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: ##http://innovationtrail.org/post/rochester-doubling-down-inner-loop-plans##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.”

23 thoughts on Will the Feds Support Rochester’s Downtown Highway Teardown?

  1. I’m not sure a circumferential transit line would benefit the city much. They should, however, use TIF to fund transit improvements throughout Rochester and its inner suburbs. Rochester has so much potential its agonizing.

  2. Understood. I was just throwing the question out because I don’t know the geography well.

    It does seem like it could be a pretty nice, walkable city.

  3. Rochester seems to have had a history of bad highway design. Does anyone reading this remember the “Can of Worms” where NY 47 crossed I490E?

    I wonder what kind of VPD numbers they got back in the sixties and seventies to justify the Inner Loop. What I recall from the ’70’s was an ugly road that made traveling from the University of Rochester to my uncle’s house by the Zoo on the north side a real chore. Good idea to get rid of it.

  4. It’s possible you are correct, but transit has the effect of encouraging walking, which using the space as a through highway does not have,

  5. It almost seems as if the intent was demolish certain neighborhoods. Actually, that probably was the main intent.

  6. as much as i love having subways around, not all cities need heavy rail. light rail would perform much better in a smaller scale city.

  7. In my opinion, when you already have grade-separated infrastructure, it’s a waste not to preserve it, even if it’s for pedestrians and cyclists. If rail in that location doesn’t make sense, then preserve maybe two lanes for walking/biking. It’ll cost less to roof over something ~20 feet wide, compared to the entire 70 or 80 feet of the entire expressway.

  8. To answer your other question, the Inner Loop was designed in the early ’50s and built in the late ’50s/early ’60s. It was intended to be a circulation loop around the then-congested downtown area as part of an extension of I-390 into the downtown area and another expressway extension from the Loop to the 104 north of the city. These expressway connections were never built due to community opposition, but the Inner Loop was. Accordingly, although many downtown streets had upwards of 40,000+ vpd, the Loop never carried the level of traffic it was intended to serve. What it did do was anger a whole lot of people whose communities were leveled, and then helped facilitate the mass exodus from the city that occurred in the 1960s-1990s that we are only now beginning to turn around. This new project is a statement that the city’s 60 year experiment with auto-domination has failed us, and that we’re committed to trying something different.

  9. Don’t see why your comment deserved to be downrated, but whether it’s light rail, heavy rail, or even a bus isn’t so material as putting the trench that already exists to some positive use. I am inclined to agree light rail probably is the best way to do it.

    (BTW, light rail and heavy rail are kind of meaningless distinctions, except maybe regarding train lengths and some assumptions about grade separation. An LRV doesn’t necessarily hold fewer people than a subway car. In fact, LRVs are often heavier than first world heavy rail equipment, and are designed to carry more people per car.)

  10. Perhaps, but walking and biking are activities most pleasantly performed at grade in sunlight and open air. If Rochester is big enough to support buses, it’s big enough to support underground vehicles if the infrastructure is already more or less there anyway.

  11. Just my opinion but biking is a lot less pleasant when you’re at grade in open air but constantly stopping or slowing for various reasons, as is often the case on surface streets. In that case I’d rather be underground. And underground you’re protected from weather/winds, plus the temperatures are somewhat moderated (a good thing in Rochester’s cold, snowy winters).

    But yes, it seems since the infrastructure is pretty much there anyway, they should find some good use for it.

  12. The routing of the trench portion of the Inner Loop pretty much sucks for transit. The elevated portion might be useful but I don’t think that’s easy to convert.

  13. The Rochester Inner Loop rendering doesn’t even show bike lanes along the new roadway, and yet they are dangling the offer of a two-way protected bike path one side of the new road. This is a totally new road, why not include one-way protected cycletracks on both sides of the roadway, along with the separate sidewalks, so cyclists can ride in the direction of traffic flow. Bike lanes should be a given, not omitted from initial plans/rendering; one or two-way cycletracks should be the next step in options to include, not a prize to be dangled on a stick in front of us.

  14. Rochester LRT plans: go back to the late 1970s planning history. There was a very serious proposal to build an LRT through a 1930s streetcar/rail tunnel that was built into the original bed of the Erie Canal. The Erie Canal was relocated south of downtown into the NYS Barge Canal around the turn of the Century. The history of this LRT plan is too complex for a short note, but it was happening at the same time that Buffalo was building their LRT.
    Been there, done that, never quite got anything into the ground.

  15. Less infrastructure to pay to maintain and more occupied buildings paying taxes? Who could be against that?!

  16. Renderings were produced quick and on the cheap for the last TIGER application nearly 2 years ago. They didnt update the video or stills for this application but the app does include a cross-section showing two way cycle track along west side of new street.

    Lots of driveways on east side would make one way cycle track there less attractive. West side will likely have no driveways. Also, west side two way cycle track provides opportunity to connect with Genesee Riverway Trail in the future. East side would have to dead end.

  17. It is not far enough below grade for a long enough distance to be worth retaining. The area where it is fully below grade is only about two blocks.

  18. It’s been shown that some communities were purposely targeted by political leaders who directed freeways to be built through their neighborhoods and community centers and churches. Black communities were especially targeted, and people think that racism ended after the Civil War or after MLK’s movement – ha! It only festered, as we can see today.

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