MTR readers may be surprised to learn that there are six serious proposals to remove urban highways in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.
Though the size, location, and economic situation of the host cities varies, all the projects aim to remove highways that bisect urban life and redevelop them into, well, cities, with things like housing, streets, parks, and offices.
The six projects are the Sheridan Expressway in the South Bronx, Route 5 in Buffalo, I-81 in Syracuse, Route 29 in Trenton, Route 34 in New Haven, and I-84 in Hartford. Right now, all but Route 5 in Buffalo (which is under litigation) are in the study phase. This situation begs the question: which project will win the “Race to Removal” gold medal? Below MTR offers an update on each project, along with speculation about who will win.
A Pratt Center rendering of future development on the Sheridan footprint.
Swapping the Sheridan in the South Bronx
There is the long discussed plan to remove the Sheridan Expressway in the South Bronx and replace it with 28 acres of parks and housing. Advocacy by the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance, which includes Tri-State, Pratt Center, Sustainable South Bronx, Nos Quedamos, Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice and Mothers on the Move, successfully inserted the community plan into NYSDOT’s study of ways to increase access to Hunts Point market. The study is now reviewing four alternatives, two of these would remove the Sheridan.
Will it win the gold? It’s possible, but the silver is more likely. This project is on a good track, and NYSDOT Commissioner Astrid Glynn could use the Sheridan’s removal to step up her smart growth game, which so far has been rather passive. Recent design changes, strong community backing, and a blossoming interest in smart growth statewide also bode well for the teardown plan. The project is not moving rapidly however. It was first conceived in the mid-’90s (see MTR #s 124 and 181); the first step in the environmental review process was in 2003, the full environmental review did not start until last summer, and NYSDOT officials have said the study will not be complete until 2010. In other words, it may succeed, but it will take a few more years.
Battling in Buffalo
After years of study, the NYS DOT recently began the construction phase of a project to keep the berm-style elevated Route 5 roadway instead of replacing it with an at-grade boulevard that would increase access to Lake Erie. In response, Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, city council members, and recreation groups sued the agency in January, hoping to win modifications to the plan. The boulevard design, which would run from the Buffalo Skyway to Union Ship Canal, would open 77 acres for waterfront development and create the same number of jobs as the elevated alternative.
A billboard in Buffalo evokes a famous Ronald Reagan quote to call for the transformation of Route 5 into a boulevard.
Bizarrely, the first phase of construction involves knocking down part of the roadway only to rebuild it again at a taller height. Equally frustrating, according to Riverkeeper executive director Julie Barrett O’Neil, is that NYSDOT was supportive of the boulevard design until the very last minute. The group also notes in a press release that an elevated Route 5 would work against efforts to eventually remove the nearby Skyway. In December 2006, Congress for the New Urbanism, Center for Neighborhood Technology, and Smart Mobility studied traffic patterns along the corridor and found that its low traffic volumes could easily be accommodated on a surface street. For more on this project, see this excellent video and Riverkeeper’s website.
Will it win the gold? The project may not win the gold medal, but the staff of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper should receive one for their hard work and advocacy. » Continue reading…