12 Freeways to Watch (‘Cause They Might Be Gone Soon)

If you make your home on the Louisiana coastline, upstate New York or the mountains of the Pacific Northwest, chances are you live near a highway that really has it coming. It’s big. It’s ugly. It goes right through city neighborhoods. And it just might be coming down soon.

New Orleans' Claibourne Overpass is this year's Congress for New Urbanism choice for "Freeway without a Future." Photo: CNU.org

Last week the Congress for New Urbanism released its updated list of “Freeways Without Futures” — 12 transportation anachronisms that are increasingly likely to meet the wrecking ball.

This year’s top finisher was New Orleans’ Claiboure Overpass — a 1960s-era eyesore that replaced a thriving, tree-lined commercial street at the center of the city’s oldest, most culturally vibrant black neighborhood. The teardown for this highway has some real traction; a master plan to remove the elevated portion is expected to be endorsed by City Council shortly, according to CNU.

The Sheridan Expressway in the Bronx is runner up, the same position it held in CNU’s 2008 Freeways Without Futures list. This riverfront disaster was bestowed by the master highway builder himself, Robert Moses. Residents of the Bronx have successfully fought off two separate proposals to expand the Sheridan, which runs right along the Bronx River. A coalition of community groups and advocates called the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance has led the charge to replace the freeway with housing and parks, and a group of cities agencies are now examining teardown scenarios with the help of a federal TIGER grant.

The third-place finisher is New Haven’s Route 34 (the Oak Street Connector), which is slated for demolition. New Haven received TIGER funds to convert the road into a pedestrian-friendly boulevard and local officials are currently haggling over the design details — there’s a chance they’ll opt to replace a highway with a road that feels like a highway.

Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct fell 11 spots in the list from last year, due to the fact that while the elevated highway will be demolished, the city is moving ahead with an underground replacement, the so-called deep bore tunnel that has sustainable transportation advocates up in arms.

There’s more: Buffalo, Miami, St. Louis, Cleveland, Rochester, Syracuse, Toronto and Hartford all have urban freeways that CNU has identified as endangered. Kudos to the state of New York, by the way, for leading on sheer volume. Streetsblog reported on efforts to remove the elevated portion of Interstate 81 in Syracuse and West Shoreway in Cleveland last year.

CNU’s 2012 Top Tear-down Prospects:

1.  I-10/Claiborne Overpass, New Orleans
2.  I-895/Sheridan Expressway, New York City (Bronx)
3.  Route 34/Oak Street Connector, New Haven
4.  Route 5/Skyway, Buffalo
5.  I-395/Overtown Expressway, Miami
6.  I-70, St. Louis
7.  West Shoreway, Cleveland
8.  I-490/Inner Loop, Rochester
9.  I-81, Syracuse
10.  Gardiner Expressway, Toronto
11.  Aetna Viaduct, Hartford
12.  Route 99/Alaskan Way Viaduct, Seattle

CNU attributes the rising popularity of highway teardowns and highway-to-boulevard projects to declining DOT budgets and greater local understanding of the benefits of a connected, urban street grid. CNU’s “Highways to Boulevards” program helps educate communities about the benefits of freeway removal and offers technical assistance.