Thursday, August 7, 2014

Here's one list Charlotte isn't on - and ought to be

Syracuse is yet another city where advocates are pushing to tear down a section of elevated interstate highway (in this case I-81) and turn it into a boulevard. “What we’ve done is take an incredibly important piece of this city off of the development map,” developer Robert Doucette tells Governing magazine. “This highway runs through the part of the city that should be some of the highest-producing parcels of land in the region.”  (See Why Would You Have a Highway Run Through a City?)

The article lists New Orleans, which got federal funds to study removing the Claiborne Expressway, Cleveland, New Haven and Detroit as either moving toward or studying urban highway removal. Among the comments, one mentions Buffalo as also discussing the fate of its skyway, which cuts through a waterfront area. (The whole comments section itself is an interesting pro-con discussion.)

The article notes that one factor in the teardown trend – or more accurately, the teardown wannabe trend – is the age of the highways. Most were built in the 1950s and 1960s and are aging out.  Charlotte’s uptown freeway loop
was planned in the 1950s, and many of its interchange designs are notoriously outdated. The first leg, the Brookshire Freeway, opened in 1971. The other leg, the Belk expressway, finally completed the loop in the 1980s.

City planners and uptown boosters have puzzled over creative ways to try to turn those bleak underpasses below I-277 into something more welcoming than the current concrete spaces. (The one near Johnson C. Smith University has some colored lights.) And the gulch where the Belk expressway goes below grade, between uptown and South End/Dilworth, cries out for a freeway cap.

Before anyone moans about there being no place for the traffic to go, remember that when cities tear down elevated freeways, they usually replace them with other high-volume streets, designed for use by pedestrians as well as motorists. In other words, folks, there WOULD still be streets to carry the traffic.

Despite intermittent grumbling among planners and a study by Charlotte's DOT during the Center City 2020 Vision Plan process of whether the Brookshire section could be boulevard-ized (CDOT was dubious), there's been little push to tear down the loop highway strangling uptown Charlotte. Too bad. That's one list it would be great to get on.


korzun.yury said...

That's really sad. I think that it could become the biggest improvement to the center city and help to turn it into a viable place. Do you know if there are any plans to bury the northern part of I-277? I've seen rumors about North End project, which requires merging Uptown with Northern part of Charlotte.

Mary Newsom said...

Dear korzun.yury - There has been discussion about burying the part of I-277 south of uptown, where it's already below grade, but no discussion, to my knowledge, about burying the part between uptown and what's now being called North End, the area along North Tryon Street, Tryon Hills and Optimist Park neighborhoods. If NCDOT wouldn't fund the easier, less-expensive capping project, it's highly unlikely it would fund a more expensive freeway burial of what's now an elevated freeway.

Mary Newsom said...

This comment is from John Huson, who wrestled with Blogger's comment-posting function and lost:
"I actually think that Charlotte's freeways serve the city well, excepting Independence Blvd. The Interstates of many cities either carve the city up (Atlanta) or block its access/view to a natural boundary (Seattle) On the other hand, Charlotte's ring tends to define the inner city as opposed to having it leak out all over the place. It is one mile square, has a fair amount of un- or marginally developed land, lots of mixed uses and is definitely a place.
Covering I-277 will never be funded and would be a bad idea in the first place.
I'm sure it was inadvertent, but the engineers blessed Charlotte.
John Huson”

Anonymous said...

Brookshire is an old freeway. At some point, it will become cheaper to demolish than maintain or replace. 11th and 12th Streets are already set up for a multi-way boulevard between Graham St and Independence Blvd.

Belk is redundant. This section wouldn't even need an alternative route for traffic. Maybe create a waterfront here that re-uses all the bridges over the Belk and links with Little Sugar Creek Greenway. Sooner than later, Uptown and South End development will fill the gap.

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