Will the Feds Support Rochester’s Downtown Highway Teardown?

Rochester's sunken Inner Loop Expressway completely encircles downtown. Now the city is poised to remove a portion of it. Image: Innovation Trail

It’s been called a “noose around the neck of downtown.” The Inner Loop in Rochester, New York — a regrettable 1960s-era sunken highway — completely encircles the city’s downtown, forming a wall between residential neighborhoods and the central business district.

The road is unsightly and impassable on foot, a huge barrier to walkability. And it doesn’t even see that much traffic: Some sections of the road carry less than 7,000 vehicles per day, a volume that could be easily supported by a regular, two-lane road.

One rendering of the proposed surface street to replace the Inner Loop East. Image: City of Rochester

The current city leadership is firmly committed to a $24 million plan to fill in and replace a stretch of the road called the Inner Loop East — about two-thirds of a mile — with an at-grade city street. It would open nine acres of city land to mixed-use, walkable development. The plan would improve safety and help support active transportation, officials say. The City Council voted last year to allocate $6 million in local funds for the project.

All Rochester needs now is federal matching funds, but that has proven difficult to accomplish. The city has twice tried, and failed, to win federal TIGER funds for the project. Rochester recently submitted its third TIGER grant application, seeking $18 million, and the city has Senator Chuck Schumer on their side, according to the Rochester Business Journal. Schumer recently met with new Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to try to persuade him that Rochester deserves the grant.

Meanwhile, the city is moving to finalize the design portion of the plan. Some versions even call for a two-way protected bike lane on the new surface street. If the funding comes through in the next few months, the demolition and reconstruction could begin as soon as next fall, the Business Journal reports.

Mayor Thomas Richards told the Business Journal that the highway removal could give this shrinking industrial city a much-needed boost.

“This project will benefit the entire city,” he said. “We are building a city that encourages walking, biking and enjoying the outdoor environment. Replacing this section of the Inner Loop will demonstrate the city’s commitment to fostering quality of life here in Rochester.”