8 Monster Interchanges That Blight American Cities

Ramming highways through the middle of American cities was undoubtedly one of the worst mistakes of the 20th century — demolishing urban habitat, dividing neighborhoods, and erecting structures that suck the life out of places. What could be worse than a highway through the middle of town? How about when two highways intersect, with all their assorted high-speed ramps carving out huge chunks of land to move cars.

But despite their massive scale and the huge sums we spend on them, highway interchanges in American cities can seem invisible. After all, no one ever goes to hang out by the interchange.

So, to give you a good look, we put together this list of some of the most enormous interchanges in U.S. cities. Just imagine what cities could do with all this space…

Louisville: Kennedy Interchange (64/65/71)

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Photo: Patrick Smith

Louisville’s Kennedy Interchange sits just north of downtown, forming an immense barrier to the city’s waterfront. Gigantic as it may be, this interchange will be getting even bigger as Kentucky and Indiana move forward with the $2.6 billion Ohio River Bridges project. Even the New York Times lamented the effect of this highway expansion on downtown neighborhoods. But when Louisville activists argued that a portion of the roadway feeding into the interchange should be torn down, they were steamrolled by powerful political interests.

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Milwaukee: Marquette Interchange (94/43/794)

Marquette Interchange 9/09

Rebuilding and expanding Milwaukee’s Marquette Interchange, located not far from downtown Milwaukee by Marquette University, cost $810 million to complete in 2008. It took 2.25 million man hours to construct the 28 ramps and 21 miles of roadway. The concrete and steel needed to complete the project weighed 60,000 tons, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

To 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, this interchange expansion was a “billion dollar blunder.” Meanwhile, the Federal Highway Administration gave the project its “Award of Excellence in Highway Design.” Wisconsin is currently preparing for an even bigger interchange project: the $1.7 billion “Zoo Interchange,” not far away.

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Los Angeles: Pregerson Interchange (110/105)

Photo: Citydata
Photo: Citydata

LA’s Pregerson Interchange was completed in 1993 at a cost of $135 million. At the time it was the most expensive “traffic structure” Caltrans had ever built. The LA Times called it a “five-level maze of soaring and curving freeway lanes.” It includes nine miles of cloverleaf loops and is a mile and a half wide, a gargantuan pile of concrete looming over some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

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San Diego: I-5 and CA-163

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This interchange in San Diego is mostly tragic for its location, just on the border of Balboa Park, San Diego’s “crown jewel,” according to BikeSD’s Sam Ollinger. Despite the near constant congestion, the interchange is at least scenic, drivers say. But good luck getting to the Art and Space Museum on foot from downtown.

Columbus: I-670 and I-71

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The intersection of I-670 and I-71 in Columbus completely isolates part of the city bordering downtown and Columbus State Community College. Within the tangle of ramps is a school for the arts and a parking facility for Columbus Public School buses.

Construction to expand to the interchange began in 2011. The $200 million project includes the construction of 22 bridges, plus a “cultural wall designed with community input.” The project is part of a larger, $556 million rebuilding of three major interchanges by downtown. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime project,” an ODOT official told the local business publication.

Image: DLZ.com
Image: DLZ.com

Detroit: I-375 and I-75

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Streetsblog showed the damage done to east Detroit by I-375 in this compelling series of photos. This whole area was once a densely populated neighborhood of walkable blocks, home to much of the city’s African-American population. Downtown Detroit is completely surrounded by highways, forming a noose around the city. This interchange separates downtown Detroit from the Eastern Market, a major regional attraction.

The good news is there has been talk in Detroit of tearing out I-375. The road needs expensive repairs and the least costly option is being considered: replacing it with a pedestrian-friendly parkway.

Seattle: I-90 and I-5

Photo: Longbachnguyen
Photo: Longbachnguyen

Just outside downtown Seattle, the I-90/I-5 Interchange is a tangled mass of traffic. More than 1,600 people have “checked-in” at this location on Foursquare. “This sucks,” says one. “Nice shrub on the southbound side,” says another.

Seattle’s anti-highway activists halted a freeway expansion here in the 1970s, leaving behind “ramps to nowhere” that had been built in anticipation of future road construction. Some of those ramps were eventually incorporated into this interchange.

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Chicago: Circle Interchange (90/94/290)

Photo: Wikipedia
Photo: Wikipedia

This circular interchange merges the Dan Ryan, Kennedy, and Eisenhower expressways, just west of Chicago’s Loop. The Blue Line’s L train tracks pass under the interchange.

Constructed in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Circle Interchange will be rebuilt and expanded in a $400 million project that the Illinois Department of Transportation recently rammed through, even though it never made the regional planning agency’s list of high priorities.

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  • barman

    It would be reasonable to assume most of the people using those freeways are coming into the city from the suburbs

  • And trying to get past the overly dense city to the other side.

  • The way to eliminate traffic is to balance population density and keep it low everywhere.

    Overly dense cities are essentially traffic roadblocks.

    Note the absence of traffic around Detroit.

  • Nathanael

    You’re quite wrong. Population density isn’t the issue at all. The issue is *separating people from their work*.

    If people live next door to their work and their play, they don’t generate traffic.

    Take exactly the same number of people. Arrange them any way you like. If everyone is separated from their work, you’ll have enormous traffic. If everyone is next to their work, you’ll have very little traffic.

    Cities made up of low-density suburbs often have god-awful, horrible traffic — Houston’s a great example here. Why do they have horrible traffic? Because some suburbs are all-work and other suburbs are all-residential, so everyone’s madly driving between them. There’s no road big enough to handle *everyone driving to work*.

    In the old days, farmers and farm workers worked & lived on their farms (no commute), store owners and store workers worked and lived above or next to their stores (no commute), and factories built “company housing” so that factory workers could live next to the factories (no commute). It’s when we started having “residential only” districts that traffic exploded.

  • Cities violate the 2-dimensional balance of a true “grid”.

    They force clustering, and that creates bottlenecks.

    A true grid, with equilibrium and balanced roads running both N-S and E-W would be successful even when some had to make long trips, and others short ones.

  • C Monroe

    Exactly there should have been only three freeways. 75, 96, 94. They should have never built the Lodge, 375 or the Davidson(another that should be taken out).

  • C Monroe

    Or better yet have the 75 follow the davidson and merge with 96 where the davidson and 96 meet, then have it travel closer to downtown and the bridge.

  • C Monroe

    I agree with your sentiment but many have a misconceived notion about Detroit being empty and all of its freeways are not clogged. Yes the city itself is empty, but most of the population did not leave the state just moved to the suburbs. There is mostly suburb to suburb travel that passes through the city and that is why it is a shame that the city destroyed itself for the benefit of the suburbs. 94,96,275,696 and 75 all experience the same type of congestion as other big cities, the difference is Detroit also has extremely wide boulevards that are virtually empty. Grand, Grand River, Fort, Ford, Gratiot, Michigan, Jefferson, 8 mile, mcnichols, Mack, Livernois and Woodward. It also has quasi freeways/parkways that do have traffic Telegraph, parts of Van Dyke, M-59 and Southfield. And of course there are freeways that are not needed and show that the nearby blvds could take the traffic such as 375, Lodge and Davidson freeway.

  • C Monroe

    Oh, the bridge is beautiful and is well designed.

  • C Monroe

    I believe that is the worst stretch of interchange. When I was a kid in OC, my mom decided to take us to the LA zoo and she hated the freeways but tried anyway. She drove us up 5 and we got to that interchange and she got stuck taking all the wrong ramps for over an hour. Finally we reached our destination and she called my dad who had to come to the zoo and drive in front of her car to make it home. This was in the 70’s and we never did go back to the zoo.

  • Nathanael

    Yeah. There’s a big difference between through routes and local routes. In Detroit, 94 is obviously useful and busy, as is 75, and 96. But Detroit really has an overabundance of freeways stuffed into downtown: the Lodge Freeway is a mile from another freeway in either direction (from 94 southward), 375 is just a stub, etc.

    I wonder what would happen if 75 were rerouted onto 94 and 96 and the downtown part of 75 was eliminated, along with the portion of the Lodge Freeway south of 94. The whole of downtown Detroit would still be within 2 miles of freeway exits, but it wouldn’t be sliced up by having freeways slicing through the middle of it. Michigan Ave, Woodward Ave, Gratiot Ave, and Grand River Ave would still move people into downtown, and people who were bypassing downtown could actually bypass downtown.

  • Nathanael

    I had a similar proposal up above, to remove all the freeways inside the “square” formed by 96 (Jeffries Fwy), 94 (Edsel Ford Fwy), 75 (Chrysler Fwy), and the river.

  • C Monroe

    Yeah, from Davidson to the river and 75 to 96, it is like a grid of freeways and inside that grid you are never more than a mile, most of the time a half mile from a freeway. 75/375-lodge-96 east to west and Davidson-94-75-Jefferson/lodge/375 north to south. Easy access for cars if you lived in the suburbs and worked in the city when it was built, to easy.

  • C Monroe

    Also they should have use either the 96/75/Ambassador bridge interchanges or 96/696/275/M5 interchange probably the two biggest and most complicated in the Detroit area.

  • greg forrester

    I would reroute I-75 in SE Michigan to US 23 which is a freeway from Flint to Toledo so that it totally avoid the city of Detroit.

  • Rudy Breteler

    Nathaniel is correct. Dense, vertical cities save nature and viable farmland by clustering populations into compact locations where people work and live. Suburbs, on the other hand, encourage sprawl and POVs, creating congestion and driving climate change, all while destroying a disproportionate share of nature. Cities only create gridlock when cars are added to the mix, but in truly dense cities, people do not need private automobiles. The key is to break the car culture and get populations moving by bicycle and public transit, creating walkable, livable urban centers.

  • Rudy Breteler

    You assume everyone needs to drive. Dense cities eliminate the need to drive, thus eliminating traffic. We are still suffering from the poor planning choices made decades ago that have left us with today’s car culture, but the trend is moving away from personal automobile use and toward sustainable transportation options. When people live in cities dense enough that everyone can bicycle or ride a subway to anywhere they need to go, cars are not necessary.

  • Rudy Breteler

    Gridlock can be a good thing. Hopefully, it will encourage more people to stop commuting by car and switch to sustainable transportation.

  • cjlane

    Um, yeah. I think we all agree that Cabrillo Canyon would be better w/o a freeway in it.

    But, as it relates to the post, and my comment, so? If it were a local park road, would it make walking access from Bankers Hill (or downtown) to the Art and Space Museum on foot meaningfully easier?

  • qatzelok

    The rest of the world envies the US’s triple-bypass operations as well.

  • Sonny

    Dude, you don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s the 2-dimensional grids that are causing the problem because of intersections. If all roads were parallel and didn’t intersect, people would spend a lot less time in traffic, whether they live in the city or suburbs. If you draw it out on a piece of paper, you can see how it works. Use a ruler to make the lines straight.

  • Lex Luger

    Gridlock can be good? Are you going to be saying the same thing when you have a medical emergency and the ambulance can’t make it to where you are because of traffic? And it’s none of your fucking business whether somebody drives a car or not.

  • tikitools1

    Where are the Flying cars already

  • Midimagic

    Obviously we have a road hater here.

  • Midimagic

    Banned by Homeland Security.

    We used to have the flying motorcycle. It was the Benson Gyrocopter. This was the flying machine that illegally landed on the Capitol grounds a few months ago.

  • Campbell Sadeghy

    These interchanges are beautiful. What blights cities is bike paths and buses.

  • Campbell Sadeghy

    Poor countries rely on mass transit. Hence why the majority of the world’s heavily populated cities relies on mass transit and why the BRIC countries are investing in highways. Don’t even try and use Western European countries as an argument because they came about well before the automobile.

  • Mark Raymond

    Environmentalists have been hoping for that in Los Angeles for the past 50 years. It’s gone nowhere.

  • Americanish

    Engineering is no different than accounting. It is bookkeeping pure simple.

  • MaximusX67

    You win 1st prize for the dumbest comment ….. yay!

    I have ZERO desire to use public transportation. Why in the hell would somebody like you get to decide how people go where?

    What’s needed are smarter roadways, and more of them. Every city should have numerous highways throughout, as well as dozens of main thoroughfares running through them. As many non highway roads that can utilize roundabouts the better. They are proven to cut up gridlock, yet, the US uses them very seldom. Utilizing them, along with over/underpass systems incorporated, would allow for very even flows of traffic throughout all major cities.

    You enjoy riding the rails through the city with the crazies and criminals …. taking an hour to get across the city. I will enjoy my ride in my car, comfortable and safe, and at my destination in about 20 minutes or less.

  • Neat Gifts

    I hate!, the 105-110 intersection in South LA. There are two…no three problems. LA freeways don’t give you much for notice which lane you should be in depending on which exchange you want to take. The ramps are really high, narrow and the lane ends really quick once you are merging onto the next freeway. And then there is always the LA drivers! Just think of the old Demolition Derby.

    The Chicago Loop is kind of cool but I never know if I just made the proper exit depending on where I wanted to go. Feels great when you “win”, I mean realize you made the right choice.

    San Antonio is really neat because if you make a mistake it is really easy to get right back on or the side street that runs along side the freeway can be just as accommodating. It is also great how the 410 goes around the center of the city.

  • Rob

    People can’t even drive for shit when their wheels are frictioned to the ground by rubber and tread managed by high tech braking systems , imagine the wrecks and death count if all these morons flew cars through the air where you didn’t have the luxury of brakes nevermind mechanical failures. Seems cool on back to the future but vehicles can’t yet defy gravity without the need to rely on engines and airspeed for lift which if either fails it’s virtually guaranteed death.

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