Healing Interstate injustice by removing freeways


Claiborne Expressway cutting through the heart of historic New Orleans – Source: cnu.org

Back in 2018, I wrote a post about the trend in freeway-capping projects. These efforts are an attempt to partially rectify (or put a bandaid over) the injustices of America’s highway-building mania that took place between the 1940s and 1980s. A more significant step toward healing the highway sins of the past is the actual demolition of freeways*.

What Claiborne Avenue could/should look like after removal of the freeway – Source: bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-04-03/these-urban-highways-in-north-america-need-to-die

There are a number of instances where freeways have been demolished altogether and replaced with at-grade streets and boulevards. These removals include the ones listed just below, though it must be noted that they were not necessarily removed because of their impacts on the poor and/or minority communities. The previously removed freeways show that highway removal can be done successfully. Following the list of already removed freeways, is a list of other freeways that this author feels could/should be demolished and replaced in a manner which is more conducive with the existing fabric and traffic network of the city.

*Please note that Interstate, highway, and freeway are used interchangeably within this post as synonyms for one another.

Demolishing the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle – Source: zdnet.com


  • Alaskan Way Viaduct (SR 99)Seattle, Washington: Replaced by a tunnel and at-grade city streets on the surface. The final section of the viaduct was removed in 2019.
  • Central Freeway (US 101)San Francisco, California: Partially damaged by the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. Replaced by at-grade city streets except for an area south of Market Street which was converted to a major on/off ramp from I-80.
  • Crosstown Expressway (I-40)Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: Largely demolished and replaced by an at-grade boulevard. However, I-40 was built along a new alignment just to the south of the old highway.
  • Embarcadero Freeway (I/SR-480)San Francisco, California: Partially destroyed by the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. It has been replaced by an at-grade boulevard and a light rail trolley route.
  • Harbor Drive Highway (SR 99) Portland, Oregon: Portions were removed and replaced with at-grade city streets and Waterfront Park.
  • Inner LoopRochester, New York: The eastern one-third of the expressway has been demolished and converted to at-grade streets. This was completed in 2017.
  • Park East FreewayMilwaukee, Wisconsin: Demolished and replaced by at-grade streets in 2002.
  • Robert Moses ParkwayNiagara Falls, New York: Portions have been removed and/or replaced by two-lane roadways, bike trails, and roundabouts.
  • Sheridan Expressway (I-895)New York City, New York: Conversion of this aging freeway to a riverfront, pedestrian-friendly boulevard was completed in December of 2019.
  • West Sacramento Freeway (SR 275) Sacramento, California: Most of the freeway has been converted to a divided at-grade corridor.
  • West Side Elevated Highway (SR 9A)New York City (Manhattan), New York: The elevated segments south of 57th Street were removed in 1989 and replaced with an at-grade boulevard.


Below are listed specific examples of freeways that need to be put to rest altogether and converted back to at-grade city streets, a boulevard, a linear park, or some other more useful community benefit. Some of these freeways are identified as “immoral” because they were constructed directly through disadvantaged, poor, and/or minority neighborhoods. As a resident of a freeway-impacted neighborhood in Tampa, Florida so aptly noted:

“Urban interstates are 20th Century monuments to segregationist policies.”

SOURCE: tampabay.com

If done properly and with plenty of stakeholder input, the step of removing such highways can help the community heal from the negative social, environmental, and economic impacts, re-stitch together the wounded fabric of the city, as well as heal the perceived and real divisions created by their construction through poor and/or minority neighborhoods.

However, a key aspect of any such freeway removal is to avoid making the injustices and inequities worse than the ones that took place when the highway was first constructed. CityLab has expressed this concern best by noting:

“Cities that do undertake freeway removal projects should develop strategies to combat displacement, or the removal of the highway could simply exert a new generation of inequity for communities that have seen enough.”


The freeways are presented in no particular order of importance, but are first listed numerically for numbered routes and then alphabetically for named ones.

  • I-70 between I-270 and I-76Denver, Colorado: The existing elevated route of I-70 along the northern tier of Denver became redundant upon the completion of the I-270 and I-76 connections to it. Rerouting I-70 from Exit 278 along the current I-270 corridor to I-76 and then along current I-76 corridor back to I-70 near exit 269 would allow at-grade streets to be reconnected and the healing of the impacted north side neighborhoods of Denver, many of which are home to the poor and minorities.

Existing I-70 in Denver – Source: cnu.org

Potential alternative routing of I-70 – Source: cnu.org

    • Instead of re-routing I-70 as shown on the map above, CDOT decided instead to spend $1.2 billion to reconstruct the freeway below grade and widen it, thus impacting even more people in the adjoining neighborhoods. As a result, this immoral freeway will continue to negatively impact its unfortunate neighbors.              SOURCE: cnu.org

Resident opposed to CDOT’s I-70 project in Denver – Source: cpr.org


  • I-394 spur east of I-94Minneapolis, Minnesota: A relative newbie highway that was completed in 1992, this stub seems to only serve Target Field and those who wish to speed their way as close as possible to their downtown offices from the western suburbs. Otherwise, what was the point of demolishing more of the city for an elevated spur highway that detracts from its surroundings? The unnecessary freeway should be replaced with an at-grade boulevard that compliments the area instead of detracting from it.

“Worse than that, the 394 elevated causeway depresses everything in its shadow. The backside of the North Loop neighborhood is devalued by the road.”

SOURCE: minnpost.com

I-394 spur – Source: streets.mn


  • Former I-755 on/off ramps at I-64 (Jefferson Interchange)St. Louis, Missouri: The remaining on and off ramps of the once planned I-755 expressway interchange with I-64 should be converted into a standard interchange linking to at-grade city streets. Not only would it help heal the vicinity, but would help negate ever reconsidering construction of this unnecessary boondoggle.  Thankfully, it appears such work is now underway or set to begin soon. Kudos to the Missouri Department of Transportation for proceeding with this removal project.

Plans to reconnect the areas impacted by the current Jefferson Interchange – Source: modot.org


  • Central Freeway (US 75/I-345) at Deep Ellum – Dallas, Texas: An elevated freeway linking State Route 366 with US 75 and I-30 located just east of downtown Dallas. This immoral freeway separated the former historic African-American business and entertainment district of Deep Ellum from downtown Dallas. Despite the disruptions caused by the freeway, Deep Ellum has found a renewed, albeit gentrified life, as an entertainment district. Advocates have been pushing for conversion of I-345 to at-grade boulevards and have provided evidence that doing so would not severely disrupt traffic. Such replacement would also reconnect the city and create areas for significant new development. While supportive of the idea of reconnecting Deep Ellum with downtown Dallas, the intense marketing of the project as a major redevelopment proposal  sounds all-too similar to the “touted” urban renewal efforts of the 1950s.  To avoid further displacement of low income and minorities, the current residents of the neighborhoods surrounding the Farmers Market should have the greatest (and weighted) input on the future of their home.

US75/I-345 in Dallas – Source: cnu.org


  • Chrysler Freeway (I-375 south of I-75)Detroit Michigan: MDOT, the State of Michigan and the federal government need to start righting the terrible wrong that was imposed on the African-American residents and businesses that once resided along this corridor by moving forward with a plan to replace this immoral highway with an at-grade boulevard. The very heart of Detroit’s black business community was located along Hastings Street. It, and much of the rest of Black Bottom were demolished to build I-375. Sadly, to date, funding has not been forthcoming to complete this needed conversion.

Demolition of Black Bottom in Detroit for I-375 – Source: wdet.org

Source: commons.wikimedia.org


  • Claiborne Expressway (I-10) between I-610 and US 90BRNew Orleans, Louisiana: One of the greatest moral travesties of the highway-building era was the placement of I-10 over the wooded Claiborne Avenue Corridor.  Once the “Main Street” for Treme, which is America’s oldest African-Americas neighborhood, I-10 covered Claiborne Avenue with a sterile forest of concrete pillars. Returning this elevated highway to a lovely tree-lined boulevard is a must for this great city. Given the existence of I-610, which can be easily re-shielded as I-10, this immoral freeway can be beautifully replaced without leaving orphan or disconnected highways (see second photo from the top of the post).

Images promoting the Claiborne Freeway – Source: wwno.org

Claiborne Avenue before/after in New Orleans – Source: bigeasymagazine.com

An alternative for using I-610 – Source: cnu.org


  • Innerbelt (SR 59)Akron, Ohio: The northern portion of this immoral highway that displaced thousands of African-American residents has been decommissioned and closed, but not yet removed or replaced. Other segments to the south should be decommissioned and removed, as well. Various replacement plans have been proposed with an urban forest currently garnering the most support.

Portion of Innerbelt – Source: archive.curbed.com


  • Innerbelt (SR 193/US 422)Youngstown, Ohi0: This arcing freeway around the north side of downtown Youngstown completes a loop around the city center with I-680 and US 62 (see map below). The northern half of the loop was built right through two of the city’s former African-American enclaves (Riverbend and Smokey Hollow). Given how far Youngstown’s population has fallen in the past 90 years (170,000 in 1930 to 65,000 today), one wonders about the need for a downtown loop freeway, at all, where an at-grade boulevard would help re-knit downtown into the overall fabric of the city.

Source: ycacic.com/youngstown-maps.html


  • Lodge Freeway (M-10) south of I-75 – Detroit, Michigan: One can say nearly the same thing about this extension of M-10 to the waterfront as has been stated about I-375. Both are dinosaurs that need to go. This 1.78 mile spur segment should be converted to a boulevard and placed at-grade except where it travels beneath the TCF Center (formerly Cobo Hall).

M-10 approaching the TCF Center (formerly Cobo Hall) – Source: en.wikipedia.org


  • Oak Street Connector (SR 34) – New Haven, Connecticut: Basically a stub to nowhere that displaced 3,000 residents and 350 businesses, this immoral grade-separated route is in dire need of a complete conversion to at-grade city streets and/or a boulevard. Fortunately, portions of this freeway reversion have begun to take place as the Downtown Crossing Project of re-linking downtown with the Hill neighborhood is well underway.

Source: newhavenurbanism.wordpress.com

Source: nhregister.com


  • Sam Cooper Boulevard (formerly I-40)Memphis, Tennessee: Despite its current name, only the western portion of this freeway has been converted into a boulevard. The remaining segments located east of Highland Street and west of the I-40/I-240 interchange remain as a standard freeway. Fortunately, the good citizens of Memphis legally forced TDOT to stop building this freeway before it sliced though Overton Park in the heart of the city. Since then, Interstate 40 has been re-routed around the north side of the city along the alignment of what was once the northern loop of I-240. Given the orphan nature of this unnecessary stub freeway, it seems only reasonable to convert the balance of it to an at-grade boulevard.

Original alignment of I-40 through Overton Park – Source: cremedememph.blogspot.com/2016/04/


  • US 40 Freeway (formerly I-170)Baltimore (west side), Maryland: This mile-long concrete moat, aptly nicknamed “The Wound”  is one of the worst examples of Interstate injustice in the nation, as it ripped through the historically Black neighborhoods of West Baltimore. This immoral freeway needs to be replaced with more human-scale (and friendly) at-grade streets, parks, and/or boulevards.


Thankfully, in at least two (2) cases listed above (Oak Street Connector in New Haven and Jefferson Interchange in St. Louis), efforts are underway to replace the problem freeways with an at-grade boulevard and/or a less-intrusive interchange. Meanwhile, several other removal projects have been identified, but the lack of funding or lack of political will has held up the transition process (Akron’s Innerbelt and I-375 in Detroit).

There are many more examples of immoral and/or unnecessary freeways from across the country . Those listed above give a good representation of those in dire need of demolition. Other examples of freeways in need of replacement or removal include, but are not limited to:

A new look for I-475 in Flint? – Source: mlive.com/news/flint/2020/10/i-475-proposal-imagines-massive-investment-new-look-for-downtown-flint.html


This entry was posted in Alternative transportation, Cars, Cities, civics, Civil Rights, civility, commerce, culture, economic development, economic gardening, environment, geography, health, Highway displacement, history, Housing, inclusiveness, infrastructure, injustice, land use, Maps, new urbanism, placemaking, planning, politics, pollution, racism, revitalization, social equity, spatial design, Statistics, tourism, Trade, traffic, transportation, urban planning, visual pollution and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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