Designated in October 1989 and fully opened in 1992, Interstate 68 replaced the second definition of U.S. 48 along the National Freeway in northeast West Virginia and across the panhandle of Maryland between I-79 and I-70. The route provides an alternative to I-70 for traffic headed between Baltimore and Washington, and southwestern Pennsylvania and Ohio.
The National Freeway was developed as part of the Appalachian Regional Development Act of 1965 to support economic growth. The route also enhances tourism and recreation opportunities for residents of the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area.5
An extension of Interstate 68 west from Morgantown to Wheeling via Moundsville, West Virginia was discussed in September 2000. 26 alternative routes, including a north to south route along U.S. 250 from Hundred to Fairmont via Mannington, for I-68 were presented by the WV 2/Interstate 68 Authority, but no final routing was determined. The WV 2/Interstate 68 Authority was created by the West Virginia State Legislature in 1997 with two mandates: focus on widening WV 2 from Parkersburg to Chester and extend I-68 westward to the Ohio River.
Further developments in lengthening I-68 occurred with an announcement by West Virginia Governor Bob Wise on September 9, 2003 that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) approved the Interstate 68 extension for inclusion into the National Highway System (the addition was eventually applied to just U.S. 250). With origins dating back to 1986, the plan included a 73 mile long route between Morgantown and Moundsville. Including County Route 19/24, U.S. 19, WV 7 and U.S. 250, the roadway was reclassified as part of the State Principal Arterial System.2 Year 2000 forecasts listed the proposed cost at about $654 million, with later figures increasing to $1 billion. The I-68 Boosters, joining the WV 2/Interstate 68 Authority, obtained over 20,000 signatures on a petition stating support for the highway. Additionally public meetings were conducted in Marion, Marshall, Monongalia and Wetzel Counties during 2000 and 2001 to garner input and opinions on the highway.2
A meeting of northern West Virginia Panhandle area county commissioners, mayors and house of delegate members held on September 15, 2014 involved discussion of widening WV 2 along the Ohio River to four lanes and extending Interstate 68 west to Cameron and then Moundsville. Supporters of the upgrades cited possible new ventures for the oil and gas industry in the area. Costs were estimated at least $5 million per mile for new freeway construction.3
Interstate 68 was originally constructed as U.S. 48, and U.S. 48 was decommissioned once the freeway was complete and accepted into the Interstate Highway System. A portion of I-68 east of Cumberland parallels U.S. 40.
The histories of both Interstate 68 and I-97 are tied together. Maryland originally applied to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) for adding the designation of Interstate 68 to the freeway along U.S. 50 (John Hanson Highway) east from the Capital Beltway (I-495) to a point west of Annapolis on November 15, 1975. AASHTO conditionally approved the western reaches of the route as Interstate 197 while approving the remainder east toward Annapolis and the eventual alignment of I-97 north to I-695 outside Baltimore as Interstate 97.