Destroying Highways to Rebuild Cities

viaduct1sm.jpgHartford’s Aetna Viaduct, which the Courant called a "mistake" that has "cut the city in half." Photo from Capital Region of Governments.

Today on the Streetsblog Network, Mobilizing the Region is talking about highway removal. Specifically, the proposed teardown or reinvention of the 40-year-old Aetna Viaduct in Hartford, CT, which has already outlived its projected lifespan. Now the Hartford Courant has become a proponent of the idea that getting rid of the road could transform Connecticut’s capital city:

When ConnDOT initially proposed to repair and prop up the viaduct, civic groups, businesses, and neighborhood associations, led by Tri-State board member Toni Gold, urged the State and City to rethink the plans.  Four years later, ConnDOT, Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez and the advocates have secured federal and city funding to conduct an alternatives study that would analyze whether decking, boulevarding or diverting the current highway traffic is possible.

A teardown of the Viaduct, the newspaper wrote, could be “one of the greatest feats of civic activism in the city’s long history.”

The Aetna Viaduct, which divides some Hartford neighborhoods from the city center, wasn’t on the list that Congress for the New Urbanism released last year of the 10 North American highways most in need of demolition. There are bound to be more worthy examples out there. If you have any targets in mind, let us know about them in the comments.

San Francisco Transit Oriented Design has a related post that looks at the history of highway construction in that city.

Plus: Sustainable Savannah on the continuing saga of the city’s jaywalking crackdown; Tempe Bicycle Action Group warns of bike thefts (and shady bike sales) along the light rail line there; and Trains for America reports on high speed rail fever in Oklahoma.

  • The Rochester (NY) “Inner Loop“, which has done its job of emptying out the downtown so thoroughly it’s hardly needed any more.

  • The “Ohio Connector” in Chicago, a highway spur that disrupts the River North neighborhood, needs to go.

  • ddartley

    How about re-titling the article “Destroying Highways to Un-destroy Cities?”

  • I passed this post along to a friend who lives in Hartford and he suggested this Hartford Advocate article from last April as further reading on the same topic.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Never break up a right of way.

    That right of way could be used for BRT, giving Hartford a rapid transit trunk line, at limited cost (relative to rail).

    If you have a grade separated right of way, rail could be added later if the additional capacity is required.

  • lexslamman

    I-71 in Cincinnati separates the city from its blossoming waterfront. Why couldn’t they divert that highway along I-75 until it gets north of downtown, restoring the city’s natural connection to the Ohio River?

    Atlanta, GA is another city terribly torn apart by the huge freeways running through it. It would be better to replace the freeway inside urban areas with freight and passenger rail systems running underground, on streets, or elevated. Rail has less emissions, is fuel efficient, carries more people per space used, and is faster than our freeways will ever be.

  • Larry I don’t think anyone wants to give up the right of way, but in a very small city of Hartford (less than 150,000) a grade separated BRT is not needed. I think an at grade boulevard with BRT incorporation would be a much better use. The main point is still that the highway needs to go and then maybe the north end will be able to rebound and become part of the city again.

  • I have a list of proposed freeway removals at
    I will have to add Hartford.

  • Portland, Maine is planning to redevelop a half-built expressway that cut the city in half as part of an “urban renewal” scheme back in 1970. It’s a four-lane arterial with a wide trench in the middle, where the unbuilt freeway lanes were supposed to go. Historic before-and-after pictures at

    And here’s the city-sponsored redevelopment concepts:

    Detailed engineering and analysis for transforming Franklin Arterial into Franklin Street is funded and expected to begin this summer. Most people expect deconstruction to begin within the next 2 years.

  • Tear down I-787 in Albany, New York–it’s a major highway that cuts Albany off from its historic riverfront with ghastly spaghetti highway ramps and bridges ( It is the product of the same anti-urban thinking that resulted in the destruction of downtown Albany neighborhoods to put up that modernist mausoleum of Albany bureaucracy called the Empire State Plaza (

    And guess what? The highway has an exit ramp leading directly to the underground parking lot of the ESP so that suburban state workers can spend their entire day on the podium and then drive home without ever being forced to set foot on the streets of Albany.

  • Larry, there’s already a perfectly good, abandoned rail right-of-way that runs parallel to the highway (in fact, under it for a few blocks). This is the one that they want to use for the Hartford-New Britain Busway. I think train service should be restored for BRT, but either way I agree we should make sure that there is enough right-of-way for the region’s future transit needs.

    There is also a perfectly good highway running parallel to I-84 from Meriden to Hartford: I-91, which was recently reconstructed at heavy expense, and another six-lane expressway, I-691, connecting the two. Google Maps says that it would actually take a minute less to go from Waterbury to Manchester along this route than to take I-84 the whole way.

  • Let me rephrase that: I think the rail line between Hartford and New Britain should be restored as light rail instead of BRT.

  • Also, from Josh’s friend’s article, I would like to nominate this quote from John Norquist for Quote of the Week:

    “They’re a real turd in the punch bowl,” Norquist said last week. “You want to make a city ugly quick, put a freeway through the middle of it.”

  • Herbie

    Some people in St. Louis would like to remove I-70 from a 1 mile section in front of the Arch. However, the push for this highway removal won’t begin in earnest until after construction begins on a new Mississippi River bridge north of downtown onto which I-70 will be diverted.

  • rlb

    I’ve always thought it would be nice if they got rid of the highway ramp that connects the Williamsburg bridge to the BQE. The ramp could instead just intersect with Borinquen on top of the lowered roadway, and then Borinquen, Roebling and S. 5th would feed into the bridge.

  • This letter was recently sent to John Norquist of the CNU, and just posted on a listserv:

    Mr. Norquist:
    On behalf of the Onondaga Citizens League Board of Directors and the Study Committee, I am pleased to transmit a copy of the OCL Report, “Rethinking I-81.” A hard copy of the report will be mailed to you.

    When the “Rethinking I-81” Study Committee began meeting in early 2008, some committee members had serious doubts about the hypothesis that formed the basis of the study: that I-81 through traffic could be rerouted around the city, and local traffic handled on a surface level boulevard.

    After months of study of the situation, and review of other cities that had turned highways to boulevards, the “Rethinking I-81” Study Committee came away convinced of the merits of the idea for the region. Elimination of the elevated highway and creation of better access to, and within, the downtown and University Hill areas has immense potential for positive impact in terms of economic development, employment growth and environmental improvement.

    OCL hopes this study report contributes in a significant way to the community dialogue on the future of I-81. Thank you for the invaluable help you provided to us.

    Sandra Barrett
    Executive Vice President
    Onondaga Citizens League