Friday, April 25, 2014

The Northern Parkway

Have you ever crossed under the Beltway while using the Sligo Creek Trail?  If you have, you will know that there is a nice grassy area north of the Beltway between Forest Glen Road, Holy Cross Hospital, and the creek.  If you have lived in Four Corners a long time, you will remember that the bridge carrying the Beltway over the Sligo Creek Trial used to be ridiculously large for the size of the trail it crossed.  If you've lived in the area for a really long time, you will remember when the Beltway had exit numbers that were sequential instead of mileage based.  Georgia Avenue used to be Exit 23, and Colesville Road used to be Exit 21.  So what was exit 22?  

The large bridge that carried the Beltway over the trail (before being replaced in 2001) was not built to carry the Beltway over a path; rather, it was built to carry the Beltway over a six lane limited-access highway.  That grassy area next to the hospital is not there by accident; it was supposed to be the site of an extensive freeway interchange.  The omission of Exit 22 was not a mistake; it was supposed to be the future exit number for the Northern Parkway.            

This was the proposed interchange of the Northern Parkway and the Capital Beltway.  Holy Cross Hospital is center left (note the smokestack).  Sligo Creek Golf Course is at right.  The Beltway is the highway running from left to right, and the Northern Parkway is the one running from bottom-left to top-right.  The Boys and Girls Club (building with rounded roof) is also visible along Forest Glen Road.  Image from Douglas Willinger's blog "A Trip Within The Beltway".     

The Northern Parkway would have traveled from the North Central Freeway (planned I-70S/I-270) in the vicinity of Woodside through Silver Spring, Kemp Mill, Wheaton, and Glenmont to its terminus at the Outer Beltway (today's ICC) in Northwest Branch Park near the Trolley Museum.  The road would have been built to full interstate standards, and it may have carried an interstate designation, but it did not get far enough through the planning stages to receive a number (it probably would have been numbered I-370, more on the reasoning for that later on).  The part of the highway that would have affected Four Corners is its route along Sligo Creek from Woodside to Kemp Mill.  As seen in the photo above, the road would have had an interchange with the Beltway next to Holy Cross Hospital.  For many years, there was a green sign at this location denoting a "Future Exit".  This interchange would have been uncomfortably close to the current Georgia Avenue interchange, and the Northern Parkway interchange probably would have required extensive reconstruction had this road actually been built.  See map below for the routing of the parkway.

The green line represents the route of the Northern Parkway.  The blue line is the un-built Four Corners Bypass (more on that in another post).  The yellow line is U.S. 29, the red line is I-495 (Capital Beltway) and the orange line is MD 193.  This image is from August 28th, 200, the ICC (MD 200) can be seen under construction at left near Colesville.  For this map, north is on the left hand side.  I have labeled nearby communities for reference.     

The Northern Parkway would have primarily been a bypass of Georgia Avenue.  It would have left the planned North Central Freeway (I-70S/I-270) along the railroad corridor in Woodside and traveled along/through Sligo Creek, Wheaton Regional Park, and Northwest Branch.  The Parkway would have met up with the Outer Beltway where the ICC currently is in Northwest Branch Park next to the Trolley Museum.  The Parkway could have then continued on the current ICC alignment toward Gaithersburg, where it would have joined I-270 at the current day interchange of I-270 and I-370 (it could have also terminated at the Outer Beltway, which was originally planned to run south of Rockville on a different alignment than the current ICC routing that goes north of Rockville).

The Northern Parkway may have gotten the I-370 designation had it come to fruition, since the road could have been a spur of I-270; branching off of the mainline in Gaithersburg and rejoining it in Silver Spring near the 16th Street bridge over the CSX tracks.  The road was called a parkway, but I believe it was to be built to full interstate standards, meaning it could easily accommodate trucks.  The word "parkway" may have been used since most of its route runs through Sligo Creek Park, Wheaton Regional Park, and Northwest Branch Park.    

I-270 was planned to run concurrently with I-495 from the I-270 spur in Bethesda to where it would split from the Beltway in Forest Glen (through the "Rock Creek Roller Coaster").  There would have been an interchange near the National Park Seminary, and I-270 would have then run alongside the railroad tracks all the way into Downtown D.C. (though there were several variations of this railroad route)  The name of this road would have been the North Central Freeway.  Note that this interstate would have run right through Downtown Silver Spring and Takoma Park, destroying almost every building within 100 feet of the railroad tracks (had this routing been chosen).  I omitted the I-270 route I just described from the map above because; had the Northern Parkway been built between Downtown Silver Spring and the Beltway via Woodside, the segment of I-270 from Forest Glen to Downtown Silver Spring alongside the railroad tracks may not have been built, since it would be redundant.  See the sketches below to get a visual of what an interstate through Downtown Silver Spring and Woodside would have looked like.        

Another view of the Interchange between the Northern Parkway and the Beltway next to Holy Cross Hospital.  There is a small inset showing the interchange between Georgia Avenue and the Beltway, which is just west of the planned Northern Parkway interchange.  All three of these sketches are from the blog "A Trip Within The Beltway" by Douglass Willinger.  
The Northern Parkway running along the railroad tracks and 16th Street through Woodside.  The Summit Hills apartment complex can be seen at the bottom.  Georgia Avenue is the road running from middle-right to top-left.
The North Central Freeway (a.k.a Northern Parkway once it left the railroad corridor in Woodside) running through the heart of Downtown Silver Spring.  Georgia Avenue is seen running diagonally from left to right in the center of the image.  The North Central Freeway would have immediately paralleled the train tracks through Silver Spring, and then branched off into Takoma Park, travelling right through residential areas.     

This road would have made traffic on Georgia Avenue much lighter, and it also would have made traffic on Colesville Road through Four Corners lighter via the Four Corners Bypass (which I will discuss in a future post).  On the other hand, this road would have come at a serious price.  Sligo Creek Park, Wheaton Regional Park, and Northwest Branch Park (up by Randolph Road) would have had an interstate running through them.  The highway also would have gone though Woodside, destroying dozens of homes and dividing the neighborhood, just like the Beltway did to South Four Corners.

This road is an interesting idea.  It could have had some benefits, such as the removal of through traffic on Georgia Avenue in places like Glenmont, Wheaton, and Forest Glen.  Less traffic means less need for car-lanes and more space for things like dedicated bus lanes, bike lanes, and wide sidewalks.  Had this road been built, the SHA probably would not need to convert the intersection of Georgia and Randolph into a grade-separated interchange.  The road would have also taken cars off of Colesville Road in Four Corners via the Four Corners Bypass, which would have run from White Oak to the Northern Parkway in Kemp Mill.

However, this road also has many downsides.  First of all, there is simply no good place to put it.  If it had been built, dozens of acres of parkland in Wheaton Regional Park and Sligo Creek Park would have been destroyed, and dozens of houses would have been demolished in Woodside.  This road would have also run through the middle of Downtown Silver Spring as an eight lane interstate highway; part of the North Central Freeway.  Many of the historic buildings in Silver Spring would have been destroyed (B&O Station, Canada Dry Plant, Dyers and Cleaners Building, etc.)  The character of Downtown Silver Spring would have been much different if the Northern Parkway and North Central Freeway had been built.

In the end, it's probably a good thing this road was not built.  The benefits of a few minutes saved do not outweigh the loss of massive quantities of parkland and the destruction of dozens of homes in a historic neighborhood.  Highways are an important part of infrastructure, and they are one aspect of a well rounded multi-modal transportation network.  Roads are meant to connect communities, but when those same roads degrade a community's quality of life by destroying parks and private property, they do more harm than good.      



  1. A few notes:

    - Had it been built, the likelihood of it receiving an Interstate designation was minimal. SHA never requested it be added to the Interstate system (even though they had an opportunity to do so in 1968), and Federal rules about adding "non-chargeable Interstates" to the system didn't come about until the 1980s.

    - Montgomery County's 1967 Master Plan of Highways shows the proposed parkway extending north into Howard County, crossing New Hampshire Ave enroute. I've seen other earlier maps that suggest the actual intended northern terminus for the parkway was I-70 in the Cooksville vicinity.

    - That same 1967 Master Plan of Highways showed both I-270 AND the Northern Pkwy being planned north of downtown Silver Spring. So at one point in the planning process, it wasn't an "either-or"…but a "both".

  2. I am personally grateful the Northern Parkway was never built - it would have run right through my backyard! Now we just have a lovely view of Sligo Creek Park. Lucky me, I guess!

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  4. Wow. If this highway had been built I sure wouldn't have bought my house by Wheaton Regional Park. So glad it wasn't and I pray that this idea is firmly in the landfill of history.

  5. There is a detailed picture at

  6. A better plan within Washington DC was the 1966 version that was more faithful to JFK's 1962 proposal:

    Note the design of the 16th Street spur near the DC-MD line- that should have been considered for Georgia Avenue itself as a narrow footprint alternative to the Northern Parkway- achieving a freeway facility via the existing heavily traveled corridor rather than via the park.

  7. Canada Dry Plant was not targeted by any version of the NCF that I am aware of: all of the B&O route variants that I have seen had it to the eastern side of that railroad.