At one time, highway teardown projects in urban U.S. cities were rare, with about one occurring each decade. In the 1970s, Portland closed Harbor Drive. In the 1990s, San Francisco tore down the Embarcadero Freeway. And in the 2000s, Milwaukee removed the Park East Freeway spur. But this decade, freeway removal projects are gaining popularity and momentum, with three demolitions already underway and another dozen projects on the drawing board.
The current surge in projects—concentrated in the Northeast but ranging as far south as New Orleans and as far west as Seattle—is occurring because more and more cities face decisions about what to do with crumbling infrastructure. Some are choosing to replace freeway sections with attractive boulevards for two main reasons: to open up prime land for development, especially in downtowns; and to undo planning mistakes from the past, when highways were allowed to carve up neighborhoods and urban centers.
These types of urban renewal projects gained new credibility when the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants to three highway teardown projects—in New Orleans, New York City, and New Haven, Connecticut.
The implications for ULI members are that these projects are growing in popularity across the country and are viewed as development catalysts. In Providence, Rhode Island, for instance, city and state leaders say the 40 acres freed up by the recent demolition of Route 195 constitutes the best economic development opportunity in the state. New Orleans’s potential teardown of the Claiborne Corridor would open up 11 acres to new development, and in New York City, community organizations believe that razing the Sheridan Expressway would free up land for much-needed new housing and parks.
This top ten list, compiled for Urban Land, ranks highway removal projects by progress made toward teardown and replacement. However, several more cities—from Buffalo to Dallas and from Louisville to Vancouver—are talking about undertaking similar projects.
For additional reporting on this topic, see "Tear Down That Freeway!"