to the alternative that paralleled closely to the existing US-40 throughout, would have had more than twice as many acres of land acquisition, and would have cost 36% more to build, and the eastern section would pass through a major state forest; also, the Sierra Club and several other environmental groups voiced their opposition to the full relocation alternative, and favored the closely paralleling alternative.
The full Cumberland-Green Ridge relocation alternative would have passed through very rural areas and not near enough to provide local service to the villages and residents along US-40, while the alternative that parallels closely to the existing US-40 throughout would provide good service to the villages and residents along US-40, and the freeway could be built just far enough away from US-40 that it would have little or no impacts to the residents, so there was very little local opposition to the latter alternative. This explains why MDOT SHA and FHWA selected the alternative that paralleled closely to the existing US-40 throughout, although it does contain several small relocations, each a mile long or less, including at Martin Mountain and at Flintstone.
For the 8 miles of the National Freeway in the Sideling Hill area, there were 5 alternatives studied, 3 of which would have involved an open cut through the mountain, and 2 of which would have involved a tunnel through the mountain. The northernmost open cut alternative involved a 350-foot-deep open cut through Sideling Hill, with a total segment length of 8.7 miles and a cost estimate in 1973 at $24.2 million, and that is the one which was ultimately selected. A tunnel alternative on the northern alternative would have involved a tunnel 1.76 miles (9,293 feet) long, with a total segment length of 7.2 miles and a cost estimate in 1973 at $44.3 million.
The tunnel alternative would have avoided making a huge cut in the mountain, providing less impacts to the natural environment, but it would have cost 83% more to build the 8-mile Sideling Hill area segment of highway, and a tunnel has high round-the-clock operational costs for personnel and electrical power for ventilation and lighting, and a tunnel usually has major restrictions on HAZMAT (hazardous material) cargoes which would cause most of those vehicles to utilize the original 2-lane US-40 over the top of the mountain, a highway with not nearly the safety as the design of a freeway. It was decided to build the open cut through Sideling Hill, the final design of which involved the removal of 3.5 million cubic yards of soil and rock and a cut up to 380 feet deep. Sideling Hill is a mountain with a peak elevation in Maryland of 1,760 feet, about one mile south of the Pennsylvania border.
This 1973 report also had a brief discussion of what to do in the future about the US-40 freeway in the city of Cumberland, which the completed National Freeway would utilize as one of its segments. This 4-lane freeway was opened about 1965 as an 8-mile-long bypass of US-40 through Cumberland, the US-40 Cumberland Thruway, and it includes a one-mile-long elevated section with a winding 40-mph alignment in downtown Cumberland. Even back in 1973 it was recognized that the completion of the National Freeway (and the rest of Appalachian Corridor “E” in West Virginia to I-79 at Morgantown) would eventually lead to traffic volumes that would exceed the design of the Cumberland Thruway. Here is a direct excerpt from the National Freeway Location Study, Cumberland-Hancock Corridor, Stage II Report (excerpt in blue text):
Building the National Freeway, Special Edition of Maryland Roads, August 2, 1991, by Maryland State Highway Administration. Eight page brochure with articles and photos commemorating the completion of the National Freeway (I-68) in Western Maryland. Full quote (in blue text):
In the 1950s, when new Interstate highways were beginning to reshape the landscape and lifestyles of much of Maryland and the nation, U.S. 40 from Hancock to Keyser’s Ridge was not much more than a winding country road.
The restudy on the 19-mile Cumberland-Green Ridge section in the mid-1980s produced a change in one of the alternates which was not ultimately selected, as seen with Tie Line "C" on the map below, where the freeway would have followed the southern line on the western section, Tie Line "C" on the central section, and along existing US-40 on the eastern section.
Map of alternates from Informational Meeting - National Freeway - U.S. 48, brochure for public meeting, Allegany Community College and Fort Hill High School, Cumberland, Maryland, April 30, 1985. "North" is straight upward.
The route that was ultimately built, was the "AGEA" route, which closely follows US-40.
Building the National Freeway, Special Edition of Maryland Roads, August 2, 1991. Article “Exhibit Center to Have Geologic Info”. Full quote (in blue text):
The new Sideling Hill Exhibit Center promises to make the Sideling Hill Cut a major tourist attraction.
The following map excerpt is from the official Maryland state highway map, 1983.
|In 1983, all of the National Freeway was complete except for 19 miles just east of Cumberland and 8 miles in the Sideling Hill area. "North" is straight upward. |
Large image (332 kilobytes). Extra Large image (516 kilobytes).
Road types: Freeway - 3 black lines with green filler, Highway (non-limited access) with 4 or more lanes - double red line, Highway with 2 lanes - single red line.
These are the MDOT SHA public hearing brochures that I have and reference for this article:
National Freeway Location Study, Cumberland-Hancock Corridor, Stage II Report, November 1973, public hearing brochure, by Maryland Department of Transportation. This covers both the 19-mile Cumberland-Green Ridge section of the National Freeway, and the 8-mile Sideling Hill area section of the National Freeway.
Supplemental Corridor Public Hearing, National Freeway Section I, From Wolf Mill to M.V. Smith Road, January 24, 1978, public hearing brochure, by Maryland Department of Transportation, State Highway Administration. This is the 19-mile Cumberland-Green Ridge section of the National Freeway.
Design Public Hearing, U.S. Route 48 (National Freeway), East of Orleans Road to East of Woodmont Road, December 12, 1978, public hearing brochure, by Maryland Department of Transportation, State Highway Administration. This is the 8-mile Sideling Hill area section of the National Freeway.
Informational Meeting, National Freeway U.S. 48, April 30, 1985, public hearing brochure, by Maryland Department of Transportation, State Highway Administration. This covered the 19-mile Cumberland-Green Ridge section of the National Freeway.
Building the National Freeway, Special Edition of Maryland Roads, August 2, 1991, by Maryland State Highway Administration.
I-68 Sideling Hill Cut
Geology Of The Sideling Hill Road Cut - prepared by Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Maryland Geological Survey. An excellent official webpage about the Sideling Hill Cut, with diagrams of the geology of the mountain as seen in the cut.
Interstate 68 Cut Through Sideling Hill, by Federal Highway Administration, Maryland Division Office. Excellent aerial photo of the Sideling Hill Cut.
I-68 in Maryland, about 1/3 the way down from the top of the webpage, Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways - Engineering Marvels, by Richard F. Weingroff, 1996. The webpage has a nice aerial photo of the I-68 Sideling Hill Cut. Excerpt (in blue text):
Sideling Hill in western Maryland had been an obstacle to transportation for centuries. Old U.S. Route 40, the modern descendant of the National Road (initiated as a federal project in 1806), executed a treacherous hairpin curve to get around the obstacle. When Maryland officials decided to build an Interstate highway through western Maryland to connect I-79 in Fairmont, W.Va., with I-70 and I-81 in Hagerstown, Md., they decided they needed a straightforward crossing of the mountain. To avoid a prohibitively steep grade, they would blast a 116-meter-deep cut into the top of the 536-meter (m) mountain. Doing so required blasting, scraping, and hauling 3.44 million cubic meters of shale, sandstone, and other rock while maintaining traffic on U.S. 40. In addition, stringent erosion and sediment control requirements, aimed at protecting the trout streams that crisscross the route, complicated the task. An article about the cut noted that when the blasters were done, "They had achieved an engineering marvel: a breathtakingly beautiful man-made rock wall, revealing in tilted, multi-colored layers of sedimentary rock 350 million years of geologic history." When I-68 opened in August 1991, it included the Sideling Hill Exhibition and Tourist Information Center, housing geological exhibits. The center includes a fenced walkway onto the Sideling Hill road cut, as well as a fenced pedestrian bridge across I-68.
|The above map depicts the proposed National Freeway in the Sideling Hill area. The proposed freeway where it was ultimately built, follows the heavy black line that curves upward, and the double black line (Alternate 2). The topmost curve is where the Sideling Hill Cut was built. The thinner single black line is the original US-40. "North" is straight upward.|
Large image (317 kilobytes).
The map diagram comes from the following document:
Photos of National Freeway and I-68
I took the following 12 photos on one day in December, 1997.
|Westbound on I-68 National Freeway, approaching the Sideling Hill Cut. Notice the overpass and visitor center right in front of the cut. This is a popular Maryland tourist site. There are diagrams inside the visitor center showing the geology of the cut|
|I-68 National Freeway, looking west from theoverpass at the Sideling Hill visitor's center. Notice third climbing lane westbound.|
|I-68 National Freeway, east of Flintstone. Heading westbound.|
|I-68 National Freeway, east of Flintstone. Heading westbound, about a mile after the previous photo.|
I-68 National Freeway, west of Flintstone. Heading westbound.
|I-68 National Freeway, east of Cumberland near the city limits. Heading westbound.|
I-68 eastbound in Cumberland, Maryland. This winding elevated roadway is about a mile long, goes through the center of the city, passes over streets and rail lines, and was completed in 1965 as part of the US-40 Cumberland Thruway. The speed limit is 40 mph.
|I-68 National Freeway, near Pratt, looking westward. Notice how I-68 is supported by a concrete retaining wall as it passes close to the old 2-lane US-40.|
|I-68 National Freeway, near Pratt, looking westward from an overpass.|
Looking east on I-68, a couple miles from the Sideling Hill Cut.
|Westbound on the I-68 National Freeway, approaching the Sideling Hill Cut. Notice the overpass and visitor center right in front of the cut. This is a very similar vantage point to the first photo in this group, but taken in the late afternoon, so the sun lighting angle is different.|
|I-68 National Freeway, Sideling Hill Cut, looking west from the overpass at the visitor's center. Notice the third climbing lane westbound. This is a very similar vantage point to the second photo in this group, but taken in the late afternoon, so the sun lighting angle is different.|
I took the following 6 photos on one day in February 1985, showing National Freeway construction in the Sideling Hill area.
|Sideling Hill Cut under construction in February 1985. The photo was taken from the shoulder of US-40, looking west toward the east side of the cut. If you look closely just above the roofline of the house, you can see the grade of the new freeway under construction a few hundred yards behind the house.|
|Looking west from the top of Sideling Hill. The US-40 four-lane divided highway is visible down below, with its twin bridges over Sideling Hill Creek. That 2-mile-long section of highway was incorporated into the National Freeway.|
|Sideling Hill Cut under construction in February 1985. The photo was taken from below the highway embankment, looking east toward the west side of the cut.|
|Sideling Hill Cut under construction in February 1985. The photo was taken from the highway which has had asphalt base courses placed, looking east toward the west side of the cut.|
|Sideling Hill Cut under construction in February 1985. The photo was taken from the highway, looking east toward the west side of the cut. I walked down the highway from the last photo vantage point, closer to the cut.|
|Sideling Hill Cut under construction in February 1985. The photo was taken from the highway, looking east toward the west side of the cut. This photo was taken from the same vantage point as the previous photo, but it was taken with a 135mm (2.7x) telephoto lens, instead of the 50mm (1.0x) regular lens used previously.|
I took the following 5 photos on one day in July, 1984.
|Eastbound on I-68, approaching the bridges over Cheat Lake, just east of Morgantown, West Virginia.|
|Eastbound on I-68, just east of Morgantown, West Virginia.|
|Eastbound on I-68, approaching the MD-546 Finzel interchange.|
|Eastbound on I-68, near Frostburg, Maryland.|
US-40 National Pike, west of Flintstone, Maryland. I-68 had not yet been built on a 19-mile section just east of Cumberland, so this section of US-40 was still serving as the main east-west highway.
Appalachian Development Highway System
The Appalachian Development Highway System (ADHS) is a 3,025-mile highway network that was authorized by the U.S. Congress in the Appalachian Development Act of 1965, and it reached 85% completion in 2003.
Appalachian Development Highway System, by Appalachian Regional Commission, quote (in blue text):
In 1964, the President’s Appalachian Regional Commission (PARC) reported to Congress that economic growth in Appalachia would not be possible until the Region’s isolation had been overcome. Because the cost of building highways through Appalachia’s mountainous terrain was high, the Region had never been served by adequate roads. Its network of narrow, winding, two-lane roads, snaking through narrow stream valleys or over mountaintops, was slow to drive, unsafe, and in many places worn out. The nation’s Interstate Highway System had largely bypassed the Appalachian Region, going through or around the Region’s rugged terrain as cost-effectively as possible.
The PARC report and the Appalachian governors placed top priority on a modern highway system as the key to economic development. As a result, Congress authorized the construction of the Appalachian Development Highway System (ADHS), a 3,025-mile highway network, in the Appalachian Development Act of 1965. The ADHS was designed to generate economic development in previously isolated areas, supplement the Interstate system, connect Appalachia to the Interstate system, and provide access to areas within the Region as well as to markets in the rest of the nation.
By the end of FY 2002, 2,571 miles—approximately 85 percent of the ADHS—were complete or under construction. Of these, 2,441 miles were open to traffic. Many of the remaining miles will be among the most expensive to build. The most current estimate (2002) puts the cost to complete the ADHS at $8.5 billion in 2000 dollars. The federal share of that amount is $4.5 billion (in 2000 dollars). Completion of the ADHS remains a top priority for ARC.
I-68 Extension in West Virginia
In October, 2003, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) approved West Virginia’s request extend I-68 from I-79 at Morgantown to WV-2 at Moundsville. A close reading of this news release, and from what I have heard, indicates that this extension will have 4 lanes and will be limited access, but will include at-grade intersections at major public roads and will have interchanges at major junctions, so the highway will not actually be built to Interstate standards nor will it carry an Interstate route designation.
I-68 Extension Now Eligible for Federal Funding, West Virginia Department of Transportation news release, October 31, 2003. Excerpt (in blue text):
The Federal Highway Administration has approved West Virginia’s request to add an extension of I-68 from I-79 at Morgantown to WV 2 at Moundsville to the National Highway System. Approval means that the traveled way between Moundsville and Morgantown, including Monongalia County 19/24, US 19, WV 7 and US 250, has been reclassified as part of the State Principal Arterial System. The 73 miles of roadway will be added to the existing 1749-mile National Highway System and become eligible for federal funding, if and when such monies become available.
Sideling Hill WMA, Sideling Hill WMA, Sideling Hill Exhibit Center, Sideling Hill Wildlife Management Area, Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
Maryland Scenic Byways: Western Region , National Freeway, by Maryland State Highway Administration.
I-68/US 40 Multiplex, Central PA/MD Roads, by Timothy Reichard.
Sideling Hill Syncline Roadcut
Sandor Gulyas' Delmarva Peninsula Trip 2000 and Maryland-West Virginia Trip 2001. See "Sideling Hill on I-68" for photos.
Western Maryland Freeway Junctions, by Mr. Yamamoto. About 1/3 the way down from the top of the webpage is a diagram of the I-68/I-70/US-522/US-40 interchange.
Interstate 68 - Interstate Guide, by AA Roads.
Historic National Road - Maryland, by National Scenic Byways Online.
Maryland Scenic Byways, by Maryland State Highway Administration.
The National Road: Maryland, by Adam Prince.
Copyright © 1997-2004 by Scott Kozel. All rights reserved. Reproduction, reuse, or distribution without permission is prohibited.
Back to top
By Scott M. Kozel, Roads to the Future
(Created 8-14-1997, updated 6-26-2004)
- Western Terminus:
- West Virginia-Maryland state line
- Eastern Terminus:
- I-70 and US 522 in Hancock
- 80.68 miles
- Garrett, Allegany, Washington
I-68 is an east/west interstate highway through the Appalachian Mountains from I-79 in Morgantown, West Virginia, to I-70 in Hancock, Maryland. The section in Maryland is known as the National Freeway because it is the freeway alternative to the National Road, one of the early cross-country roads that roughly corresponds to present-day US 40. I-68 is designated Corridor E of the Appalachian Development Highway System, a network of highways intended to provide better access to and from Appalachia, thereby promoting economic development in the region.
Copyright © 2003-2021 by David Golub. All rights reserved. The author would like to thank William Roll for contributing photographs and LC for contributing documents to this web site. You may not reproduce any text or photographs on this web site without express permission from the author. Hotlinking of images from this site is strictly prohibited. Route symbols based on graphics from Central PA/MD Roads and Wikipedia. Map icons by MapGlyphs.com.
68 maryland route
Back in Time
Sideling Hill Mountain, I-68-Are We Going Over It or Around It?
By Rickie Longfellow
As you travel toward the historic city of Cumberland, Maryland on I-68 from either direction, you will see a mountain ahead in the distance that makes you question if the highway will go over it or around it. As you travel, you strain to see the roadway for your answer. Upon approach you will see that there is a cut in the mountain and you will have the scenic pleasure of not driving over it or around it, but driving through it. My husband and I recently had this pleasure on yet another of our motor home adventures; and as I have ancestral history in the Cumberland area, I found it especially interesting.
Opened in 1991, Interstate 68, known as the National Freeway, follows the Old National Road of the 1800's. It is the east-west tunnel and toll-free roadway linking western Maryland to northeast West Virginia and it just happens to go through Sideling Hill.
Looking west on Sideling Hill, Maryland. Photo by Rickie Longfellow.
For centuries the mountain had blocked the way for travelers who had to decide if they wanted to go over it or around it. Most chose to go around it, but the road was treacherous resulting in many mishaps. In the 1920s and 1930s, many travelers had been afraid of the drive down the mountain; whereas the drive up the mountain was not quite as frightening. Instructions were posted on how to descend Sideling Hill by coasting and lightly applying the brakes and further stating that the curved roadway ". . . presents no danger to the experienced driver who knows about it in advance."
When Maryland officials decided to build an Interstate highway to connect I-79 in West Virginia with I-70 and I-81 in Maryland, they decided a safe and straightforward crossing of the mountain was in order. How would this be accomplished? Studies found that a tunnel would cost nearly double the amount of actually cutting through the mountain, and the maintenance for a tunnel would be more costly than the upkeep of the roadway. So it was decided to slice through this rugged mountain.
Sideling Hill, Maryland, is a Paleozoic Era (570-230 million years ago) geologic treasure for not only the professional, but the roadside geologist. Photo by Rickie Longfellow.
We've seen mountains like this on our journeys-cut out so the road can pass through. In fact, over the years I have gotten excellent photographs in a variety of terrains, and some unusual shots-growth, such as Prickly Pear cactus emerging sideways from the rocky sides of sliced mountains and shiny galena that looks like it is wet on a hot sunny day. Sideling Hill is a Paleozoic Era (570-230 million years ago) geologic treasure for not only the professional, but the roadside geologist. The 340-foot cut is considered one of the best rock exposures in the United States, its man-made 10-20 foot side ledges of sandstone, shale, and siltstone in various colors serves to accent the alternating bands of coal. Marine and plant fossils were discovered encased in the mountain while moving nearly 3.5 million cubic meters of sedimentary material, further proof that this part of Maryland was once under the ocean.
First noted by early explorers and surveyors on a 1755 map as Side Long Hill, the 350 million-year-old mountain had served the settlers well. During the 1700s to 1800s, forts stood along the eastern side to guard the early pioneers as they settled into the area. My ancestors settled near Cumberland in the early 1800s. As we approached Sideling Hill, my husband at the wheel and me snapping digital photographs, I went back in time to visions of my ancestors. There they were-my great-great grandparents in their covered wagon, probably traveling the new National Road, with a wagon train from the east. As they looked forward to reaching Cumberland, Maryland where they would settle down, and where my great grandfather would be born, there it was before them-Side Long Hill. I will just bet they had the same question for the wagon master that I had-are we going over it or around it? Little did they know that one day, thanks to modern engineering, their great-great granddaughter would go through it.
For more information and photographs visit Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways Engineering Marvels by Richard F. Weingroff at: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/publications/publicroads/96summer/p96su28.cfm and I-68 in Maryland-Statement by Martin Weiss at: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/planning/economic_development/studies/i68md0505.cfm
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