A New Neighborhood Will Replace a Sunken Rochester Highway

With a portion of the Inner Loop highway filled in, Rochester is ready to reconnect its downtown to the East End neighborhood with mixed-use development. Photos: Google Maps
With a portion of the Inner Loop highway filled in, Rochester is ready to reconnect its downtown to the East End neighborhood with mixed-use development. Photos: Google Maps

Rochester’s Inner Loop freeway is like a moat surrounding downtown, a sunken highway severing surrounding neighborhoods from the city center. But piece by piece, the city is starting to fix this great mistake of the Interstate era.

Late last year, the city finished the Inner Loop East highway removal project. Paid for in large part by a federal TIGER grant, the $22 million project filled in two-thirds of a mile of the old highway trench, setting the stage for better street grid connections and walkable development. The segment carried about 7,000 vehicles a day before it was filled in.

All told, the project has opened more than six acres of land for development. While the old Inner Loop right-of-way is still an empty gravel expanse, the city doesn’t expect it to sit vacant very long.

Three development projects have the endorsement of Mayor Lovely Warren, according to the Democrat & Chronicle.

The largest is the mixed-use “Neighborhood of Play,” backed by the nearby Strong Museum of Play. It would include a museum expansion, as well as housing, retail, and a hotel.

The $105 million "Neighborhood of play" would include a hotel, museum space, retail and housing. Rendering: Urban Design Associates via Democrat & Chronicle
The “Neighborhood of Play.” Rendering: Urban Design Associates via Democrat & Chronicle

Another developer is planning a pair of four-story buildings with housing, retail, and offices.

And a third developer, which already has two residential projects underway near the Inner Loop, will add a third building with below-market apartments where the Inner Loop used to be.

A third building by Home Leasing would bring affordable housing to an area formerly occupied by the Inner Loop freeway. Rendering: SWBR Architects via Democrat and Chronicle
Home Leasing’s “Charlotte Square Phase III” will build below-market apartments on a parcel formerly occupied by the Inner Loop freeway. Rendering: SWBR Architects via Democrat and Chronicle

Here’s a view of the space cleared by the highway.

The removal of the Inner Loop freeway opened up six acres of land for development. Photo: City of Rochester
The removal of the Inner Loop freeway opened up six acres of land for development. Photo: City of Rochester

City spokesperson James Smith told the Democrat & Chronicle that the success of this phase of the project could lead to similar changes along the northern section of the Inner Loop, which remains a sunken highway.

20 thoughts on A New Neighborhood Will Replace a Sunken Rochester Highway

  1. I don’t want to be ‘that guy’ but what the hell is with that curb design in the ‘After’ photo at the top of the article?

  2. Or the dual sidewalks? I am guessing the sidewalk closer to the street will be a cycletrack, which maybe contributes to the unusual curb design. I dunno.

    But whatever – almost every city in the north east & rust belt could be doing projects just like this.

  3. Inner Loop was always a disaster, as far as I was concerned. Never served a useful enough purpose to justify the moat it created in the middle of Rochester (I lived there 1972-77)

  4. Nice to see the upstate coverage. I was in Albany recently and saw a number of livable streets issues that I thought should be addressed. It would be great if we could build a statewide movement.

  5. There’s a ton of livable streets stuff going on in the Upstate New York cities, actually, but you’re right that it isn’t a cohesive organized movement. Niagara Falls is removing the old freeway along the falls/river and converting it to a surface road, Buffalo has downgraded an old freeway through its central park to 30mph and is seriously considering a re-design that would make that permanent, Rochester is doing this Central Loop project, and Syracuse is seriously considering tearing out I-81 through the center of town. I haven’t heard of anything recent in the Capital District (Albany/Troy/Schenectady), but they do have a pretty successful BRT line.

  6. Filling in the Inner Loop was the wrong approach. Decking it over, like what is being done with I-395 in Washington, DC, would have made much more sense. Get rid of the moat without hurting transportation access. DC will reconnect two portions of downtown, create valuable housing and office real estate, and still have good access from Virginia and Maryland.

  7. That section in DC gets 88K vehicles per day versus 7K on the inner loop. Very hard to justify having expensive controlled access highway infrastructure for such low demand in Rochester, plus decking over would certainly have been more expensive. The cost are justified in DC, because the city could line up $1.3B of development to go on top of the highway, something that is simply not going to happen in a mid-size city like Rochester.

  8. Rochester has shrunk in population since the inner loop was constructed. It was constructed at a time when people thought the metro area would reach 2 million+ by this time. It is no longer needed and may never be needed.

  9. It’s also kind of a dumbass route.

    They filled in the old Rochester Subway tunnel, and they should NOT have — that route should be a subway again.

    But the Inner Loop route was never going to be a major transportation route.

  10. Damn, a golden opportunity to re-introduce transit in a dedicated right of way which this sunken highway was once part of the Rochester Subway now gone.

  11. Rochester can’t support a subway. Population has shrunk so much that the cost of building it, even a light rail system, just wouldn’t make sense.

  12. Albany has that God awful elevated freeway along the Hudson and then that massive complex that completely shuts off neighborhoods from the rest of the city. Poor city planning that would take billions to remedy.

  13. Who says anything about rail transit, this could just as easy be a dedicated bus rapid transit corridor for that region, re-using what use to be the Right of way for the old “subway corridor”. Rochester’s size can support and take a page out of Pittsburgh’s book.

  14. Oof, yeah, I know. The worst part, I think, is that you can drive in your car on the interstate-grade “Mall Arterial” straight from that elevated highway along the Hudson (I-787) into the parking garage below Empire State Plaza, take the elevator to your office, eat in the cafeteria of the Plaza, and then leave without ever setting foot in the city of Albany. It’s no wonder that Downtown Albany is a bit lacking in vibrancy…

  15. I drove a short section from East Ave over to N. Clinton/Central/Joseph for a few years back 1978-81. That part of the inner loop was pretty much a ghost town then.

    I always shook my head when I learned that they tanked the subway the year I was born for this stellar achievement. It and the Can-of-Worms Brendan mentioned were definitely not the DOT designers’ finest hours.

    The Can of Worms essentially was a cross-over of I 490 and 590 (NYS Rte 47 on the EAST side), aka the outer loop at grade with no access ramps, about the length of three football fields.

    I don’t think the designers realized that 70-80% of the traffic would do the cross (Webster in the NE suburbs to Henrietta in the S suburbs vs. Pittsford/Perinton/Penfield in the SE suburbs to downtown and the NW section of town.). It was a nightmare. It took a lot less land than the eventual solution but at a huge cost.

  16. Except this section was not part of the Rochester Subway. The Subway was in the old Canal bed that is now 490, not the Inner Loop.

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