Are Highways Being Replaced by Homes?

December 5, 2019

In cities across the country, portions of highways are being demolished in favor of adding housing. The trend has been seen in metros such as Detroit, Milwaukee, Tampa, Fla., Rochester, N.Y., and Portland, Ore.

Older highways that are part of the interstate system are being shut down and repurposed to address housing shortages that plague communities. Removing the highways allows cities to reclaim acres of developable land. For example, Milwaukee is using nearly 30 acres of downtown real estate made available after it demolished the Park East Freeway in 2002 and 2003.

“Some cities now see the highways as ugly concrete monoliths that divide neighborhoods and hinder efforts to create pedestrian-friendly spaces,” The Wall Street Journal reports. “The roads are also getting old. Maintaining them would cost more than officials are willing to spend.”

New York has been one of the most active states removing outdated highways, with projects underway or being discussed in Niagara Falls, the Bronx, Syracuse, Buffalo, and Rochester. For example, a luxury apartment building is springing up in Rochester where the Inner Loop, a six-lane sunken highway surrounding downtown, once was. In 2014, the city decided to divert part of the highway to underground and build a new neighborhood on top of it. The $229 million project includes 519 homes and 45,000 square feet of commercial space.

But some housing analysts say cities who embark on removing highways need to be ready for the spark of gentrification within areas and concerns from residents about what once separated low-income from high-income areas.

Norman Garrick, an engineering professor at the University of Connecticut, told the WSJ that freeways were once put in “to divide the black neighborhoods from the white neighborhoods, or they were put straight through the center of the black neighborhoods and basically destroyed them.” Removing the highways will prompt gentrification in some areas, he says.

Highways Give Way to Homes as Cities Rebuild,” The Wall Street Journal (Dec. 1, 2019) [Log-in required.]