Ten North American Freeways Without Futures


San Francisco's Embarcadero Freeway. Torn down after the 1989 earthquake, the freeway was replaced with a vibrant, multi-use boulevard. (photo via Flickr)

Back in the 1950's and 60's, when gas was cheap and there was plenty of federal money to go around, highways were built on a massive scale in North America, often slicing through city centers or blocking off waterfronts. While they added little charm to American downtowns at the time, today many of these freeways are not only eyesores but downright dangerous.

So what is to be done with all this aging infrastructure in an era of rising gasoline prices and scarce funding for repairs? "Tear them down!" suggests the Congress for the New Urbanism, which has come up with a list of ten North American highways that have passed their prime and are ripe for demolition and replacement by functional, attractive and sustainable urban boulevards.Oklahoma City recently announced plans to knock down 4.5 miles of elevated freeway running through its downtown and replace it with an old-fashioned boulevard and an urban park. According to the Congress for the New Urbanism's "Freeways without Futures - Highways to Boulevards" initiative:

Cities around the world are replacing urban highways with surface streets, saving billions of dollars on transportation infrastructure and revitalizing adjacent land with walkable, compact development. Transportation models that support connected street grids, improved transit, and revitalized urbanism will make reducing gasoline dependency and greenhouse gas emissions that much more convenient. It pays to consider them as cities evaluate their renewal strategies — and as the U.S. evaluates its federal transportation and climate policy.

After an open call for nominations, and an analysis of age, redevelopment potential, savings, mobility, existing plans and local support, the new urbanists compiled the following list of highways with the greatest potential for teardown and urban regeneration:

1. Alaskan Way Viaduct, Seattle, WA. Built in 1953, the Viaduct carries some 105,000 vehicles a day. After an earthquake damaged the structure in 2001, Washington State proposed either an expanded elevated highway or a tunnel. Both of the costly proposals were rejected in a 2007 referendum, and civic groups are now pushing to knock the whole thing down and open up the city's waterfront, while state, county and city officials are considering eight different planning alternatives for redesigning the road.

2. Sheridan Expressway, Bronx, NY. Designed by Robert Moses along the Bronx River, local opposition stopped it from extending into New York's Botanical Gardens in the 1960's. Today, a local coalition is calling for replacing the highway with a surface street that would stimulate redevelopment along the waterfront.


The Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance's proposal for replacing the Sheridan Expressway.(image via SBRWA)
3. The Skyway and Route 5, Buffalo, NY. A waterfront bridge dating from the 1950's, the NYSDOT is planning to investment in ramps and access roads that will necessitate replacing the bridge with a similar expressway.

4. Route 34, New Haven, CT. Built in 1959, 600 families and 65 businesses were displaced in order to build an extension of this highway that never actually materialized. New Haven's mayor has identified the site as a good place for urban infill development, and a conceptual plan was even developed by RKG Associates.

5. Claiborne Expressway, New Orleans, LA. In the 1950's, Interstate 10 replaced Claiborne Avenue, a prosperous street lined with oaks and local businesses. After Hurricane Katrina, the Unified New Orleans Plan proposed removing the two mile elevated freeway and its associated blight from 35 to 40 blocks and restoring another 20-25 blocks of open space along its route.

6. Interstate 81, Syracuse, NY. Its construction in 1957 destroyed a historic black community, today it is nearing the end of its life and serves 75,000 cars a day. A coalition of diverse bodies are checking out alternatives to the road, and there is even a blog about it.

7. I-64, Louisville, KY. Separating downtown Louisville from its waterfront park is I-64, part of which locals have nicknamed "Spaghetti Junction". Citizens' groups have proposed removing the highway to make way for a riverfront boulevard. However, if this "freeway without a future" does not come down soon, the States of Kentucky and Indiana and the Federal Highway Administration want to expand it in a 13-year, $4.1 billion project that would look like this:

(Image via 8664.org)
8. Route 29, Trenton, NJ. Built in the 1950's, renewal plans for this highway were drawn up back in 1989. The State of New Jersey is interested in converting the highway into a boulevard, but only if the city pays for it out of its own pocket.

9. Gardiner Expressway, Toronto, ON. Canadian cities made many of the same mistakes that US cities did during the mid-century highway-building era. The Gardiner Expressway, built to carry 70,000 cars a day in 1960's, now serves some 200,000 daily and requires millions of dollars in repairs annually. Part of it was removed in 1999, and Toronto Mayor David Miller supports tearing down the rest of it as well.

10. 11th Street Bridges and the Southeast Freeway, Washington D.C. The DC Office of Planning refers to this 1.39 stretch of highway as a "formidable psychological barrier." The Federal Highway Administration wants to reconstruct the 11th Street Bridges interchange, but citizens' groups support removing the Southeast Freeway altogether.


One of the plazas that replaced the Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco (image via cora.org).

For an account of how a highway teardown actually happens in practice, check out this great video on the removal of the Embarcadero from Streetfilms.org.

Via:: Congress for the New Urbanism
More on highways:
Big Surprise: Highways Don't Pay for Themselves
Using the Space Above our Highways for Wind Power
Time to Build Highways Underground?
Solar Powered LEDs Light Up Highways

Tags: Air Pollution | Driving | Traffic | Transportation | Urban Planning

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