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Freeway Capping Projects

Jim Ellis Freeway Park

Jim Ellis Freeway Park is a 5 acre park that covers the Interstate 5 leading to downtown Seattle, Washington. It adjoins with the Washington State Convention and Trade Center. It opened on July 4, 1976, and was designed by Angela Danadjieva utilizing a form of brutalist architecture.

The portion of Interstate 5 that runs through Seattle was completed in 1967. It originated as part of a broader freeway plan organized by the Washington state legislature in the early 1950s. One freeway would cut through downtown Seattle by means of eminent domain. Because this was kept hidden from the public, protests from the early 1960s came too late. Instead, civil activists at the time would focus on getting a “cap” for the expressway.

Plans for a freeway cap was spearheaded by Seattle lawyer, Jim Ellis. In 1968, He utilized the “Forward Thrust”, a public funding mechanism that was successful in getting various civil and environmental initiatives completed around the city. The $118 million budget for Freeway Park was part of a citywide parks deal consisting of city, county, and state contributions. The resulting Freeway Park utilizes a unique series of structural features, including display fountains and handicap access that completely removes visitors from both the noise of the Interstate 5 traffic and the urban setting. Unfortunately, the complexity of these designs led to a difficulty in general maintenance, which led to under-usage and deterioration of some features. Along with an onset of under-funding, this eventually led to neglect throughout the park, making it a frequent crime scene.

In 2005, a citizen-based movement called the Freeway Park Neighborhood Association (FPNA) made a commitment to revitalize the park. With cooperation from Seattle’s Parks and Recreation Department, plans were set to repair and refine existing infrastructure, improve plantings, and encourage more convention center visitors to use it. This strategy helped make Freeway Park a safer, more active location, which largely reduced crime in the park.

Freeway Park was renamed in 2010 after Jim Ellis, who inspired the park by means of progressive activism that left a major legacy for the city of Seattle.

Back in 1962, construction of Interstate 5 sliced through the heart of Seattle, essentially splitting the city in half. Now, local architects Patano Studio Architecture are hoping to rectify the situation by “capping” the highway with a two-mile-long elevated park that will provide affordable housing, pedestrian paths, bike lanes, and ample green space. The plan would bring much needed community space to the area as well as reducing the noise level and pollution that the area is currently known for.

“This space is just so underutilized,” says architect Christopher Patano, director of Patano Studio Architecture. “This two-mile stretch of Interstate 5 that we’re talking about putting the park on is the most valuable piece of real estate between Vancouver and San Francisco. And right now it’s just the canyon through downtown.”

The plan calls for the implementation of a community-focused project, essentially creating a multi-layered neighborhood along the 2-mile stretch of highway. Underneath the elevated green park (but still on top of the highway), the designers call for the addition of affordable housing units, as well as a new convention center and arena to the new space.

Pantano explains the design for the park took into account current projects being considered for the city. “Almost every part of the project we describe, all that complexity, those are all projects that are going to happen,” he says. “The convention center’s happening, the arena’s happening, public housing has to happen, the freeway has to be rebuilt because it’s at the end of it’s useful life. They all have to happen. So instead of each of these as one distinct problem, we can wrap our arms around all of them together. I think what the result could be for the city is this amazing public space.”

Margaret T. Hance Park

Margaret T. Hance Park
is a 30-acre park near downtown Phoenix, Arizona. It lies on top of a half-mile stretch of the ten-lane Papago Freeway, a portion of the Interstate 10. The park was named in honor of Phoenix Mayor Margaret Taylor Hance, who championed the project during the 1980s.

The project originated with the construction of the Interstate 10 expressway beginning in the 1960s. The thoroughfare in its entirety extends from Jacksonville, Florida to Santa Monica, California. The junction in Phoenix was intended to be an elevated highway. Public opposition halted the plan in 1967 while Arizona’s Department of Transportation (ADOT) sought a more compatible solution. It was later decided to build the junction underground.

Specific plans for a park began in 1983, when solutions were proposed for improving surrounding neighborhoods that had been affected by freeway construction 20 years earlier. A significant amount of its $105 million budget came from the federal level by means of the ADOT. The park was completed and opened in April 1992. It features a wide variety of outdoor facilities, interpretive infrastructure and areas for public recreation. The park is owned and operated by the city of Phoenix while the Hance Park Conservancy handles annual funding for events and park improvements.

Klyde Warren Park

Klyde Warren Park
is a 5-acre park in downtown Dallas, TX. It covers a portion of the Woodall Rodgers Freeway (Spur 366). The park opened in 2012, and was named after the son of Dallas philanthropist, Kelcy Warren.

Plans for a freeway cover date nearly as far back as the Woodall Rodgers Freeway. The freeway was approved by the Texas Department of Transportation in 1960, but controversies surrounding the design, local impact, and continued construction funding delayed its completion until 1983. Talks for an overhead park re-emerged in 2002, when Dallas’ real estate developers expressed a desire to improve the landscape of the downtown area.

The proposal received wide support from city and civic leaders. Its $110 million budget came mostly from public funding, but a portion came from the 2009 federal stimulus package. Amazingly, there was no cultural or historical precedence for its conception, but was proudly built “out of thin air”. It has received substantial support from local philanthropists, as well as the Texas DOT. Construction began in 2009 and ended three years later.

Klyde Warren Park boasts a unique layout of “rooms”, which encourages visitors to explore park space. Among its many features include a dog park, a restaurant, and plenty of space that promotes pedestrian livelihood. It has been widely praised for improving the public image of downtown Dallas.

Big Dig


Big Dig is part of the Central Artery/Tunnel Project in Boston, MA. The master plan has pertained to a gradual overhaul of much of Boston’s transportation system, including the Central Artery (known to Bostonians as John F. Kennedy Expressway) I-93. With various phases of construction continuing today, the Big Dig is part of the largest and most expensive project of its kind.

Even before freeways became a new transit standard during the 1950s, Boston’s motor traffic has been among the most notoriously congested of any city in the nation. Massachusetts’ Department of Public Works created in 1948 a first master plan that was initially a broad highway system called the Inner Belt. Although the primary objective was to streamline traffic throughout the city of Boston, it pertained to using eminent domain in some of the city’s most prized neighborhoods. Highway construction continued through the 1950s and 1960s, until public revolt led to the cancellation of the remaining plan in 1972. With most traffic centering on the Central Artery, the plan ultimately failed to alleviate the original problem.

In addition to the Central Artery separating downtown Boston from its waterfront, and limiting commuter travel to the Logan Airport, the structure itself was deteriorating and quickly becoming inefficient for the daily stream of high-volume traffic it had to accommodate. A new master plan proposed in 1982 that would replace the elevated freeway with an underground tunnel. It would become the centerpiece of a broader plan to restructure roadways, subway tunnels, and bridges throughout the entire city.

The Big Dig received federal funding and began construction in 1991 under the supervision of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority. Despite its high costs and extended delays, the project was completed in 2006. In place of the original imprint of the Central Artery is a new series of public parks and plazas. The centerpiece is the Rose Kennedy Greenway, dedicated in 2008. Like many projects around the nation that reduced dependency on the freeway, the Big Dig dramatically improved public access between downtown and the waterfront, reduced problems with traffic congestion and air pollution, and ultimately paved a path for a new stream of progress in the city of Boston.


Freeway Removal Projects

Niagara Scenic Parkway


Niagara Scenic Parkway is the newly-dubbed name for the former Robert Moses Parkway (NY Route 957A) in Niagara Falls, New York. The plan removed significant portions of road pavement and freeway entrance/exit ramps on the northern and southern edges of the parkway. The focus of the project is on a two-mile stretch parallel to Niagara Falls State Park. It was approved for funding in 2013 by Governor Andrew Cuomo using part of the first implementation of the Buffalo Billion Program.

Originally built in 1964, the expressway was intended to link the Niagara Thruway (NY Interstate 190) to the Rainbow Bridge, which leads to Niagara Falls, Canada. In addition to being named after a public official who championed expressway construction throughout the 1950’s, the expressway also became notorious for blocking direct access to Niagara Falls State Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1885, which aligns directly with the Niagara River. Periodic renovations continued since the 1980’s due to efforts to preserve and implement more pedestrian and bicycle access to the state park.

Along with reconstructing the northern and southern ends, the project lowered the speed limit from 55 mph to 35 mph, and will also reconstruct portions of Whirlpool and Third Streets. In adherence to the original spirit of Niagara Falls State Park, new bicycle and walking paths will be implemented that will provide direct access from the main roads to the scenic Niagara River. The entire project is scheduled to be completed by 2020.


McKinley Avenue


McKinley Avenue is a newly-restored boulevard on the waterfront of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It was built in 2002 along Milwaukee River, in place of the Park East Freeway. The freeway was built against public opposition in the 1960s, and was intended to be part of a larger freeway system for downtown Milwaukee that was never realized. The 0.8 mile roadway separated the city’s central business district from the rest of the city, which largely limited access downtown, discouraged nearby property development, and destroyed portions of the city street grid.

In the late 1990s, then-mayor John Norquist famously led a public campaign to remove Park East Freeway. In the wake of redevelopment downtown, which was centered along Milwaukee River, the area surrounding the freeway was deteriorating along with the freeway itself. The 2001 demolition of Park East Freeway cost $45 million with various funding sources from city, state, and federal levels. The new McKinley Avenue was supported by a new form-based code led by city planner Peter Park, which along with restoring the street grid of the affected area, encouraged subsequent development.

Today, McKinley Avenue has become a highly desirable location for residential and commercial reinvestment in downtown Milwaukee. Increased property values in this area, more significantly along the original imprint of the Park East Freeway, has been higher than the property value increases throughout the city. The area centered on McKinley Avenue has been praised as a walkable urban community.


Embarcadero Plaza


The Embarcadero is the waterfront area and major transportation corridor of San Francisco, California. It evolved from a central roadway bounded by a seawall that was established off the coast of San Francisco Bay in the 1860s. Over the decades, it became useful for multiple modes of transportation and commercial activities with the city of Oakland, culminating with the 1936 construction of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

The Bay Bridge inadvertently led to a decline for the Embarcadero corridor. Simultaneous to a lesser dependency of sea transportation in San Francisco Bay was a proliferation of automobile usage following World War II. This inspired a roadway that would link Bay Bridge with the Golden Gate Bridge. Against a series of public oppositions, the double-decker Embarcadero Freeway (California Route 480) was built throughout the 1960s. For the next three decades, the city of San Francisco would be separated from its waterfront.

The 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake severely damaged the Embarcadero Freeway. Then-Mayor of San Francisco Art Agnos proposed to demolish the entire thoroughfare in favor of an at-grade boulevard. Although freeway traffic was now closed, public protests at the time hoping to save the freeway believed demolition would cause massive auto congestion throughout the city. With state and federal support, it was ultimately decided that a $50 million boulevard would be more practical than spending $70 million on freeway repairs. Upon the Freeway’s demolition in 1991, commuter ridership of San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system saw an increase, and much of the freeway’s motor traffic dispersed through many under-utilized areas of the city’s street grid.

The new Embarcadero Boulevard built during the 1990s served as the anchor for a new stream of commercial plazas, housing, and public spaces. With a newfound investment in pedestrian traffic, it was also used to expand portions of San Francisco’s BART system. Ultimately, more than 100 acres of waterfront land, including former industrial space saw dramatic increases in property values and employment.


Tom McCall Waterfront Park


Tom McCall Waterfront Park is a park located on the waterfront of Portland, Oregon along the Willamette River. Since its opening in 1978, it has become a popular destination for many of the city’s cultural events and festivals. It has been recognized as a national triumph in freeway removal.

Preceding the park was Harbor Drive, a limited-access freeway that was built in 1943. The initial function was to transport drivers to interstate roadways extending throughout the Pacific Coast states (California, Oregon, and Washington) by taking them straight through Portland. The construction of alternate roads and bridges throughout the 1960s, leading to Interstate 45 and Interstate 495 soon reduced daily ridership of Harbor Drive. The thoroughfare most notably limited Portland’s access to Willamette River. Plans for expanding the freeway would be cancelled.

A 1968 public task force spearheaded by then-Governor of Oregon Tom McCall made a recommendation for a new park along the Willamette River. It adhered to a broader plan from the earlier 20th Century that would link Portland to the waterways with parks and greenspace. The park proposal was backed by the Riverfront for Citizens Coalition. Already unpopular and quickly becoming obsolete, Harbor Drive closed in 1974. Portions of the original freeway still exist in other parts of Portland, though that along with adjoining roadways were built to accommodate pedestrian traffic, encouraging direct access to the waterfront.

The 37-acre Waterfront Park was named in Tom McCall’s honor in 1984. The park’s success led to an increase in downtown Portland redevelopment, and encouraged more public space to be built along Willamette River by the 1990s. Today, it is highly praised for its citizen-based development, which became a major influence on other freeway-removal studies across the country.


Pending Proposals


There are many other successful examples throughout the United States of neighborhoods that have flourished since reducing or eliminating freeway reliance. Similar undertakings have been made in some larger cities around the world. Due to a recent reinvestment in the Upstate New York region, communities have been working to improve neighborhoods by seeking solutions for aging thoroughfares.


An elevated highway built during the 1960s in Syracuse, NY. Plans have been discussed since 2012 about the possible removal of the structure.

The Skyway

A portion of NY Route 5 cutting through Downtown Buffalo was declared “functionally obsolete” by the NYSDOT’s own analysis from 2008. It has become unpopular for its closures during poor weather conditions, and for separating the city’s inner and outer harbors. The Skyway lies on inner harbor acreage that could be better used capitalizing Canalside redevelopment. The cost would be roughly $110 million to retain the structure, versus $25 million to remove it. Removal would be accompanied by $75 million harbor bridge, which is currently being studied to improve access to the outer harbor.


New Orleans, Louisiana


Tampa, Florida


Dallas, Texas


Austin, Texas


Portland, Oregon


Louisville, Kentucky


Denver, Colorado


Oakland, California