Top 10 freeways to tear down

  • I-81 in Syracuse, New York

    I-81 in Syracuse, New York

    This aerial photograph illustrates the enormous impact that elevated freeways have had on downtown Syracuse, New York. Source: CNU.

CNU, Better! Cities & Towns

As cities grapple with rising infrastructure costs and constrained finances, removing costly freeways with value-adding surface streets is gaining recognition. Boulevard conversions are now seen as a cost-effective, practical alternative to rebuilding expensive expressways.

CNU’s 2012 Freeways Without Futures list identifies urban freeways that have the most potential to be transformed from broken liabilities to vibrant assets that support valuable places.

Through its Highways-to-Boulevards initiative, CNU has argued that successful highways-to-boulevards conversions reconnect neighborhoods, improve access to key resources such as waterfronts, and put underperforming land to use. Highway-to-boulevard conversions in cities such as San Francisco, Portland, Milwaukee, and Seoul, South Korea, have all raised property values, enhanced quality of life, improved traffic distribution and proven to be frugal investments that add value and vitality to the city.

With assistance from the Ford Foundation, CNU convened a national advisory board of experts and activists to discuss urban freeway removal in 2011. CNU also distributed a survey to assess public support for urban freeway teardown projects. After considerable deliberation, CNU built a North American urban freeways database and prepared the 2012 Freeways Without Futures report, listing the top opportunities in North America to replace aging urban highways with vibrant boulevards.

The 2012 list is based on a number of factors: the age and design of structures, redevelopment potential, potential cost savings, ability to improve both overall mobility and local access, existence of pending infrastructure decisions, and community support.

The CNU top 12 prospects for highway teardowns are:

1. I-10/Claiborne Overpass, New Orleans

2. I-895/Sheridan Expressway, New York City (Bronx)

3. Route 34/Oak Street Connector, New Haven

4. Route 5/Skyway, Buffalo

5. I-395/Overtown Expressway, Miami

6. I-70, St. Louis

7. West Shoreway, Cleveland

8. I-490/Inner Loop, Rochester

9. I-81, Syracuse

10. Gardiner Expressway, Toronto

11. Aetna Viaduct, Hartford

12. Route 99/Alaskan Way Viaduct, Seattle

The 2012 Freeways without Futures list has already received coverage in Streetsblog, The Atlantic Cities, and other outlets. Learn about the Highways-to-Boulevards initiative by exploring past and present campaigns in New Orleans, New York, New Haven, Buffalo, Cleveland, and more by visiting

For more in-depth coverage: 

• Subscribe to Better! Cities & Towns to read all of the articles (print+online) on implementation of greener, stronger, cities and towns.

• See the January-February 2012 issue of Better! Cities & Towns. Topics: Value capture and transit, Social networks aid downtown, Live smaller, Rentals are market key, Streetcar inspiration, Box building, Civilizing suburbs, Alley houses, Sprawl repair, Healthy communities, Funding for infrastructure, Chicago River reversal.

• Get New Urbanism: Best Practices Guide, packed with more than 800 informative photos, plans, tables, and other illustrations, this book is the best single guide to implementing better cities and towns.