Freeways without Futures: Possibilities for Urban Freeway Removal in Chicago

Caitlin Ghoshal's picture

If you are not already aware of CNU’s Highways-to-Boulevards initiative, CNU believes replacing urban freeways with surface streets, boulevards, and avenues is the most cost-effective, and value-producing option for cities with aging grade-separated roads. The Highways-to-Boulevards Initiative unites a diverse set of professionals, residents and activists in advocating for and demonstrating the value of freeway teardowns.

The potential for tax, transportation, and community enhancements exists right here in CNU's home city of Chicago, and on Friday, June 1, CNU's CEO & President John Norquist suggested the possibilities for urban freeway removal in Chicago at the Transport Chicago conference. Norquist discussed how lessons from freeway removal sites around the world could be translated to Chicago’s Ohio Street Feeder and I-55(Stevenson)/I-41(Lake Shore Drive) interchange.

You can view Norquist’s presentation online by clicking here. As Illinois' state spending on highways will decline about 20% in the next six years - at the same time that many roadways are deteriorating - public leaders and Chicagoans will need to weigh the expense of maintenance against the usefulness of its streets. The 2013-2018 Highway Improvement Program lists repairs for the Ohio Street Feeder at approximately $17.5 million and $80 million for the I-55/Lake Shore Drive area. These sections in Chicago’s highways, Norquist argues, are candidates for more cost-effective, value-producing boulevards.

In his presentation, Norquist shows the land use footprint (and comments anecdotally on the subsequent loss of tax revenue) of the Ohio Street Feeder and I-55/41 interchange. Undoubtedly, the Ohio Street Feeder (165,7000 to 250,900 average daily traffic) and I-55/Lake Shore Drive (between 155,990 and 63,600 average daily traffic) are important parts of Chicago’s overall transportation network, but Chicagoans should consider alternative infrastructure in light of the costs. A possible boulevard conversion would allow traffic to become more easily absorbed by the street grid, as well as open up new areas for economic development. Norquist's presentation ends with a picture of Chicago’s Queen’s Crossing – an example of recent street reform that represents the increasing awareness and action to make Chicago's streets valuable to all users.

If you know a freeway that warrants consideration as an urban revitalization opportunity or want to get more involved with the Highways-to-Boulevards initiative, please contact Caitlin Ghoshal, CNU Program Manager, at cghoshal@cnu.org.

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