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A 1.6 mile long continuous truss bridge crossing the Patapsco River, carrying the Baltimore Beltway, mis-signed as Interstate 695. Toll as of 2001: $1.00 for cars.   The longest span is 1,200 feet.

The Baltimore Beltway may not always have been intended to completely circle Baltimore, but by the late 1960's, plans were underway to make it a true "beltway".  The final, and most expensive part, was to build an "Outer Harbor Crossing" across the Patapsco.  The original plans called for a tunnel, much like the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel built twenty years previously, but two lanes instead of four.

A two lane raised viaduct was built through Bethlehem Steel's immense Sparrows Point complex before the bids came back, and it was realized that a four-lane bridge, high enough for the largest oceangoing ships to pass under, could be built for less money ($50 million)!  So, between 1974 and 1977, people all over Baltimore watched the structure being built from Sollers Point to Hawkins Point.  The new bridge was visible from almost anywhere in the city.  Finally, the bridge opened in 1977, completing the Beltway's ring around Baltimore.

Over the next twenty years, the bridge failed to live up to its potential due to its inadequate approaches. There were problems with high crosswinds causing accidents, and the smoke from a nearby paint factory blowing across the southern approach and causing more accidents. In the late 1980s, the approaches south of the bridge were widened to four lanes, but it took the decline of Bethlehem Steel  to enable the improvement of the northern approach.  In the late 1990's a bridge across Bear Creek was built parallel to the original viaduct, and the overland part of the viaduct through Bethlehem Steel was demolished and replaced with a four-lane surface roadway, which opened in 2000.

The Francis Scott Key Bridge itself is a beautiful structure, resembling the Sydney Harbour Bridge.  It lies, unfortunately, in a much less picturesque setting.  Where the Opera House would be there is a paint factory. Oh, all right, there is a tiny city park built around a Civil War fort as well.

If you are driving through Baltimore and wish to avoid downtown traffic on Interstate 95, you may wish to take I-695 across the Key Bridge.  It's a bit longer, but the entire city is visible from the top of the bridge. It looks much nicer from a distance.

If you're headed southbound, take a look out into the harbor just to the right of the bridge and you will see a conical  "nun" buoy painted red, white, and blue.  This is the spot where HMS Surprise was anchored the night of September 14, 1814 as a British fleet attempted to bombard Fort McHenry. Alongside was moored the sloop of Francis Scott Key who had come out to negotiate a prisoner exchange, and was being held until the battle was over.  The next morning, as the smoke cleared over Fort McHenry, Mr. Key saw the oversized American flag still flying over the fort, and was inspired to write down his thoughts in poetry.

If you're headed northbound, you will see an odd hexagonal-shaped island in the middle of the river just past the bridge.  This is Fort Carroll, built after the War of 1812 to defend the city from future invading fleets, fortunately never necessary.  Its only inhabitants are the legendary giant rats.

And I've experienced at least *some* stuff firsthand!

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