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Three upstate N.Y. highways make 'futureless freeways' list

Three big roadways in upstate New York cities have made a top 10 list freeways that should be torn down or filled in.

The Congress for New Urbanism says Syracuse’s Interstate 81, Rochester’s Inner Loop and Buffalo’s Skyway bridge are all roadways that do damage to the community and should be replaced.

They’re also on the "Freeways Without a Future" list because there’s growing momentum to remove them.

The Chicago-based group advocates for more walkable cities and "smart growth."

All three expressways create their own unique problems. Interstate 81 is elevated through the city’s downtown and many say it cuts the urban core off. The depressed Inner Loop has been called a "noose" around Rochester’s downtown. And the Skyway is a towering expressway over Buffalo’s Inner Harbor that limits access to the waterfront.

"They’re dividing these neighbors and they’re kind of devaluing the neighborhoods around them, but also just the city in general," said Alex McKeag, the program manager at the Congress for New Urbanism. "And what they’re really doing is just facilitating traffic, most often, further out from the city center.”

Street level roads are a better investment for cities and don’t clog traffic as some people fear, says McKeag.

"It’s a really misconception that when you remove a freeway that you’re just going to be stuck in traffic. It just doesn’t happen; the evidence isn’t there," he said.

Syracuse and the state transportation planners are moving closer to a decision about Interstate 81’s future, but just what to do has become a heated debate. This year Rochester begins a project to fill in a section of the Inner Loop. There’s been ongoing discussion about removing Buffalo’s Skyway.

The top 10 list of freeways without a future from the Congress for New Urbanism:

  1. New Orleans, La.: Claiborne Expressway
  2. Buffalo, N.Y.: The Skyway and Route 5
  3. Syracuse, N.Y.: Interstate 81
  4. Toronto, Ontario: Gardiner Expressway
  5. Rochester, N.Y.: Inner Loop
  6. St. Louis, Mo.: Interstate 70
  7. San Francisco, Cali: Interstate 280
  8. Detroit, Mich.: Interstate 375
  9. Long Beach, Cali.: Terminal Island Freeway
  10. Hartford, Conn.: Aetna Viaduct

On a recent edition of Innovation Friday, Professor Joe Dimento from the Law faculty at the University of California, Irvine spoke about the history of the US Interstate Highway system, and how upon reflection, it's often failed to meet its initial objectives. Professor DiMento, who has strong connections to upstate New York is the coauthor of the book Changing Lanes: Visions and Histories of Urban Freeways.

WRVO/Central New York reporter for the Innovation Trail
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