“In Rochester and several other American cities, some of the biggest highway infrastructure projects under consideration involve demolition rather than construction.” writes David Harrison of realtor.com.
American cities are dealing with the legacy of an old highway system. The Federal Highway Bill of 1956 resulted in 48,000 miles of Interstate Highways being built in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Although they were a lifeline for rural communities at the time, highways often divided cities, removing old buildings and displacing entire communities. And they caused the redistribution of population from urban centers to the suburbs and with it a reliance on cars for mobility and growing noise and air pollution.
As some highways near the end of their useful lives and repairing them becomes expensive and impractical, many cities are turning to the idea of replacing them with neighborhoods once again. What goes around, comes around.
Highway re-capture to date has included projects like the the conversion of the San Francisco Embarcadero Freeway, post Lama Prieta earthquake, to a pedestrian-friendly waterfront instead. Or Boston’s bold plan to move large sections of the I-93 underground to make way for 45 public parks and plazas. Or in Milwaukee, where the Park East freeway’s removal has seen a renaissance of urban neighborhoods.
Many cities see the removal of freeways as an opportunity to recreate neighborhoods or create new open space, in order to draw in new residents and businesses and bring much needed economic revitalization to urban centers. The federal government can see the benefits too. The 2019 transportation bill, adopted by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, created a program to help fund highway removals.
There’s hope that divided cities might become whole again.
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