Freeway removal

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Cherry blossom in the Tom McCall Waterfront Park, created with the removal of the Harbor Drive in Portland, Oregon.

Freeway removal is a public policy of urban planning to demolish freeways and create mixed-use urban areas, parks, residential, commercial, or other land uses. Such highway removal is often part of a policy to promote smart growth, transit-oriented development, walkable and bicycle-friendly cities. In some cases freeways are re-imagined as boulevards, rebuilt as below-grade freeways underneath caps-and-stitches, or relocated through less densely-developed areas.


Cheonggyecheon in Seoul, South Korea was formerly the route for a major elevated highway; It was completed in 1976 and removed in 2005.

Freeway removals most often occur in cities where highways were built through dense neighborhoods - a practice common in the 20th Century, particularly in U.S. cities following the 1956 enactment of the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act.[1] These highways often created blight that minimized use of land space and reduced the quality of life for city residents. In the United States, the routes for interstate highways were often built through minority neighborhoods in urban centers,[2] which often led to increasing racial segregation by creating physical barriers between neighborhoods.[3]

Beginning in the late 20th century, as many highways reached the end of their lifespans, urban planners and activists began proposing demolishing or transforming highways in lieu of repairing them in an effort to alleviate the symptoms of displacement and lack of neighborhood connectivity.[4][5] In many cases, there are political battles between citizens' groups who are proponents of freeway removal proposals and suburban drivers that want to keep the freeways.[6]

In early 2021, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer proposed legislation that would offer cities federal money to remove urban highways. The pilot program includes $10 billion to cover the inspection of existing infrastructure and possibly cover costs involved in removal and redevelopment planning.[7]


Freeway-to-boulevard conversion[edit]

Section of the Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco, California during demolition (May 1991)
The Embarcadero following the freeway removal (2011)

A freeway-to-boulevard conversion involves demolishing a controlled access highway with an at-grade boulevard. Land formerly devoted to highway lanes and exit ramps are often repurposed into wide sidewalks, bike lanes, green space, or sold for urban development.[8]

One of the earliest examples of a freeway-to-boulevard conversion was the transformation of the West Side Elevated Highway into an urban boulevard in New York City. In 1971, the Urban Development Corporation proposed replacing the aging elevated highway with a new interstate highway in Manhattan.[9] After fierce local opposition, New York City officially gave up on the proposed interstate project in 1985,[10][9] and allocated 60 percent of its interstate highway funds to mass transit[10] and setting aside $811 million for the "West Side Highway Replacement Project". In 1987, the commission unanimously agreed to build the highway as a six-lane urban boulevard with a parkway-style median and decorative lightposts, along with a 60 acres (24 ha) $100 million park on the highway's western periphery.[11]

Another early freeway-to-boulevard conversion involved San Francisco's double-decked Embarcadero Freeway and Central Freeway, which were damaged during the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989.[12] The Central Freeway was replaced by the multi-modal, landscaped surface-level Octavia Boulevard, and the Embarcadero Freeway was replaced by a boulevard with streetcar and light rail operations in the median, flanked by the restored Beaux-Arts style Ferry Building.[13]

Other early freeway removal projects occurred in Portland, Oregon and Milwaukee, Wisconsin that ultimately reduced traffic, spurred economic development, and allowed for the creation of new neighborhoods and commercial districts. The Harbor Drive Freeway in Portland was replaced by Tom McCall Waterfront Park, while the Park East Freeway in Milwaukee recovered prime land for development in the urban core. In Toronto, Ontario, the easternmost portion of the Gardiner Expressway, which was located between Don Road and Leslie Street, was demolished in 2000 and replaced with an at-grade urban boulevard with traffic lights, railroad crossings and a bike trail.

Underground relocation[edit]

In situations where removing an urban freeway is believed to exacerbate traffic problems within a city, urban planners may resort to relocating the freeway underground and building freeway lids to reclaim the space previously occupied by the surface highway.[14][15]

In Boston, Massachusetts, the Central Artery (Interstate 93) ran through the center of the city on an elevated green viaduct from its opening in the 1950s until 2005. The freeway divided historic neighborhoods and business districts in downtown Boston, and it was referred to as Boston's "other Green Monster." During the 1990s and early 2000s, a $15 billion project known as the Big Dig relocated the Central Artery into tunnels underneath downtown Boston; the old viaduct was demolished, and its path was reclaimed for a surface boulevard and park space.

The Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle, Washington, was replaced with the tunnel that carries the SR-99 freeway underneath the city.

Notable freeway removals[edit]


Highway Location Description
Alaskan Way Viaduct Seattle, Washington, United States 2019 - Replaced by tunnel
Autopista de Circunvalación M-30 Madrid, Spain 2008 - Partial removal - Southern segment relocated underground as part of the Madrid Río project
Bonaventure Expressway Montreal, Quebec, Canada 2016 - Elevated highway demolished and replaced with parkland
Ville-Marie Expressway and Décarie Road Montreal, Quebec, Canada 2018 - Partial demolition only, some ramps reduced along the Turcot Interchange
Catharijnebaan Utrecht, Netherlands 2010 - Highway demolished and replaced with canal and green space
Central Artery Boston, Massachusetts, United States 2003 - Relocated underground as part of the Big Dig project
Central Freeway and Embarcadero Freeway San Francisco, California, United States 1993 - Replaced by at-grade boulevards following 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake
Cheonggye Elevated Highway Seoul, South Korea 2003 - Replaced with artificial stream and green space
Cogswell Interchange (Harbour Drive) Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada 2021 - Freeway-to-boulevard conversion
Gardiner Expressway Toronto, Ontario, Canada 2001 - Partial demolition; exit ramps replaced with parkland
Harbor Drive Portland, Oregon, United States 1974 - Demolished and replaced with Tom McCall Waterfront Park
Innerbelt Akron, Ohio, United States 2017 - Highway closed and redeveloped into parkland and urban development[16]
Inner Loop Rochester, New York, United States 2014 - Replaced with surface streets and urban development
Interstate 30 Fort Worth, Texas, United States 2001 - Highway rerouted farther from downtown; elevated highway demolished and replaced with parkland and urban development
Interstate 70 Denver, Colorado, United States 2022 - CDOT replaced a 1.8-mile (2.9 km) viaduct with a below-grade highway with a four-acre (1.6 ha) park being built over it
Interstate 170 Baltimore, Maryland, United States 2010 - Western stub removed for expansion of the West Baltimore station's parking lot and possible Red Line project
Interstate 195 Providence, Rhode Island, United States 2011 - Highway relocated as part of the Iway project; former highway right-of-way repurposed into urban development
NY 895 (Sheridan Expressway) The Bronx, New York City, New York, United States 2017 - Freeway-to-boulevard conversion[17]
Oak Street Connector New Haven, Connecticut, United States 2013 - Highway demolished and replaced with surface streets and urban development; portion of original highway repurposed as entrance to underground parking garage
Oklahoma City Crosstown Expressway Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, United States 2002 - Partial highway-to-boulevard conversion
Park East Freeway Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States 2002 - Demolished and repurposed into urban development
Niagara Scenic Parkway Niagara Falls, New York, United States 2019 - Highway removed and replaced with surface streets and waterfront parkland
Southeast Freeway Washington D.C., United States 2016 - Partial freeway-to-boulevard conversion
Voie Georges-Pompidou Paris, France 2016 - Highway removed and replaced with public beaches and urban development
West Sacramento Freeway Sacramento, California, United States 2014 - Highway removed and replaced with surface streets and urban development
West Side Elevated Highway Manhattan, New York City, New York (state), United States 1977 - Elevated highway demolished and replaced with urban boulevard
Dusseldorf Roadway Dusseldorf, Germany 1993 - Surface parkway replaced with tunnel
Zhongxiao Elevated Highway Taipei, Taiwan 2016 - Elevated highway repurposed from roadway into elevated park. Section next to the North Gate demolished to give an unimpeded view of the gate.


Highway Location Description
Interstate 81 Syracuse, New York Approved proposal to reroute I-81 traffic around Syracuse via Interstate 481 and downgrade the existing freeway to a business loop boulevard;[18] the plan was halted by judges multiple times and faced strong local opposition, but the construction phase has begun since then[19]
Interstate 375 Detroit, Michigan Approved proposal to replace portion of freeway with at-grade boulevard; construction is planned to begin 2025[20]


Highway Location Description
Claiborne Expressway New Orleans, Louisiana Proposal to demolish highway (I-10) and replace with at-grade boulevard;[21] the governments of Louisiana and New Orleans have countered with a proposal to improve the elevated freeway and the space beneath it as well as remove four ramps in Tremé instead due to the negative travel congestion impacts that would result from removing the expressway[22]
Downtown Connector Atlanta, Georgia Proposal to rebuild highway underground beneath the city[23]
Interstate 787 and South Mall Arterial Albany, New York Proposal to remove highway and replace with at-grade boulevards, surface streets, urban development, and riverfront green space;[24] a draft report released in May 2019 did not recommend this change,[25] but studies on the freeway's future continue[26]
Interstate 345 Dallas, Texas Proposal to demolish highway and replace with an at-grade boulevard;[27] this proposal was rejected by TxDOT due to negative traffic congestion impacts
Interstate 35 Austin, Texas Proposal to re-route I-35 traffic around Austin via State Highway 130 and replace existing highway with an at-grade boulevard through Austin;[28] despite widespread opposition, TxDOT instead plans to rebuild and bury the freeway below-grade with some sections possibly covered with caps-and-stitches containing parkland[29][30]
Interstate 35 Duluth, Minnesota Proposal to replace riverfront highway with at-grade boulevard and green space[31]
Interstate 475 Flint, Michigan Proposal to replace freeway with at-grade boulevard through downtown Flint[32]
Metropolitan Expressway Tokyo, Japan Proposal to demolish viaduct through the city center[6]
Whitehurst Freeway Washington, D.C. Proposal to demolish elevated highway; this proposal has been stopped several times[33]
Interstate 794 Milwaukee, Wisconsin Proposal to replace freeway with at-grade boulevard through downtown Milwaukee[34]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "60 Years of Urban Change: Midwest". The Institute for Quality Communities. 2014-12-12. Retrieved 2017-09-12.
  2. ^ Stromberg, Joseph (May 11, 2016). "Highways Gutted American Cities. So Why Did They Build Them?". Vox. Archived from the original on April 25, 2019. Retrieved May 10, 2019.
  3. ^ Miller, Johnny (February 21, 2018). "Roads to Nowhere: How Infrastructure Built on American Inequality". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on April 4, 2021. Retrieved April 3, 2021.
  4. ^ Garfield, Leanna (May 6, 2018). "American highways are so expensive that cities are tearing them down — here's what they're turning into". Business Insider. Retrieved September 29, 2022.
  5. ^ "Reconnecting Cities through Urban Highway Removals - Car Free America". Car Free America. 2017-09-11. Retrieved 2017-09-12.
  6. ^ a b Staff (2007). "Freeway Removal Plans and Proposals". Preservation Institute. Retrieved November 22, 2010.
  7. ^ "How the Federal Government Could Help Kill the Highways It Built". 2021-02-01. Retrieved 2021-03-24.
  8. ^ "Highways to Boulevards". The Congress for New Urbanism. 23 April 2015. Retrieved September 29, 2022.
  9. ^ a b Amateau, Albert (June 16, 2004). "Why Westway sleeps with the fishes". The Villager. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 2 June 2015.
  10. ^ a b Roberts, Sam (May 16, 2006). "After 20 Years of Delays, a River Park Takes Shape". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 March 2015.
  11. ^ Boorstin, Robert O. (1987). "Panel Urges West Side Road; Cuomo Faults Esplanade Plan". The New York Times. p. B1. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-11-18.
  12. ^ "Timeline / A look back at the Embarcadero". 17 October 2004. Retrieved July 19, 2013.
  13. ^ "Streetswiki - Embarcadero Freeway Removal". Archived from the original on August 5, 2014. Retrieved July 19, 2013.[title missing]
  14. ^ Pyati, Archana (April 7, 2017). "Freeway Lids: Reconnecting Communities and Creating New Land for Development". Urban Land Institute. Archived from the original on March 19, 2018. Retrieved March 18, 2018.
  15. ^ Berger, Knute (July 16, 2017). "One simple idea to open up Downtown Seattle". Retrieved March 18, 2018.
  16. ^ "Akron Innerbelt / Route 59". The Congress for New Urbanism. 25 November 2019. Retrieved September 30, 2022.
  17. ^ Rivoli, Dan (September 19, 2018). "Feds pave way to transform the Bronx's Sheridan Expressway". Retrieved September 20, 2018.
  18. ^ Breiden, Michelle (10 July 2023). "New York starts $2.25 billion Interstate 81 rebuild despite court challenges". syracuse. Retrieved 17 July 2023.
  19. ^ Zarroli, Jim (3 June 2023). "Why It's So Hard to Tear Down a Crumbling Highway Nearly Everyone Hates". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 July 2023.
  20. ^ "No more I-375? Detroit to study removing freeway in favor of walkable surface street | Detroit Free Press |". Archived from the original on 2013-12-04. Retrieved 2014-06-24.
  21. ^ "Politics | News from the Advocate". Retrieved July 19, 2013.
  22. ^ Sledge, Matt (14 October 2022). "Louisiana touts $95 million plan to spruce up Claiborne Expressway, remove ramps in Tremé". Retrieved 25 July 2023.
  23. ^ "Georgia DOT eyes tunnel, double-deck for Downtown Connector - Atlanta Business Chronicle".
  24. ^ Walter-Warner, Holden (November 18, 2021). "Proposed I-787 teardown would create 6M sf development play". The Real Deal. Retrieved September 30, 2022.
  25. ^ "Study identifies what to do, and not do, with 787". Times Union. March 14, 2018.
  26. ^ Lucas, Dave (16 November 2023). "Delegation from Albany attends conference in Atlanta as future of Interstate 787 is debated". WAMC. Retrieved 25 November 2023.
  27. ^ "IH-345 tear-out proposal: Not dead | Dallas Morning News". Archived from the original on 2014-04-26. Retrieved 2014-03-02.
  28. ^ Bernier, Nathan (August 12, 2021). "TxDOT Slams Brakes On Proposals To Shrink I-35 Footprint". KUT. Retrieved September 30, 2022.
  29. ^ Thompson, Kelsey (June 13, 2022). "When will construction begin on TxDOT's I-35 Capital Express projects?". KXAN. Retrieved September 30, 2022.
  30. ^ Bernier, Nathan (March 14, 2022). "I-35 expansion could destroy a 70-unit affordable housing complex. TxDOT didn't notice at first". KUT. Retrieved September 30, 2022.
  31. ^ "Group proposes bold vision for I-35 in Duluth: Make it a parkway". Star Tribune. Retrieved 2021-03-31.
  32. ^ "Flint officials want residents' views on filling in portion of I-475, creating surface boulevard". 20 October 2020.
  33. ^ "Mayor Freezes Study on Whitehurst Future". The Northwest Current. July 4, 2007.[page needed]
  34. ^ "I-794 Lake Interchange Study".

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]