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The 2008 “Freeways Without Futures” list recognizes the top-ten locations in North America where the opportunity is greatest to stimulate valuable revitalization by replacing aging urban highways with boulevards and other cost-saving urban alternatives. The list was generated from an open call for nominations and prioritized based on factors including the age of the structure, redevelopment potential, potential cost savings, ability to improve both overall mobility and local access, existence of pending infrastructure decisions, and local support.
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.
Learn more about the Highways to Boulevards Initiative from CNU and the Center for Neighborhood Technology and explore the current campaigns that residents and inspired public officials are leading in Seattle and Buffalo.
1. Alaskan Way Viaduct, Seattle, WA
In 2001, the Nisqually Earthquake shook the elevated Alaskan Way Viaduct, necessitating emergency repairs and calling into question its long-term viability. The City of Seattle and the State of Washington have been wrestling with what to do with the aging, precarious structure ever since. Built in 1953, as State Route 99, the Alaskan Way Viaduct is a north-south route alongside Seattle's Elliot Bay and carries approximately 105,000 vehicles per day. Proposals released by the Washington State Department of Transportation for an expanded elevated highway or a tunnel during the downtown segment — each with price tags of $4 billion or more--met with fierce opposition. On a March 13, 2007, Seattleites voted both of these options down in a local referendum — welcoming in a surface and transit option.
This progress stems in large part from the leadership of the City Council and the People's Waterfront Coalition, led by Cary Moon, who envisioned an open waterfront that would begin to restore the shoreline and support a vibrant urban place. Opening up 335 acres of public land on Seattle"s waterfront could give way to new parks, beaches, and development--and save the city years of construction delays and billions of dollars. "If you try to build your way out of congestion," said Moon, "you'll ruin your city or go broke trying."
The City of Seattle's Department of Transportation is now working with the transportation departments at the state and county levels to find a solution for the central waterfront by December 2008. They have developed eight possible scenarios, three of which involve replacing the elevated structure with surface streets. Meanwhile, the city's Central City Access Strategy aims to promote access during construction by expanding vehicle and transit capacity by 50,000-75,000 trips per day by spreading out traffic among Interstate 5, transit lines, and ferry service. Image: reverendkomissar
2. Sheridan Expressway, Bronx, NY
Built in 1963, the Arthur V. Sheridan Expressway, also known as I-895, was designed by Robert Moses to connect the Bruckner Expressway with the New England Thruway in the Bronx. However, local opposition stopped its extension into the New York Botanical Gardens and left the Sheridan as a poorly connected 1.25-mile spur that mars the waterfront along the Bronx River. The Sheridan currently carries 45,000 vehicles per day, less than most of the nearby surface streets.
A New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) proposal to expand the interchange connecting the Bruckner and the Sheridan to decrease the frequency of crashes and chronic congestion has faced strong opposition. A coalition of groups, under Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance (SBRWA), developed an alternative vision. Their vision replaces the freeway with a surface street, improves street grid connectivity, and reclaims 28 acres of land for commercial development, housing and open space along the waterfront.
The Alliance's alternative vision was later included as one of the four options in the NYSDOT's impact study. NYSDOT is now trying to narrow its options and develop a detailed Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before proceeding to the construction phase. SBRWA called in the transportation engineering and planning firm Smart Mobility, Inc. to provide an independent engineering review of the initial DOT findings. They reported that none of the other options offered traffic advantages over the Alliance's alternative vision. Tri-State Transportation Campaign has noticed that a main justification for keeping the Sheridan — a new connection between the Sheridan and a key surface street — had been eliminated with design changes released by the NYSDOT in the Summer of 2008. There's "one less reason to keep the Sheridan Expressway," stated the Campaign.
3. The Skyway and Route 5, Buffalo, NY
Buffalonians have long recognized the towering Skyway Bridge as a barrier to waterfront redevelopment. Built in 1953, this 1.4-mile long, 110-foot tall limited-access bridge begins at the Inner Harbor downtown, crosses the Buffalo River and touches down as Route 5 in the Outer Harbor. Route 5 continues for another 2.6 miles as a limited-access expressway built on an embankment of slag. The highway's oddly configured exit ramps lead to a confusing series of one-way streets that further hinder access to the waterfront. A total of 41,500 vehicles per day travel along this blighted corridor. There is no pedestrian access between downtown and the Outer Harbor.
Despite calls for redevelopment of this area, the NYSDOT selected to retain the embanked Route 5 (and reinforce it with new ramps) instead of replacing it with a surface boulevard supporting an urban street-and-block network, even though a boulevard-only option was deemed viable in the project's environmental impact statement. NYSDOT's current plan leaves aside the fate of the Skyway Bridge, but its decision to retain the embanked Route 5 will necessitate that the Skyway Bridge be replaced by a similar, high-speed expressway facility. It also rebuilds and reconfigures an access road adjacent to the embanked freeway, resulting in a total of 8 lanes of roadway with a right-of-way width of 214 feet. The agency's designs, which leave waterfront access highly restricted and promote auto-dependent land uses, set the stage for limited reinvestment on the waterfront.
A coalition of citizens and civic organizations, including members of the Buffalo Common Council, David Franczyk and Michael Kearns, Partners for a Livable Western New York, Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, and CNU continue to call for a surface boulevard option noting its environmental and economic development benefits. Their plan would utilize an additional 16 acres of waterfront land that would otherwise be paved or inaccessible in the NYSDOT plan. Led by Julie O'Neil, the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper and others are currently challenging the NYSDOT decision in court. Image: Nora Beck.
4. Route 34, New Haven, CT
The Oak Street Connector, or Route 34, begins at the junction of Interstates 95 and 91 and extends on columns into downtown New Haven for 1.1 miles before dropping to grade and continuing as a pair of one-way streets. Built in 1959, the Connector was an urban renewal project, occupying 26 acres of land between downtown and the nearby neighborhood. The original plan was to extend the road another 10 miles, but that long section was never built. As a result, 600 families and 65 businesses were displaced to make room for a highway that was never completed. As of 2005, 73,900 vehicles traveled on the Connecter per day.
In 2002, the State of Connecticut sold off the land that had been set aside for the extension of the Oak Street Connector. In 2005, with the completion of Pfizer Pharmaceutical's research facility in the former planned right-of-way, the City of New Haven and local civic groups began calling for the replacement of the Oak Street Connector with a four-lane boulevard. A concept plan developed by RKG Associates and others identified 10 acres of vacant land to redevelop and two street connections to restore, along with a larger surrounding area to be revitalized. New Haven's Mayor, John DeStefano, Jr. included the removal of the Connector in Future Framework 2008 as an urban infill strategy. TheTri-State Transportation Campaign and the Urban Design League of New Haven have been actively campaigning for the replacement of the elevated and paired one-way sections of Route 34 with walkable, pedestrian-friendly streets and blocks.
5. Claiborne Expressway, New Orleans, LA
In the 1950s, Interstate 10 (I-10) replaced Claiborne Avenue, a tree-lined boulevard that was home to a thriving business district in the Treme neighborhood. Treme was one of the first free African-American communities and one of the wealthiest before the freeway devastated local businesses, severed connections between residential neighborhoods, and destroyed the live oaks that once lined the broad avenue.
With the construction of I-610 in the 1970s, which provides a more direct route for long-distance through traffic, calls for the removal of I-10 between the Pontchartrain Expressway and Elysian Fields Avenue have been increasing. The Unified New Orleans Plan (UNOP), a massive planning process to coordinate recovery and rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina, identified that the removal of I-10 "would have considerable positive impacts by re-connecting neighborhoods and restoring what was once a beautiful tree-lined avenue. Traffic redistribution provides economic development benefits to a corridor ripe for more volume." The UNOP predicts that with the full removal of two miles of the elevated I-10, the city will gain 35 to 40 city blocks that will no longer be blighted by the freeway and 20 to 25 blocks of open space along Claiborne Avenue.Image: Bill Borah
6. Interstate 81, Syracuse, NY
The construction of Interstate 81 (I-81) in Syracuse in 1957 destroyed a historic black community and has caused major barriers to development ever since. Roughly 75,000 vehicles a day use I-81 as it runs just east of downtown and connects with I-690. This six-lane structure is near the end of its design life and more attention is being paid to the negative effects that I-81 brings to downtown Syracuse.
In 2001, Syracuse Common Councilor Van Robinson called for the removal of elevated portions of the interstate. Leading figures from Syracuse University and Upstate Medical University, who see I-81 as an eyesore and impediment to the growth of their respective institutions, have also joined the fray with support for removal. Robinson envisions nearby I-481 as the main carrier for through-traffic, while elevated I-81 would become an urban boulevard. The Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council and the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) are co-leading a multi-year study to review potential alternatives and analyze traffic with input from the public. Additionally, the Onondaga Citizens League is conducting a study entitled "Rethinking I-81," which will focus on the social, economic, and cultural effects of possible alternatives. Check out the League's study blog for the latest developments.
7. I-64, Louisville, KY
Louisville's riverfront, while lined with an award-winning park, is currently separated from downtown by an elevated, 6-lane portion of Interstate 64 (I-64), which connects with Interstate 65 and Interstate 71 just east of the downtown. In September 2003, the States of Kentucky and Indiana, working with the Federal Highway Administration, approved the Ohio River Bridges Project (ORBP), a project that adds two new bridges crossing the Ohio River and expands the junction of I-65, I-71, and I-64 in downtown Louisville. The project is estimated to cost $4.1 billion, with $1.6 billion going towards the expanded 23-lane interchange, commonly known as Spaghetti Junction.
Citizens, led by 8664.org, have been opposing the growth of Spaghetti Junction and calling for the rerouting of I-64 to a northern bypass around Louisville. This would result in a much simpler junction downtown and conversion of 2.0 miles of freeway from its existing limited-access configuration to an at-grade boulevard alongside a riverfront park. One benefit: 60 acres of prime reclaimed land. The traffic volumes in 2025 for this stretch are projected to be 100,000 average daily traffic (ADT). The local pro-boulevard organization 8664.org, with the help of feasibility report by the eminent Walter Kulash, predicts that with the rerouting, 20,000 vehicles per day would move to the bypass, 45,000 could be handled by the riverfront boulevard, and the rest could be easily accommodated by the existing street grid which currently has a 174,000-vehicle-per-day spare capacity on east-west streets in or near the riverfront corridor. As of August 2008, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet temporarily suspended study of the 8664.org plan. Image: Ohio River Bridges Project.
8. Route 29, Trenton, NJ
In the 1950s, the northern section of Route 29 was converted to a limited-access, four-lane highway along the Delaware River. The road carries 60,000 vehicles per day, and the extra wide, extra straight lanes lead to a higher than average rate of collisions. Back in 1989, Duany Plater-Zyberk's Trenton Plan re-envisioned this area as a mixed-use waterfront neighborhood.
More recently, the State of New Jersey's Capital City Redevelopment Corporation (CCRC) started investigating how to convert 1.8 miles of the highway into a boulevard complemented by an improved street grid, which would get 90 percent of the area's 32 acres back on the tax rolls. The conversion has been on the NJDOT's list of projects for several years under its integrated land-use and transportation docket. But with funding shortfalls, the NJDOT has informed the city that it will have to come up with its own funding. The City of Trenton and the Capital City Redevelopment Corporation are not giving up, however. A new park is under construction and the project includes one of the new perpendicular city streets that will eventually connect to the boulevard. And in May 2008, the partners released a request for proposals for a market feasibility study that is aimed at bringing in a master developer for the site. The Tri-State Transportation Campaign has followed this project through the years and continues to help in advocacy efforts.
9. Gardiner Expressway, Toronto, ON
Built between 1955 and 1966 by the Ministry of Transportation of Toronto (MTO), Toronto's Frederick G. Gardiner Expressway is a major east-west thoroughfare that connects downtown Toronto to its western suburbs. The girth of the Gardiner's elevated eight lanes separates the city's bustling core from its Lake Ontario waterfront. What was originally built to accommodate 70,000 cars daily now carries around 200,000 and costs $6 to 10 million annually in repairs.
For years, citizens of Toronto have called for the removal of the elevated expressway as it runs from downtown eastward. And they've had some success. A far eastern portion of the elevated freeway, which had been left a stub following a citizens' revolt, was successfully removed in 1999. WATERFRONToronto, an economic development corporation, has called for a partial teardown of the expressway and the building of an eight-lane urban boulevard in its place. On July 15, 2008, the City's Executive Committee approved an $11 million environmental assessment project that is a major first step in removing this 1-mile portion of the freeway between the Don Valley Expressway and Jarvis street. Depending on how the eight lanes are designed, this project has the potential to create a more walkable environment. Toronto Mayor David Miller believes that freeway teardown to be "the most practical approach and offers the greatest public benefits." Image: Nelson Cruz.
10. 11th Street Bridges and the Southeast Freeway, Washington D.C.
The Southeast Freeway is a 1.39-mile stretch of freeway running through Washington D.C. built in the late 1960s. It connects Interstate 395 to Interstate 295 at the 11th Street Bridges and was prevented from continuing west due to local opposition at the time. To address congestion and traffic routing problems at the interchange connecting the Southeast/Southwest Freeway and the Anacostia Freeway (I-295) over the Anacostia River, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) began investigating how to reconstruct and reconfigure the interchange at the 11th Street Bridges.
The Concerned Citizens of Eastern Washington, the Capitol Hill Restoration Society, some of whom were involved with the freeway revolt in the 1960s, began investigating the FHWA's preferred alternative in the Final Environmental Impact Assessment. Working with the transportation engineering firm Smart Mobility, Inc., the Capitol Hill Restoration Society discovered that, while the DC Department of Transportation states that there will not be an increase in capacity, the “preferred alternative … will result in a 50% increase of freeway capacity into central DC, even though this is contrary to the DC Comprehensive Plan.” This project has renewed discussions about improving surface-street and pedestrian connections in the near southeastern section of the district by removing the Southeast Freeway -- what the DC Office of Planning refers to as a “formidable psychological barrier.”