As local and state governments look for cheaper, innovative methods to make infrastructure improvements, one report has a recommendation for 10 specific cities in the United States: Get rid of their urban freeways.
In its sixth biennial report titled “Freeways Without Futures,” the Congress for the New Urbanism identified 10 stretches of limited-access highways that cut through urban centers the group feels are better off being completely removed.
According to the report, limited-access highways that were built through cities in the 1950s through 1970s are now at the end of their useful life, and cities must decide whether to rebuild them. CNU suggests that replacing these highways with a boulevard or a grid of surface streets is cheaper and offers significant social and economic benefits.
The group claims there is a national movement to replace “unnecessary” portions of freeways with surface streets, with 15 North American cities having already removed or committed to remove or mitigate their freeways.
The identified areas span coast-to-coast from Oakland, Calif., to Syracuse, N.Y.
- Oakland – Interstate 980.
- Portland, Ore. – Interstate 5.
- Denver – Interstate 70.
- Austin, Texas – Interstate 35.
- Dallas – Interstate 345.
- New Orleans – Claiborne Expressway (Interstate 10).
- Louisville, Ky. – Interstate 64.
- Tampa, Fla. – Interstate 275.
- Buffalo, N.Y. – Kensington and Scajaquada Expressways.
- Syracuse – Interstate 81.
Land Line Now’s Terry Scruton spoke with Rob Steuteville, CNU’s senior communications adviser. Steuteville said that the segments are generally pretty short, around 1-2 miles. The stretch of I-275 in Tampa is 11 miles and the report recognizes its removal as “ambitious.”
All but one of the highways were built in the 1970s or prior (I-980 in Oakland was built in 1985), with the majority built in the 1960s. In most cases, the highways cut through underserved communities, adding pollution and further decreasing property value.
Common characteristics of these highways include negligible effects on local traffic and increased economic benefits if removed. The highways in Oakland, Louisville and Tampa are either underused or used mostly for local travel, making surface streets more economically feasible and relevant to motorists’ needs.
The report also suggests removing highways can open the door to much needed public transit.
“The removal of a highway is a divestment from expensive automobile infrastructure,” the reports says. “It presents an opportunity to capture and convert trips taken by private automobile into ridership for public transit, which lessens the need to design a street with excessive traffic lanes. Furthermore, the new street or boulevard can incorporate relatively inexpensive forms of public transportation into its design, such as bus rapid transit with dedicated lanes.”
But what about truckers? Some of these segments are on busy freight routes.
Steuteville said there are alternate routes for many of these freeways that add only a few miles to a trip. He also pointed out that before any major infrastructure project begins, economic impact studies must be conducted to determine if truck freight will be significantly affected and, if so, how that may be mitigated.
“All of these freeways, I think you can say, did a lot of damage when they were built in the 1950s, ’60s and maybe ’70s,” Steuteville told Land Line Now. “They cut through neighborhoods, they divide neighborhoods from downtown, they have demolished main streets. We’re looking at ‘Could this be repaired.’”
CNU is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization headquartered in Washington, D.C. According to its website, the organization helps “create vibrant and walkable cities, towns, and neighborhoods where people have diverse choices for how they live, work, shop, and get around.”
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