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Ten Urban Freeways That Need to Come Down

The Congress for New Urbanism has named its top ten candidates for urban highway removal. Map: CNU

When cities tear down their freeways, they don't regret it. New York's Hudson River waterfront is doing great without the West Side Highway, Seoul doesn't want to rebuild the Cheonggyecheon Freeway, San Francisco's Embarcadero Expressway isn't coming back, and neither is Milwaukee's Park East Freeway.

Without those highway segments, traffic declined and space opened up for walkable development. It's a wonder more cities don't do the same.

There are excellent candidates for freeway removal in many American cities, where roads built 50 or 60 years ago are nearing the end of their useful lives. Removal makes a lot more sense than expensive rehabs.

Every two years, the Congress for New Urbanism names the most promising highway teardown candidates in its "Freeways Without Futures" list. Here's a look at this year's freeways that need to come down.

Buffalo: Scajaquada Expressway

Photo: CNU
Photo: CNU

This 1960s highway cuts neighborhoods off from a beautiful park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. Responding to grassroots pressure, Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State DOT have a plan to convert the highway to a 30 mph street with pedestrian and bicycle crossings. Last April, Cuomo promised $30 million in state funds for the $115 million project.

However, local advocates say the state's design is too much like a highway, with overly wide crossings and no on-street bikeway.

Dallas: Interstate 345

Dallas' I-345

This two-mile freeway corridor severs downtown from the Deep Ellum neighborhood. Thanks to the hard work of two local local advocates -- Patrick Kennedy and Brandon Hancock -- the state is now considering tearing down the freeway as one of three options. Removing the highway would open 245 acres of land to walkable development and help Dallas break the vicious cycle of highway widening and car dependence.

Denver: I-70

Denver's I-70

I-70 was rammed through three working class Denver neighborhoods during the height of the Interstate era. Now the Colorado Department of Transportation is planning to spend $1.2 billion to widen the highway and put it in a trench. While the sunken highway will be much wider than the current viaduct, CDOT is greenwashing the expansion by capping a small section of the road with a park.

Rather than repeat past mistakes, local advocates want to remove the viaduct and replace it with a walkable surface street, rerouting highway traffic north of the city. The Sierra Club is suing the EPA to halt the project, saying it was approved under faulty assumptions about air quality.

Detroit: Interstate 375

I-375 in Detroit

This mile-long 1950s-era highway stump isn't doing Detroit any favors. I-375 was built as part of a notoriously racist "urban renewal" program that destroyed housing in the city's predominantly African American Black Bottom neighborhood two generations ago. It now separates the waterfront, Greektown, Eastern Market, and stadium district.

With the support of local groups, the Michigan Department of Transportation is currently exploring several options for the highway, including replacing it with an at-grade boulevard. The conversion would open up 12 acres for development.

Oakland: Interstate 980

Oakland's Interstate 980

There's a growing movement in Oakland to tear down Interstate 980 -- an underused 18-lane highway remnant that isolates West Oakland. Replacing the road with a surface boulevard would knit neighborhoods back together and create 21 new blocks of developable land, according to the group ConnectOAKLAND. The city has given its stamp of approval to the concept and wants agencies like Caltrans and the Federal Highway Administration to begin a more formal study.

Pasadena: Route 710

Pasadena's Route 710

The Connecting Pasadena Project is a grassroots campaign to replace Route 710 in Pasadena with up to 50 acres of mixed-use development -- perhaps the biggest development site available in all of Los Angeles County.

The highway replacement is one of three options Caltrans is studying, but the construction industry and Governor Jerry Brown prefer a $6 billion freeway tunnel and expansion instead.

Rochester: The Inner Loop

Rochester's Inner Loop Freeway

Rochester has started to heal the damage caused by the "Inner Loop" freeway, which contributed to an urban exodus when it was constructed in the mid 1960s. A federal grant helped the city fill in one mile of the highway, turning it into a surface street last year. That opened up six acres to development, and one 70-unit apartment building has already taken root, CNU reports.

Now the city is eyeing the northern portion of the highway -- which carries only about 20-25,000 vehicles a day -- for the next phase of removal.

San Francisco: Interstate 280


The removal of this 1.2-mile freeway spur could provide San Francisco with much-needed opportunities for infill housing and connect the Mission Bay, Potrero Hill, and SoMa neighborhoods. The highway removal is endorsed by Mayor Ed Lee, and the city is studying it plans for the Transbay Terminal, a big downtown transit and rail hub.

Syracuse: I-81


When this elevated 1.4-mile freeway was built 50 years ago, 1,300 homes in predominantly black neighborhoods were demolished. Today, Mayor Stephanie Miller and the City Council support tearing it down and replacing it with an at-grade boulevard. That would reconnect downtown to the university district, save $400 million compared to rebuilding the highway, and add up to $140 million in taxable development to the city's rolls.

Another option, spending $2 billion on a replacement tunnel, is much more expensive and had been rejected by the state DOT, but Governor Andrew Cuomo recently instructed the state to reconsider it, bowing to suburban political pressure.

Trenton: Route 29

Route 29 Trenton

Route 29 cuts off Trenton's downtown from the Delaware River waterfront. For almost 30 years, local advocates have dreamed of tearing it down. Now, CNU reports, those efforts are gathering momentum.

Converting the limited-access highway into a surface boulevard would open up 18 acres to waterfront development. The regional planning agency recently awarded the city $100,000 to study the concept.

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