Tear Down These 10 Freeways! (And Then Tear Down Some More)

New Orleans' Claiborne Expressway is ripe for demolition, says CNU. Image: CNU
New Orleans’ Claiborne Expressway is ripe for demolition. Photo: CNU

Freeway teardowns are no longer as rare as an earthquake during the World Series.

The Congress for the New Urbanism is back with its annual Freeways Without Futures list — the 10 highways most likely to be history in a few years. This year, the organization is also recognizing five other campaigns to watch, plus a handful of other projects in various stages of study and completion, in places like Akron, Buffalo, and Dallas.

Ranking at the top is New Orleans’ I-10/Claiborne Overpass. This elevated highway nearly destroyed the Treme neighborhood, one of the country’s first free black communities, when it was constructed in the 1960s. After the structure was damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, planners started to reconsider its future, resulting in the first calls for a teardown. More recently, U.S. DOT awarded the city $2 million to study the road’s future, including the option of replacing the elevated structure with an at-grade boulevard.

Leaders at Syracuse University think I-81 is an impediment to the school's growth. Image: CNU
Leaders at Syracuse University think I-81 is an impediment to the school’s growth. Photo: CNU

CNU also singles out Syracuse’s I-81. The political momentum to remove this 1960s-era eyesore, especially a 1.4-mile section that extends into downtown, has been building for years. Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Minor supports it, and even New York State DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald has expressed her personal opinion that “it would be great for the community to bring it down,” CNU reports. A teardown is one of six options currently being formally considered by the state DOT.

Toronto's Gardiner Expressway separates the city from Lake Ontario. Image: CNU
Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway separates the city from Lake Ontario. Photo: CNU

Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway is one of those extra regrettable waterfront urban freeways, separating Toronto residents from Lake Ontario. A teardown is a favorite cause of nearby residents, and in 1999 they succeeded in getting a portion of it leveled and replaced with a park. The city is currently studying its options for the remaining 2.4 kilometers.

The city of Rochester has secured federal funding to convert portions of its Innerloop freeway to an at-grade city street. Image: CNU
The city of Rochester has secured federal funding to convert portions of its Innerloop freeway to an at-grade city street. Photo: CNU

The campaign to remove portions of Rochester’s Inner Loop — a depressed urban freeway that encircles the central city — got a big boost last year, when it was awarded an $18 million TIGER grant. The city is chipping in another $24 million to bring the eastern section of the road up to grade and turn it into a regular boulevard that links urban neighborhoods.

Buffalo's Route 5 Skyway is a blight on the waterfront. Image: CNU
Buffalo’s Route 5 Skyway is a blight on the waterfront. Photo: CNU

It seems like every city in upstate New York has a freeway it wants to tear down. Buffalo is no exception, and its Route 5/Skyway has a real shot at being consigned to the dustbin of history, CNU says. This is another highway that blights the waterfront. It’s also in bad physical condition and will require $50 million in repairs over the next few decades. Last year, New York State DOT conducted a “plausibility review” of the teardown proposal, and public officials are still awaiting the results.

St. Louis' I-70 isolates the city's iconic Gateway Arch. Image: CNU
I-70 isolates the iconic Gateway Arch from the rest of St. Louis. Photo: CNU

St. Louis’s I-70 is a depressed freeway that isolates the city’s downtown from its iconic Gateway Arch. The park that houses that landmark will soon undergo a major renovation, and local advocates have seized the opportunity to present a vision for removing the barrier of I-70. Despite a good deal of political and community backing, however, pro-teardown group City-to-River has had trouble securing support for a full study of the proposal.

Tearing down I-280 in San Francisco would add nearly $100 million to surrounding land values, a city study found. Image: CNU
Tearing down I-280 in San Francisco would add nearly $100 million to surrounding land values, a city study found. Photo: CNU

Already a highway teardown pioneer, San Francisco is considering building on its success with the Embarcadero Freeway removal. This time the target is the I-280 freeway stub. Converting the elevated road to a boulevard would produce significantly higher land values in the surrounding area — $228 million versus $148 million — than rebuilding the road as a highway, a city study found.

Detroit's I-375 was an urban renewal project that permanently reduced the quality of urban life in the Motor City. Image: CNU
Detroit’s I-375 was an urban renewal project that permanently reduced the quality of urban life in the Motor City. Photo: CNU

I-375 in Detroit is another stub of a freeway that did some real damage, displacing black residents and jutting into the downtown area, severing ties to the riverfront, the Eastern Market, Greektown, and the stadium districts. In light of the city’s declining population and financial problems, calls to tear the highway down have been gaining strength. Local nonprofits are currently leading a study of what could be done with the highway, including replacing it with an at-grade, pedestrian-friendly street.

Long Beach is studying converting the Terminal Island Freeway into a greenway with park space. Image: CNU
Long Beach is studying converting the Terminal Island Freeway into a greenbelt with park space. Photo: CNU

Advocates for removing Long Beach’s Terminal Island Freeway recently won a Caltrans grant to develop a vision for transforming the road into an “88-acre greenbelt.” The proposal could open up 20 to 30 acres of much-needed park space for West Long Beach, according to CNU.

Locals simply don't support rebuilding Hartford's Aetna Viaduct. Image: CNU
Locals simply don’t support rebuilding Hartford’s Aetna Viaduct. Photo: CNU

The three-quarter-mile Aetna Viaduct in Hartford is one of the most trafficked highways in the state, carrying about 175,000 vehicles per day. But when the time came to repair it in 2005, civic leaders balked. The city is currently studying its options. Among those who have supported the tear down idea are Mayor Eddie Perez and officials from the Connecticut Department of Transportation.

That’s just the beginning, too. CNU lists additional teardown candidates in Dallas, New York City, Pasadena, and other cities. Not to mention places like Cleveland and New Haven — where funds to remove highways have already been secured. As highway removal becomes more widespread, it will be interesting to see if states and the federal government establish programs to fund it, as they did highway construction.

77 thoughts on Tear Down These 10 Freeways! (And Then Tear Down Some More)

  1. The 280 teardown vastly simplifies the necessary Caltrain rail work.

    This is actually true of a number of freeway teardowns; the freeways were often built encroaching on railroad right-of-ways.

    By the way, Southern Pacific Railroad hasn’t existed for 17 years. The rail line is owned by Caltrain, some nearby property went to Union Pacific when they bought the remains of SP.

  2. Once this new bottleneck is created, they will say that they have to add the lane for a few more blocks to remove the bottleneck…

    One problem with the expressways in Chicago is that they have too many entrances and exits, spaced too closely together, to actually function as expressways. IDOT isn’t planning to fix that, they’re just adding travel lanes.

  3. Unfortunately, decked tunnels are really expensive to maintain. Rochester is actually filling one in with dirt.

  4. On the contrary, the northern suburbs of New York City are very much downstate from where I am, not upstate. 🙂

    Upstate and downstate are *directions*, not locations. Up (away from the ocean) vs. down (towards the ocean).

    Worth noting, the same is true in Illinois — except “downstate” is lower in the Mississippi basin, so Chicago is upstate.

  5. Hartford’s “at grade” freeway proposal would essentially be in a trench, for what it’s worth; the neighboring city streets are mostly elevated due to various hills. They’re also proposing to deck over several blocks of it.

  6. Not really, we have examples as the DuPont Circle underpass which is a mini freeway. Filling with dirt is a complete waste of money.

  7. Office vacancies are down, there are several housing projects underway and UConn is moving its regional campus downtown. Hartford is certainly turning a corner.

    Who exactly edits the info? Eddie Perez hasn’t been mayor for years (I think 2011), since he was convicted of corruption.

  8. Name one place that has occurred on a time scale smaller than decades.

    IDOT has attempted and sometimes succeed in removing ramps. But if they remove ramps people complain that their neighborhoods are being isolated, etc.

  9. There was a real push to do just that with I-64 during the planning process for the whole Louisville “two bridges” mega-project a few years back. Check out: http://www.8664.org/

    I honestly don’t think people really could fathom getting rid of a freeway and transforming to a boulevard in a medium-sized city. The groupthink just hadn’t reached that point, especially in a city where, to be honest, the traffic isn’t THAT bad (as compared with other larger cities).

    IMHO, it was a good idea at the wrong time. I think now that Louisville is actually getting a lot of press and attention for its quirkiness, great restaurants, and unique qualities, that “thinking outside the box” mentality would be more front and center, and the idea would get more traction nowadays.

  10. Of course, they didn’t actually remove the freeway, they just put it somewhere else: underground.

  11. Most of these should’t really be torn down but simply rebuilt as cut-and-cover tunnels, like they did with I-93 in Boston. Ripping out something like I-95 through Philly would cause an absolute nightmare unless there is a good and direct place to put the traffic, which there isn’t. But of course there are situations like the Embarcadero in San Francisco that were never fully completed and don’t really connect to anything.

    It’s really a shame how the bad early freeway designs not only caused as much damage as they relieved traffic, but also tainted people’s opinions on freeways in general.

  12. If I was a pedestrian, I would rather cross a grade separated freeway than cross a surface street.

  13. Oakland California has far to many freeways that have divided the city and segregated communities for decades. Its time to tear down all of 980 and 580 from Mills College to the Bay Bridge. Consolidate increase capacity on 24 and 13. and rebuild the city of Oakland. Its time for a feasibility study of removing the freeways in thick red from the image below. (thin red line is the city boarder)

  14. How many hundreds of miles of abandoned or underutilized rail right-of-way does greater Philly have?

  15. Freeways emptied cities, I don’t see that tearing them down would have the same impact.

  16. Changing economies emptied cities. If anything, a city without access for commerce and industry would empty that much faster….

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