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Full text of "Development of the State Roads Commission of Maryland / by J.H.F. Bittner"

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University of Maryland, 
College of Engineering 

Submitted for the Phi Mu Honorary Engineering Fraternity, 


J, H. F. Bittner 


January 17, 1927. 

The State of Maryland made its first move for 
a State Highway Department when the General Assembly of 
1898 passed an act providing for the establishment of a 
highway division, and appropriated ten thousand dollars 
annually to be used by the State Geological and Economic 
Survey in improving the roads . After making investiga- 
tions, the State Geological and Economic Survey came to 
the conclusion that the question of intelligent road con- 
struction demanded the attention of the people of Maryland 
more than anything else, and that the money which was 
spent by the counties (amounting to from three hundred 
thousand to one million dollars annually) was a decided 
hindrance to the development of the state . Upon the 
passage of this Act, data were collected and published 
concerning the existing ions and the best methods 
to be adopted for highway construction. Various tests 
were made on road materials, and an elaborate system was 
worked out to be followed in the program. This was done 
by trained engineers and their assistants. Plans and 
specifications were prepared to be used for road improve- 
ment in various portions of the State. 

In 1904 a State Aid Law was drawn up and passed 
by the General Assembly, This law was to be under the 
jurisdiction of the State Geological and Economic Survey 

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and provided two hundred thousand dollars annually for 
the state to use in connection with highway work. Under 
this law, the state and county were to cooperate so that 
the cost should be divided between them. Its restric- 
tion was that the plans and specifications and general 
supervision were to be under the guidance of the state 
alone , 

Even with this State Aid plan, the counties 
continued building roads at their own expense, as did 
the state. The road from Washington to Baltimore was 
built and financed entirely by the state. 

A much larger plan of state road construction 
was taken up in 1908. The foregoing period had been 
a time of preparatory work, which resulted in the organ- 
ization of an efficient engineering force, and the con- 
struction of many miles of modern roads throughout the 
state. The State Geological Survey in 1906-07 proposed 
this broader system in their report when the Geological 
Survey Commission recommended the following: 

"The Commission feels, in view of the 
widely awakened interest In road matters 
and the present discussion of proposed leg- 
islation for the early improvement of the 
roads of the State, that it should report 
the conclusions it has readied as a result 
of its experience to date in State road 
construction. These are as follows: 

"First. That the early improvement, 
according to modern methods, of an efficient 
system of main roads and feeders covering 
the whole State is desirable from every 

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"Second. That it is not only proper, 
but good business judgment on the part 
of the State to provide that the main 
arteries of this system should be improved 
and maintained by the State Commission at 
the expense of the State . 

"Third. That the improvement of the 
remainder of the system should be at the 
joint expense of the State and the counties. 

"Fourth. That the minor roads should be 
built and maintained by the counties and 
localities themselves. 

"Fifth, That present conditions have 
shown the importance of many of the turn- 
pikes as sections of the general system. 
ffhile undoubtedly the operation of these 
highways has contributed in the past to 
the development of the State, conditions 
are rapidly approaching the point where 
their future existence as toll roads is 
entirely undesirable. Any legislation look- 
ing to the abolishment of the turnpipe as 
toll-roada should recognize the private 
rights and property values in the turnpikes 
themselves, and in all cases of assumption 
by the State or counties of the turnpikes, 
fair compensation should be made to private 
Interests for the property taken from them, 

"Sixth. That any legislation providing 
for the taking by the State of the turnpikes 
should allow great discretion to the State 
Commission to prevent the acquisition of 
unnecessary property or turnpikes unsuited 
to the development of a system of market 
roads. Such legislation should be broad 
enough to allow the Commission to acquire 
for the State, for improvement and mainten- 
ance, either turnpikes or main roads, as 
the case might require," 

Governor Crotners followed this plan and car- 
ried it to a successful issue during the four years of 
his administration. 

The State Roads Commission was organized on 

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April 30, 1908, at which time the following members 
were sworn in by Governor Crothers: John M. Tucker, 
Chairman; Ira Remsen, William Bullock Clark, 
S, M. Shoemaker, and Francis C. Hut ton, together 
with the Governor ex-officio. A few weeks later, 
W. W, Crosby, Chief Engineer of the State Geological 
Survey, was also elected Chief Engineer of the State 
Roads Commission, an arrangement being made whereby 
his salary was divided between the two organizations, 
thus consolidating the management and preventing dup- 
lication. The Chief Engineer's first important 
move was to recommend an engineering department for 
the joint commission. This plan was adopted and under 
it were the Division of Construction and the Division 
of Surveys and Plans with a first and a second assistant 
engineer respectively. 

The work of road construction- was entirely 
transferred from the State Geological Survey to the 
State Roads Commission on June 1, 1910. Thus the joint 
commission terminated on that date. The entire cost 
of the engineering force then fell upon the State Roads 
Commission, but Mr, Crosby continued as Chief Engineer 
of the State Geological Survey without salary. 

The administration offices of the State Roads 
Commission were first located in the Union Trust Building. 

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while the engineering department was located at the 
Johns Hopkins University. This was at first necessary- 
be cause of the joint arrangement with the State Geolog- 
ical Survey. After this arrangement was discontinued, 
the location remained the same "because of greater avail- 
able space and the access to the test laboratory and 

In May 1912, Mr, Crosby resigned as Chief 
Engineer. He was succeeded by H. S, Shirley, who had 
been Roads Engineer for Baltimore County for eignt years. 

Shortly after Mr. Shirley took charge as Chief 
Engineer, a new and important reorganisation of the 
engineering department took place. The construction 
and maintenance departments had been separate, each cover- 
ing the whole state. By the new system, the State was 
divided up into eight geographical sectionswith a 
Resident Engineer living in the central part of the Sec- 
tion, who was responsible for all construction, mainten- 
ance, and State Aid work in his territory. 

As a result of this change, a great saving has 
been effected, and to enable still greater economy a 
Purchasing Department was organized similar to that used 
in large railway corporations. 

After being Chief Engineer of the Commission for 
six years, Mr. Shirley resigned on April lo, 1918. He 
was succeeded by John N. Mackall, who had been employed 

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by the Commission in various capacities since 1905, 
except that for a year and a half prior to his appoint- 
ment he had been connected with the Pennsylvania State 
Highway Uepartment, 

Just about this time great difficulty with 
construction and contractors was experienced because of 
the intervention of the World War, One great hindrance 
was the drastic Priority Order No. 2. This was passed 
in 1918, and prohibited the use of open top cars for 
transportation of materials other than those essential 
for war work, thus preventing the use of such equipment 
in the construction of roads. As nearly all trucks 
used for transporting road materials were of the open top 
type the contractor was placed under a great handicap. 

A great number of contracts had been carried 
over from 1917 and could not be completed in 1918 on 
account of this order. When open top cars again became 
available for use, the price of labor and material had 
increased considerably. It was necessary that these con- 
tracts be completed, but their completion at the original 
bid would, in a great number of cases, have sent the con- 
tractors into bankruptcy. Thus they would have been 
excluded from bidding on further contracts and the 
public would have had to wait probably tv/o or three years 
while the bonding companies completed the work. 

Rather than have this occur, the State Roads 

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Commission decided to increase the contract prices equal 
to the increase in price of labor, material and freight 
over those prevailing on the date of Priority Order No. 2. 
These prices were satisfactorily determined in all cases, 
and as a result every contractor proceeded with his work 
in the spring of 1919 and had it completed before fall. 
The Commission felt its action in the matter was fully 
justified. This is borne out by the fact that several 
other states followed Maryland's lead in this case, taking 
similar action either through their highways departments, 
or through their Legislatures. But Maryland has the 
distinction of showing the way to the rest. 

The great volume of war-time traffic caused 
several sections of the roads to go to pieces, especially 
where munitions or other heavy loads were being constantly 
hauled over them* The width of the Washington-Baltimore 
Road, originally fourteen feet, was increased to twenty 
feet by adding a three foot concrete shoulder on each 
side of the road where the surface was still serviceable, 
or by making a replacement of twenty foot concrete in such 
places where the road had failed entirely. 

In addition to ordinary maintenance of the roads, 
the Commission took a step toward reducing the number of 
accidents occurring annually. It was felt that this 
could be accomplished by the expenditures of a relatively 
small amount of money. The first step toward this end 

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was the whitewashing of all culvert headwalls, telephone 
poles and similar obstructions in close proximity to 
the roadway. With this done, travel is much more sat- 
isfactory at night, and far safer. Other measures were 
taken toward safety by relocating some of the more dan- 
gerous curves. 

In 1920, John N. Mackall was elected to retain 
his position as Chief Engineer, in addition to the Chair- 
manship of the new Commission. Shortly afterward an 
Assistant Chief Engineer and a Secretary were elected. 

Prior to 1920, the manner of distributing the 
funds from the appropriations to the various counties 
was not specified and none of the counties knew exactly 
what it was to receive. The Acts of 1920, however, pro- 
vided not only the amount each county should contribute, 
but also how much it should receive from the different 
Road Funds. The County Commissioners of the several 
counties recommended the type of roads to be built, and 
in almost every case their recommendations were followed 
by the Commission. These practices have prevailed down 
to the present time and have been very satisfactory and 
much superior to previous methods , 

In 1920 the bids given on several sections of 
road throughout the State were exorbitant and the Cora- 
mission acted quite contrary to the demands of the people 

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by refusing to allow tiie contracts to be awarded under 
these conditions. Many requests were made for the Com- 
mission to build certain sections of road, but the extra- 
ordinarily high prices made it feel justified in waiting 
until a drop should occur. The bids received in that 
year averaged nearly fifty thousand dollars per mile, 
whereas the same sections were awarded the following 
spring at a cost of less than thirty-five thousand dol- 
lars per mile. The tendency has since been to have very 
few projects carried over, so that the contractors are 
forced to bid lower than otherwise. This policy has 
culminated in Maryland's having a great number of excellent 
highways at a much lower cost per mile than almost every 
other state. 

Mr. Mackall has continued as Chief Engineer and 
Chairman of the Commission. Through his tireless efforts, 
as well as the rest of the Commission's, and the hearty 
cooperation of the County Commissioners in the selection 
of roads, Maryland has come to be recognized as having 3ome 
of the best roads in the country. 

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Reports of the State Roads Commission of Maryland 
1908 to 1923, inclusive.