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 the panhandle of Maryland between Interstate 79 and Interstate 70. The route provides an alternative to I-70 for traffic headed between Baltimore and Washington to 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
Extension of Interstate 68 west from Morgantown to Wheeling via Moundsville, West Virginia was discussed in September 2000. 26 alternative routes (including a north-south route along U.S. 250 from Hundred to Fairmont via Mannington) for Interstate 68 were presented by the West Virginia 2/Interstate 68 Authority, but no final routing was determined. The West Virginia 2/Interstate 68 Authority was created by the West Virginia State Legislature in 1997 with two mandates: focus on widening West Virginia 2 from Parkersburg to Chester and extend Interstate 68 westward to the Ohio River.
Further developments in extending I-68 occurred when on September 9, 2003, West Virginia Governor Bob Wise announced that the Federal Highway Administration 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 route between Morgantown and Moundsville. Including Monongalia County 19/24, U.S. 19, West Virginia 7 and U.S. 250, the roadway was re-classified 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 1997-created West Virginia 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 the years 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
Parallel U.S. Routes
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 Interstate 68 east of Cumberland parallels U.S. 40.
The histories of both Interstates 68 and 97 are tied together. Maryland originally applied to AASHTO to add the designation of Interstate 68 to the U.S. 50 freeway (John Hanson Highway) east from the Capital Beltway (Interstate 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 Interstate 695 outside Baltimore as Interstate 97.
East End – Hancock, MD
West End – Morgantown, WV
Branch Routes – 0
Total Mileage – 113.15
West Virginia – 32.06
Cities – Morgantown
- Junctions –
Maryland – 81.09
Cities – Frostburg, Cumberland, Hancock
- Junctions –
Source: December 31, 2017 Interstate Route Log and Finders List
I-68 Annual Average Daily Traffic (AADT)
|Location||Vehicles per day|
|Keysers Ridge, MD||12,625|
Source: 2002 AADTS Report (Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration – Highway Information Services Division)
U.S. 48 between Morgantown and Cumberland was the second route of U.S. 48 posted across the U.S. The 1926-34 route joined the San Francisco Bay area in California with the Central Valley. The newest corridor was established in 2002 along Corridor H, an expressway route from Elkins, West Virginia to I-81 near Strasburg, Virginia.
The next change took place in 1981, with Maryland again opting to redesignate U.S. 50 between the Capital Beltway and the Annapolis area as Interstate 68. The request specified replacing the east-west leg of I-97 and the previously approved I-197 alignment along the John Hanson Highway with I-68. AASHTO withheld action on this request at their meeting on June 25th of that year. The request was altered with I-68 proposed to replace the east-west leg of I-97 and Interstate 168 over I-197. This was approved on October 3, 1981 but subjected to FHWA concurrence.
A third request went to AASHTO on June 7, 1989, with Maryland opting both to renumber Interstate 68 along the U.S. 50 freeway as Interstate 595 and applying I-68 instead to the route of U.S. 48 between I-79 near Morgantown, West Virginia and I-70 at Hancock, Maryland. This too was subject to FHWA concurrence and ultimately approved.
The westernmost reaches of the National Freeway showed up on the 1966 Maryland Official Highway Map as the Appalachia Corridor east from the West Virginia state line to Maryland 53 outside Cumberland. The viaduct through Cumberland was already under construction at this time. By 1972, the National Freeway was opened from Maryland 658 (Exit 40) to Naves Cross road (Exit 46). The route was under construction from Keyers Ridge westward. The 1973 edition of the state map showed the National Freeway extended west from Exit 40 to Maryland 36 (Exit 34) at Frostburg.
U.S. 48 first appears along the National Freeway in 1974, with more of the route opened west to Maryland 546 at Exit 29. The 1976 state map showed U.S. 48 open west from U.S. 219 into West Virginia. All of the route west from Cumberland was completed the following year.
Work further east included completion of the 4.5-mile Sideling Hill Cut segment, which opened initially on August 15, 1985 and fully (8.7 miles) by 1986.5 Signs for Interstate 68 went up as those for U.S. 48 came down after the August 2, 1991 opening of the 19-mile stretch of freeway from east of Cumberland to Green Ridge. This incorporated the stretch of U.S. 40 over Martin Mountain completed in 1957. The $182-million “missing link” saw construction start in May 1987 on a project divided into five sections.4
Included as Appalachian Corridor E, I-68 within the Mountaineer State was initially constructed between 1970 and 1976 at a cost of $113 million.1 The rest of the road was upgraded to Interstate standards by 1992.
East End – Hancock, Maryland
West End – Morgantown, West Virginia
- “I-68 Extension Gets Important Federal Endorsement.” WTOV-9 September 9, 2003.
- “Proposed I-68 Project Will Become Eligible for Federal Funding.” Wheeling (WV) News-Register, September 10, 2003.
- “Plans Moving Forward for Moundsville-to-Morgantown Highway.” The State Journal, September 15, 2014.
- “Western Md. thumbs for a ride to prosperity along Interstate 68.” The (Baltimore) Sun, July 28, 1991.
- Economic Development History of Interstate 68 in Maryland, FWHA web site, Office of Planning, Environment, & Realty (HEP).
Page updated December 2, 2015.