Removing Freeways - Restoring Cities

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Preservation Institute

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Tear It Down!
by John Norquist

Portland, OR:
Harbor Drive

San Francisco, CA:
Embarcadero Freeway

San Francisco, CA:
Central Freeway

Milwaukee, WI:
Park East Freeway

Toronto, Ontario: Gardiner Expressway

New York, NY:
West Side Highway

Niagara Falls, NY:
Robert Moses Parkway

Paris, France:
Pompidou Expressway

Seoul, South Korea
Cheonggye Freeway

Other Freeway Removals

Freeway Removal
Plans and Proposals

From Induced Demand
to Reduced Demand
by Charles Siegel



Freeway Removal
Plans and Proposals

Other pages of this website have told the stories of freeways that have been removed. This page lists freeway removals that have been proposed but not implemented.

In some cases, city or state governments have proposed freeway removal, but these plans have not yet been completed or funded. In some cases, there are political battles between citizens' groups supporting freeway removal proposals and governments supporting the vested interests that want to keep the freeways.

The freeway-removal movement is unusual because it is sometimes supported by governments and planners and sometimes supported by popular movements working against reluctant governments and planners.

Planned Freeway Removals

The following freeway removals are being planned by city and state governments:

  • Trenton, NJ, Route 29: The freeway was initially designed to remove trucks from local streets, but truck traffic was banned from it before its completion. In response to complaints from the city, the state Dept. of Transportation is now planning to remove this freeway and replace it with a boulevard and local street grid, freeing up 18 acres of land for development. This plan is one of NJDOT's “smart growth corridor studies.”
  • Akron, OH, Innerbelt: Inspired by the example of Milwaukee, Akron mayor Don Plusquellic has proposed removing the Innerbelt freeway to promote economic development. The city is now conducting a $2 million study of this freeway removal.
  • Washington, DC, Whitehurst Freeway: City officials are discussing plans to remove this three-quarter-mile-ling freeway, which divides Georgetown from its waterfront, and to replace it with a boulevard. There are also preliminary discussions of removing other elevated freeways, including Southeast Freeway near the Capitol and part of the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway near the Lincoln Memorial.
  • Cleveland, OH, Shoreway: The Connecting Cleveland 2020 city-wide plan calls for this freeway to be converted to a boulevard, removing the barrier between Cleveland and its Lake Erie waterfront.
  • New Orleans, LA, Claiborne Expressway: The New Orleans draft master plan calls for removing the elevated Claiborne Expressway (I-10) between the Pontchartrain Epxressway and Elysian Fields Ave.
  • Nashville, TN, Downtown Loop: Nashville's fifty-year plan, adopted in 2004, calls for gradually removing the eight-mile downtown loop made up of three interstates - Interstate 65, Interstate 40 and Interstate 24 -- and replacing it with parks, boulevards and mixed-use communities to reconnect downtown with adjacent neighborhoods.
  • New Haven, CT, Route 34 Connector: New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, Jr.’s Future Framework 2008 plan proposes removing this 1.1 mile freeway stub, restoring the street grid, and rebuilding the neighborhood that was removed when over six hundred families and businesses were removed to build this freeway in 1955-1957.
  • Montreal, Quebec, Bonaventure Expressway: The Société du Havre de Montréal (Montréal Harbourfront Corporation), a non-profit organization with financial support from three levels of government, has created the Montreal Harbourfront Vision 2025, which calls for replacing the Bonaventure Expressway with a boulevard to encourage development of adjacent areas.
  • Tokyo, Japan, Metropolitan Expressway: Since the year 2000, citizens have talked about removing the Metropolitan Expressway viaduct,which is built over the Nihombashi River in the center of Tokyo. As a result, the city and national government have incorporated the removal of this freeway and restoration of the river in their policies and are conducting planning studies of this issue.
  • Long Beach, CA, Terminal Island Freeway: In October, 2013, the city of Long Beach got an Environmental Justice grant from the US Dept. of Transportation to study converting this freeway into a local road with a landscaped buffer, a goal supported by the mayor and local councilmember. More funds will be needed for the final design and construction of the plan that comes out of this envisioning process.
  • Sydney, Australia, Cahill Expressway: Sydney Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, proposed removing this freeway for aesthetic reasons. The Sydney Morning Herald immediately editorialized that "experience overseas shows pulling down motorways can also help ease traffic congestion," so it would not be necessary to replace it with an underground road. This editorial is an important sign that the idea of freeway removal has become mainstream.

Proposed Freeway Removals

The following freeway removals have been proposed by citizens:

  • Baltimore, MD, Jones Falls Expressway: In 2005, the late Walter Sondheim, a civic leader who promoted the revival of downtown Baltimore through projects like Charles Center and the Inner Harbor redevelopment, proposed removing the portion of the Jones Falls Expressway that leads into downtown and replacing it with an extension of President Street. City officials have expressed some support for this project, and it will probably be implemented when the current elevated structure becomes obsolete in about 2020.
  • Seattle, WA, Alaska Way Viaduct: The powers that be thought that a referrendum would settle whether an underground freeway or a new elevated structure alternative would be used to replace this double-decked elevated freeway, which cuts Seattle off from its waterfront. But the voters surprized the politicians and rejected both alternatives. Now, some politicians are backing removal. People's Waterfront Coalition was the first group fighting for this freeway removal.
  • Bronx, NY, Sheridan Expressway: Neighborhood residents and environmentalists have called for removal of this freeway and restoration of the Bronx River as a park. Despite widespread support, the Bronx borough president is resisting the idea because he wants the traffic capacity available for the Hunt's Point market, though studies have shown it is not needed. South Bronx Watershed Alliance is fighting for this freeway removal, and you can get the latest news about it from their blog.
  • Buffalo, NY, Route 5: New York State Dept. of Transportation is proposing an expansion of Route 5 along Buffalo's waterfront, and citizens are saying that, instead, they should remove this freeway and replace it with a boulevard. The Congress for the New Urbanism is the most prominent proponent of this alternative.
  • Hartford, CT, Aetna Viaduct: The Aetna Viaduct, an elevated portion of I-84 that goes through the center of the Hartford, reached the end of its projected life in 2005. When the city proposed repairing the freeway, citizens groups called for its removal. Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez has worked with these groups and gotten funding for a study of alternatives, including converting the freeway into a boulevard.
  • Syracuse, NY, I-81: The elevated portion of Interstate 81 that goes through the center of Syracuse is nearing the end of its useful lif. The Onadoga Citizens League has issued a report named "Rethinking I-80," which calls for the I-81 alternatives study to include "a pedestrian-friendly boulevard in the European tradition" as one alternative studied.
  • Louisville, KY, Interstate 64: The state freeway planners are proposing an $4.1 billion expansion of this freeway along the Ohio River waterfront, which would increase the interchange known as Spaghetti Junction to 23 lanes. The group called 8664 wants to remove this freeway instead. (86 is slang for remove.) They have produced an excellent graphic presentation about the issue at
  • Portland, OR, I-5: The first freeway removal was Portland's Harbor Drive, on the west bank of the Willamette River. Now Riverfront for People is calling for the removal of I-5, on the east bank of the Willamette.
  • Chicago, IL, Lakeshore Drive: A grassroots coalition called The Campaign for a Clear and Free Lakefront, is calling for the removal of Lakeshore Drive from Grant Park and ultimately from the entire waterfront. Without this eight-lane superhighway, the park would be an open, free, and clear space for Chicagoans to enjoy.
  • San Francisco, Highway 280: San Francisco has already had two freeway removals, and San Francisco Planning and Urban Research (SPUR) is advocating a third. They want to remove the spur of Highway 280, so San Francisco can move its planned high-speed rail line underground and can open up a large area for development. They described their proposal in the article Taking Down a Freeway to Reconnect a Neighborhood.
  • Oakland, CA, I-980: A citizens' group proposed the Connect Oakland plan, which would remove parts of I-980 near downtown Oakland and use the right of way for new housing and a boulevard over a new underground BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) line connecting to San Francisco through a new second tunnel under the Bay. Oakland has requested $5.2 million to begin planning studies for the project. For more information, see the Connect Oakland web site.


Text copyright 2007-2015 by The Preservation Institute

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