OK tears down highway replaces with a park

Link to article here.

Vancouver has no highways in its city limits and experiences little congestion. There is something to be said for parkways and boulevards in our downtown and historic areas. This is the best possible solution for Hwy 290 in Austin and Bandera Rd. in San Antonio.

Oklahoma City swaps highway for park
By Dennis Cauchon, USA TODAY
May 14, 2008

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma has a radical solution for repairing the state’s busiest highway.

Tear it down. Build a park.

The aging Crosstown Expressway — an elevated 4.5-mile stretch of Interstate 40 — will be demolished in 2012. An old-fashioned boulevard and a mile-long park will be constructed in its place.

Oklahoma City is doing what many cities dream about: saying goodbye to a highway.

More than a dozen cities have proposals to remove highways from downtowns. Cleveland wants to remove a freeway that blocks its waterfront. Syracuse, N.Y., wants to rid itself of an interstate that cuts the city in half.

“Highways don’t belong in cities. Period,” says John Norquist, who was mayor of Milwaukee when it closed a highway. “Europe didn’t do it. America did. And our cities have paid the price.”

In the 1950s and ’60s, mayors, governors and planners thought downtown highways would help keep cities alive by paving the way for suburban commuters to get in and out. Today, many of those same groups view downtown highways as a plague, wrecking neighborhoods, dividing cities and blocking waterfronts. Many big cities have long-term plans that call for eliminating some downtown highways or reducing their scale.

The future of many of these highways will be decided in the next few years because the old roads are nearing the end of their life expectancies. The federal, state and local governments must decide whether it’s smarter and cheaper to renovate highways or to build new routes.

Boost to downtown

Some cities want traffic routed around downtowns. Others want tunnels or highways that pass under streets. A number of cities want to close highways and replace them with — nothing.

In Oklahoma City, the interstate will be moved five blocks from downtown to an old railroad line. The new 10-lane highway, expected to carry 120,000 vehicles daily, will be placed in a trench so deep that city streets can run atop it, as if the highway weren’t there.

The old highway will be converted into a tree-lined boulevard city officials hope will become Oklahoma City’s marquee street.

By tearing down the Crosstown Expressway, the city hopes to spur development of 80 city blocks stretching from downtown to the Oklahoma River — an area that contains vacant lots, car repair shops and a few small homes.

“We’ve always been a good place to live, but we’ve never had a city we could show off,” Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett says. “Moving the expressway makes it possible for a day to come when hundreds or thousands of people will live downtown.”

The project will cost $557 million, mostly federal and state funds. The city will pay to spruce up the boulevard, build parks and put a pedestrian bridge over the new below-ground interstate.

Oklahoma City is doing what many cities want to do but have not gotten federal or state money to accomplish:

•Buffalo wants to get rid of its Skyway, an elevated highway that blocks access to Lake Erie.

•Nashville wants to replace 8 miles of interstate — parts of I-65, I-40 and I-24 — with parks and neighborhood streets.

•Washington has considered demolishing the Whitehurst Freeway, an elevated road that runs along the Potomac River in the tony Georgetown neighborhood. The plan is on hold because of cost.

•Akron, Ohio, launched a $2 million study on tearing down its 2.2 mile Innerbelt that leads downtown from I-76/I-77.

Highway removal proposals are also being discussed in Chicago, Seattle, Portland, Ore., Baltimore, Louisville, New Haven, Conn., Trenton, N.J., and Niagara Falls, N.Y. The Sheridan Expressway in the Bronx is another target.

On the waterfront

Many unpopular highways run along rivers or lakes. The path made sense when they were built because the route was flat, in existing rights-of-way and connected highways and busy ports.

Now, especially in old, industrial cities, waterfronts are often vacant, leaving the prettiest scenery blighted by highways carrying traffic passing through.

Cleveland wants to convert its West Shoreway, next to Lake Erie, from a 50-mph freeway into a tree-lined boulevard. “There was less appreciation for the scenic value of waterfront when the shoreway was built,” says Cleveland Planning Commission director Robert Brown. “We need to connect the city to its parks and lakefront again.”

In other cities, highways cut cities in half. “It’s our very own Berlin Wall,” Syracuse, N.Y., council member Van Robinson says of I-81.

Like many urban interstates, I-81 demolished a black neighborhood. The interstate has created a tale of two cities: thriving Syracuse University on one side, struggling downtown on the other.

When Robinson proposed getting rid of I-81 — sending through-traffic outside the city — many people thought the idea was crazy.

Since then, the president of Syracuse University and many local officials have supported evicting the interstate from downtown. The state is comparing the cost of renovating or relocating it.

Doug Currey, regional director of the New York State Department of Transportation, says taking down urban highways is sometimes the right thing to do — and sometimes not.

“No two situations are exactly alike,” says Currey, who oversees highways in the New York City area.

Cost is the big obstacle to removing highways. “Generally, maintaining what you have is cheaper than building something new,” Currey says.

San Francisco tore down its elevated Embarcadero Freeway, damaged in an earthquake in 1989, and replaced it with a palm-tree-lined boulevard serving local traffic. Since then, the bay-front neighborhood has blossomed, and traffic has been absorbed by city streets.

Currey witnessed the same thing in New York City when the West Side Highway was demolished. An asphalt truck plunged through the elevated road in 1973 and, rather than rebuild the decrepit road, it became the nation’s first major highway tear-down.

Once the highway was gone, the Chelsea, TriBeCa and West Village neighborhoods came back to life. Traffic adapted. “It worked in Manhattan,” Currey says.