Transportation planning is tough.  Roads have to serve a number of (sometimes competing) purposes.  Roads whose primary purpose is moving people and goods quickly through a community often have a detrimental effect on the communities they bisect (see: the history of freeways in Detroit).  Take state trunk lines for example, which you can recognize because they’re usually twice as wide to cross as the other roads in a neighborhood, and, of course, highways and interstates.  We’re currently running a series of posts featuring creative solutions from around the globe to make these roads – roads that must run through communities – also work to serve those communities.  Check out more about our inspiration here.

As our inspiration post notes, Michigan is currently in the midst of a major highway debate, and we are not alone.  In other towns and cities across the country and world, similar conversations are taking place about the future of our road systems and our neighborhoods.

One such debate recently ended.  The Inner Loop is a freeway constructed between 1950 and 1965 as a continuous loop that surrounds downtown Rochester, New York’s Central Business District.  Since its completion traffic on the Inner Loop overall has declined.  After over two decades of debate, the fate of Inner Loop East has been decided.  With the award of a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Grant from the Federal Government in August, the Inner Loop East Reconstruction Project now has the construction funds it needs to move forward.  This is the third time the City of Rochester has applied for the grant, and the $17.7 million is secured at last.

The Inner Loop East, which is two-thirds of a mile of the Inner Loop from Monroe Avenue to Charlotte Street, will be filled in to create a “complete” boulevard.  The city’s goals are to foster sustainable economic growth in the area, and create a more livable downtown.  The plan will strengthen walkability and bikeability infrastructure, to encourage healthier, more active lifestyles.  Plans call for two-way cycle tracks in locations, and include roundabouts at some intersections – something many believe to be a safer and more efficient alternative to traditional traffic light intersections.

The city says support for the project has grown substantially over time.  Proponents say it will reconnect the city grid, bring the business district out of isolations, and strengthen the urban fabric by reconnecting once divided neighborhoods.  They believe it will improve traffic congestion, mobility and local access throughout the area.  It will bridge the gap between the city and one of its major attractions, the Strong Museum of Play, which lies just on the other side of the divide.  Advocates trust that the approximate nine acres of land that will be freed up will benefit the city economically, spurring mixed-use development and drawing residents to the more urban way of life and more livable downtown.

Additionally, Reconnect Rochester, a transportation advocacy group and major proponent, says the project will essentially pay for itself.  Lifecycle costs to maintain a state of good repair of the existing 1960s-era infrastructure are estimated between $19.1 and $26 million – approximately the same cost as the project itself.  Reconnect Rochester also sees real potential in the development of the reclaimed land to provide true connectivity for the city.

While we at Let’s Save Michigan are excited to see how this turns out, there are some Rochesterians out there who are not.  Inner Loop East opponents believe it is an expensive project the city doesn’t need and can’t afford, and that the money should be spent in wiser ways.  Some also believe that the economic development potential has been exaggerated.  Concerns have also surfaced that the project is a recipe for blight in a city with too many vacancies already.

The cost of the project is estimated to be $23.6 million, with the city responsible for $5.9 million. Work is expected to begin in the fall of 2014 and take two to three years to complete. As this project moves ahead, we hope it stays on the right track towards more sustainable and livable communities for all of Rochester.

 

Photo from the City of Rochester Preliminary Design Alignment document.

Big DigTransportation planning is tough.  Roads have to serve a number of (sometimes competing) purposes.  Roads whose primary purpose is moving people and goods quickly through a community often have a detrimental effect on the communities they bisect (see: the history of freeways in Detroit).  Take state trunk lines for example, which you can recognize because they’re usually twice as wide to cross as the other roads in a neighborhood, and, of course, highways and interstates.  We’re currently running a series of posts featuring creative solutions from around the globe to make these roads – roads that must run through communities – also work to serve those communities.  Check out more about our inspiration here.

The John F. Fitzgerald Expressway, commonly known as the Central Artery, was built in the 1950s as a mostly elevated freeway through downtown Boston.  It became known as “the distressway” and “the largest parking lot in the world,” due to the massive course it sliced through neighborhoods, which displaced 10,000 residents and required the demolition of 1,000 buildings.

By the 1990s, the number of cars using the interstate had increased by 2.5 times, making the traffic congestion on the Central Artery unbearable; one prediction estimated it would reach 16 hours of traffic jams per day in 2010—in other words, essentially constant traffic congestion.  The 200,000 cars running through the city daily significantly contributed to noise and air pollution, and the disconnect created by the elevated structure between neighborhoods and districts was an issue for many.  For these reasons Boston undertook one of most ambitious freeway projects in the world.

Between 1991 and 2006, the Central Artery was relocated into a higher capacity 3.5-mile tunnel below-ground in a project known as the Big Dig.   Many innovative solutions in civil engineering were developed to make the project a success.  In order to fit the freeway below ground, it had to sit only inches from the subway tunnels below it.  Engineers developed an unprecedented program to freeze the earth to stabilize Boston’s historic soils and prevent erosion.  When completed it was deepest underwater connection in North America, and the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge was constructed to cross the Charles River as the world’s widest cable-stayed bridge.

Moving the freeway opened up a 27-acre parcel of land to redevelopment.  Streets that once came to a halt at the freeway were rejoined, linking communities once more.  The Rose Kennedy Greenway was developed as a landscaped boulevard surrounded by three major parks, many neighborhood parks and cultural institutions.  New development, like housing units and other smaller-scale growth, grew.

While the Big Dig is not without its cautionary tales and continued problems – like leaks, design flaws, and exorbitant expenses – the benefits seem to outweigh the costs.  Congestion in the city has significantly reduced.  The Financial District, the waterfront, the historic North End neighborhood, and others are now unified by a spacious greenway.  As of 2008, commercial property values rose by 79% since the project began.  With project completion in 2006, $5.3 billion worth of private investment in new development within a 5-minutes walk was completed or in construction phases, including 4,200 housing units.

The United States’ largest and most complex transportation project ever resulted in city betterment and economic growth.  Sometimes, you just have to go big.

 

Photo from Arden on flickr.com