DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

ORIGIN


[photo, Hughes Transportation Building, BWI Airport, Maryland]
  • Airports
  • Bridges
  • Canals
  • Highways
  • Port of Baltimore
  • Railroads
  • Roads
  • Tunnels
  • Turnpikes
  • Public Transportation
  • Hughes Transportation Building, BWI Airport, Maryland, June 2001 (demolished January 10, 2003). Photo by Diane F. Evartt.


    Authorized in 1970, the Department of Transportation began as a principal executive department on July 1, 1971 (Chapter 526, Acts of 1970). The Department provides Maryland citizens with a transportation network encompassing aviation, highway, marine, mass transit, motor vehicle, railroad and toll facilities. Because transportation's role in the State's economic development always has been vital, the evolution of Maryland's transportation systems directly reflects Maryland's growth.

    The Department of Transportation was formed by the consolidation of independent State agencies, each responsible for a specific transportation sphere. Despite State support for the expansion of transportation networks, none of these agencies was created prior to 1900. Yet, because the ability of citizens to travel from place to place affected the conduct of government, defense, and trade, Maryland government's concern with ensuring modes of transportation dates from the seventeenth century.

    In the colonial period, ships brought settlers and provided a link to Europe, the Caribbean, and Africa. Maryland's abundant waterways, including Chesapeake Bay and navigable tidal rivers and creeks, served travel and communication needs until settlement moved inland. Ferries were the first form of transport covered by law. An act of 1638/9 provided for a ferry across St. George's River to enable persons to attend provincial assemblies in St. Mary's City; toll was set at one pound of tobacco. By 1658, a more general need for ferries was expressed, and the Assembly required each county, except Kent, to maintain a ferry out of the county tax levy. The 1658 act made the county courts responsible for ferries, though ferry operations soon were assumed by private enterprise. The county courts later became responsible for roads as well, and over the next two centuries, while the legislature authorized the laying out, building, and repairing of roads and bridges, both public and private, the counties, through commissioners or elected road commissioners, actually built and paid for them.

    Public Roads. Maryland's first road law was passed in 1666. It ordered county commissioners to make highways and paths passable for persons on horse and foot by 1668. In each county, overseers were to be appointed, and either tobacco or labor was to be assessed against county taxables. Compelling county residents to work a certain number of days per year on county roads was rooted in English feudal custom, and became a long-lasting tradition in Maryland. An act of 1704 also required roads to be made passable but was more specific: the roads were to be cleared and grubbed to a width of twenty feet; substantial bridges built where needed; trees alongside notched to indicate if the road led to a ferry, courthouse, church, or to Annapolis or Williamstadt; the public roads recorded annually in the county records; and fines set for any person failing to do his road duty. Despite the volume of road legislation in the eighteenth century, travel on Maryland roads remained a harrowing experience according to contemporary accounts. Plenty of roads were cleared, but few had improved surfaces of any kind. In 1787, Baltimore County was called upon to fund and oversee several turnpikes leading to Baltimore Town (Chapter 23, Acts of 1787). The movement westward depended upon roads able to bear heavy wagons; the French and Indian War required a military supply road to Fort Cumberland; post roads were needed for efficient communication and trade between colonies. County labor and tax levies were unequal to growing demand. In 1793, convicts and vagrants were sentenced to work on public roads (Chapter 57, Acts of 1793).


    [photo, Baltimore and Harford Turnpike Company historical marker, Glen Arm (Baltimore County), Maryland] Private Turnpikes. Turnpikes played an important role in road development in Maryland. Although more turnpike companies failed than succeeded, the best roads in the State were turnpikes. Some fell into disuse, others reverted to the counties, but Maryland was unique in the number of private turnpikes surviving into the twentieth century. In 1921, the State Roads Commission purchased the last one.

    Turnpikes relieved the counties of the financial burden of building and maintaining roads by investing private capital in what had proved to be a monumental task and by making road users pay for upkeep.

    Baltimore & Harford Turnpike Company historical marker, Glen Arm (Baltimore County), Maryland, July 2015. Photo by Sarah A. Hanks.


    The General Assemby chartered any number of private turnpike companies between 1787 and 1804 with limited success, as indicated by an act of 1804 which mentions "the public expectation almost entirely frustrated" (Chapter 51, Acts of 1804). The companies incorporated under the 1804 act compensated Baltimore County for work accomplished under the 1787 act and succeeded in building most of Maryland's major routes west. No company, however, sought incorporation to build the last connecting link to the National Road in Cumberland without which trade from the interior would be lost. The legislature came up with a complex scheme linking the renewal of bank charters, construction of the Cumberland Turnpike, and funding for free schools (Chapter 122, Acts of 1813). By 1825, the major turnpikes in Maryland were completed and, in their heyday, Baltimore was the terminus for seven pikes. In 1834, the federal government turned over to Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland those sections of the National Road within their respective borders to become turnpikes. Maryland's legislature, in anticipation of federal action, already had set tolls and authorized one of the earliest State transportation officials, the Superintendent of the National Road (Chapter 85, Acts of 1831).

    Canals and Railroads. Paralleling the turnpike movement was a national craze for internal improvements, i.e., canals and railroads. George Washington himself was instrumental in setting up the Potomac Company to open navigation on the Potomac River up to Cumberland by means of canals around the worst rapids. In 1784, Maryland confirmed the Company charter issued by Virginia, and although the Potomac Company overcame obstacles to navigation, it soon ran into debt (Chapter 33, Acts of 1784). A bi-state commission in 1821 recommended abandoning riverbed and charter, and instead, perhaps inspired by the near-completion of the Erie Canal, building a canal in the river valley from the Potomac to the Ohio River. Hoping to recoup in part its financial investment in the Potomac Company, the General Assembly chartered the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company in 1823 (Chapter 140, Acts of 1823). Baltimore interests expected no benefit from the proposed canal, although a feeder canal to Baltimore had been considered. On July 4, 1828, as ground was broken for the canal, however, it also was broken for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, which Baltimore entrepreneurs hoped would bring them western trade (Chapter 123, Acts of 1826). In both ventures, Maryland owned huge blocks of stock; previously the legislature had invested heavily in the defunct Potomac Company, the Susquehanna Canal (chartered by Chapter 29, Acts of 1783 and fallen into disuse by 1812), and the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal (begun in 1804, abandoned, then completed in 1829). Internal improvements brought Maryland to the brink of bankruptcy. From 1826 to 1840, the State went an additional fifteen million dollars into debt financing canals and railroads, hoping for a return on the investment. In 1840, Maryland was unable to meet interest charges on its debt. Skillful juggling, retrenchment in government, and new taxes averted a crisis, and by 1848, the State resumed debt payments, never again to plunge into internal improvements on such a scale.

    Railroads dominated the last half of the nineteenth century. They spread over the State, made canals obsolete, and maintained Baltimore's prominence in trade. While State involvement in railroads and canals had waned, Maryland still owned significant amounts of stock, and the Constitution of 1867 provided for the Board of Public Works to review tolls, appoint directors for certain railroad and canal companies, and vote the State's stock in the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company. The legislature was swamped with requests for railroad legislation to amend railroad charters, grant rights-of-way and track extensions, and deal with other operational details. Despite rail dominance, the State Railroad Administration was not created until 1978; its functions later were assumed by the Mass Transit Administration (now Maryland Transit Administration) in 1992.

    Highways, Bridges, and Tunnels. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the emergence of the automobile posed problems for the State. Roads were inadequate for car traffic, and a system of regulation became necessary. As of 1904, motor vehicle owners registered in the office of the Secretary of State in Annapolis (Chapter 518, 1904). Upon payment of a one dollar fee, owners were issued a certificate and required to place their number on the vehicle in a conspicuous spot. Required safety measures included two front lighted lamps, one rear red light, good brakes, a bell, horn, or other signalling device, and a means of locking the starting mechanism. The first speed limits were set at ten miles per hour on the open road and six miles per hour on sharp curves, at intersections, and in town. The statute also addressed automobile etiquette upon meeting horses or other animals, either ridden or driven. A 1906 law was more explicit, requiring drivers to stop their vehicles upon request of women and children riding or driving horses or other draft animals and assist them in getting by the automobile. It became illegal for anyone to "hurl stones or other missiles" at automobiles; the speed limit rose to twelve miles an hour; and the registration fee increased to three dollars, two of which went to the State road fund (Chapter 449, Acts of 1906). In 1910, the responsibility for registering automobiles was shifted from the Secretary of State's office to the new Commissioner of Motor Vehicles (Chapter 207, Acts of 1910). Rules of the road proliferated and the speed limit gradually crept up, but enforcement was limited until 1914, when the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles began hiring motorcycle deputies to enforce motor vehicle and traffic laws throughout the State (Chapter 564, Acts of 1914). These deputies ultimately became the Maryland State Police with jurisdiction over both criminal law and traffic law in 1935, although the operating expenses for the new Department of Maryland State Police continued to be paid out of revenues from the office of the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles (Chapter 303, Acts of 1935).

    Agitation for better roads came from farmers prior to 1900. The legislature heeded their appeal by authorizing the State Geological and Economic Survey to investigate the condition of roads throughout the State and estimate the cost of improving them (Chapter 454, Acts of 1898). An 1899 report of the Survey described the massive effort necessary to upgrade Maryland's highways. The Survey acquired a Division of Highways in 1904 to assist counties with plans, specifications, and estimates for building or improving their roads. Such roads were required to have a macadamized or stone surface, and an annual State appropriation of $200,000 was apportioned to the counties according to the proportion of existing public roads in each county. The Survey oversaw construction and the State paid up to half the cost of each project, but the counties were responsible for their share of construction costs and for maintenance on all roads so built and could lose State funding for additional projects if maintenance failed to meet Survey specifications (Chapter 225, Acts of 1904). This act was the first step towards State responsibility for roads. The growing number of automobiles intensified the need for better roads while their registration fees provided new revenue to apply towards roads. In 1908, the State Roads Commission was formed to construct, improve, and maintain a State system of improved roads and highways, and the State borrowed five million dollars for a seven-year construction program (Chapter 141, Acts of 1908). The Commission began first by paving roads, then widening them and removing railroad crossings. Encouraged by federal aid for highway construction, initiated by the Federal Cooperative Extension Act of 1914, Maryland implemented long-range highway building projects. In a 1922 executive reorganization, the State Roads Commission became the head of the Department of Public Works (Chapter 29, Acts of 1922). In 1937, the Commission was authorized to construct bridges and tunnels financed by tolls to be collected on the completed projects (Chapter 356, Acts of 1937). This led to the Susquehanna and Potomac River Bridges, the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel, and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

    Since 1971, the State Highway Administration has constructed and maintained Maryland's State roads and bridges.


    [photo, Hughes Transportation Building, BWI Airport, Maryland] Airports. Although possibly the first recorded manned flight occurred over Baltimore in a balloon in 1784, Maryland did not pass its Uniform State Law for Aeronautics until 1927 (Chapter 637, Acts of 1927), followed by the creation of the State Aviation Commission in 1929 (Chapter 318, Acts of 1929). The Commission licensed aviators and airships, set air traffic rules, regulated the construction and operation of airfields, and otherwise conformed to federal regulations. The Commission became an Administration in 1970 when the Department of Transportation was formed and in 1972 took over operation of Friendship International Airport (now BWI) after its purchase by the State. The Administration at that time went from three employees to over two hundred.In 1989, it was renamed the Maryland Aviation Administration.

    Hughes Transportation Building, BWI Airport, Maryland, June 2001 (demolished January 10, 2003). Photo by Diane F. Evartt.


    Port of Baltimore. As Baltimore grew into a city during the Revolutionary War, the Port of Baltimore became a center for the trade with the West Indies that supported the war effort. Wardens of the Port were authorized in 1783 to oversee construction of wharves, clear waterways, and collect duties from vessels entering and clearing the port (Chapter 24, Acts of 1783). By the 1780s, Baltimore began to trade with China and, during the nineteenth century, Baltimore clipper ships sped around the world and developed a particularly lucrative trade with South America.

    Although Baltimore was a port long before it was a city, the State delayed its role in port development until 1827. Then the Governor began annually to appoint State wharfingers to take charge of State-owned or leased docks, particularly those adjacent to the State Tobacco Warehouse. Yet, considerable time elapsed before Maryland had a State agency to oversee port operations. The Maryland Port Authority assumed that role in 1956 (Chapter 2, Acts of Special Session of 1956). The Authority's prime concern was to keep the port competitive by improving and modernizing its facilities and by promoting it worldwide. The Authority was replaced by the Maryland Port Administration in 1971.

    Public Transportation. Another modern concern was the development of public transportation, or mass transit. As metropolitan areas grew, private companies were not adequate to the task. The Baltimore Metropolitan Area Mass Transit Legislative Commission studied the problem and recommended creation of the Metropolitan Transit Authority in 1969 (Chapter 766, Acts of 1961; Chapter 160, 1969). The Authority became the Mass Transit Administration in 1970 at the formation of the Department of Transportation (Chapter 526, Acts of 1970). In 1992, the Mass Transit Administration also assumed functions of the State Railroad Administration. The Mass Transit Administration was renamed the Maryland Transit Administration in 2001 (Chapter 730, Acts of 2001).

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