Las Vegas Sun

July 17, 2018

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Sun editorial:

Around the world, elevated expressways are coming down


Courtesy of Washington State Department of Transportation

A view of State Route 99 Alaskan Way Viaduct south end demolition, November 2011. Crews demolish the last 1,100 feet of the viaduct south of Seattle’s King Street.

The Sun has devoted thousands of words to why a proposal to build a $200 million elevated expressway parallel to the Las Vegas Strip is an epically bad idea.

But today, with Clark County commissioners scheduled to vote on a $1.6 million engineering project to keep the plan lurching forward — and likely to approve it on the consent agenda with little or no discussion — we’re going to let pictures do most of the talking.

As we’ve noted on many occasions, elevated expressways were such an awful concept that they’ve been torn down in several cities. Besides being eyesores that created huge swaths of property where no one wanted to live or do business, they fueled migration out of inner cities and left behind zones of urban decay, high crime and poverty.

Here are pictures that say thousands of words about how other cities view these relics of the 1950s and ’60s.

Park East Freeway, Milwaukee

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Demolition of the Park East Freeway appears to be nearing an end as a section near the 4th Street exit is taken down Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2003. The view is seen from the Milwaukee Public Parking structure's 7th floor roof at Juneau Avenue and 4th Street.

Built: Construction began in 1952 as part of a plan to encircle downtown Milwaukee with freeways. Community outcry grew, and the project was halted after the 1-mile Park East Freeway was completed in the early 1970s.

Demolished: 2002-03.

Replaced by: An at-grade avenue that opened 60 acres to redevelopment.

Outcome: Now home to a $54 million high-rise apartment building, soccer stadium and other developments.

Embarcadero Freeway, San Francisco

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Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco, California circa 1989.

Built: 1958. The 1.2-mile double-decker freeway connected downtown with San Francisco Bay.

Demolished: 1991, after portions of the freeway were damaged by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

Replaced by: A wide boulevard that opened miles of public space downtown for walking and bike paths as well as transit routes.

Outcome: Building the boulevard was cheaper than rebuilding the freeway, and it increased property values. With renovated piers, restaurants, parks and other attractions, the area has become a popular spot for locals and in-the-know tourists.

Central Artery/Southeast Expressway, Boston

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Demolition cranes work their way down the old elevated Southeast Expressway Monday morning, Dec. 22, 2003, in downtown Boston. The new depressed highway opened Saturday.

Built: 1959. The 3.1-mile Central Artery, made up of elevated expressways and tunnels, linked to the Southeast Expressway.

Demolished: Completed in 2003.

Replaced by: The Big Dig, the infamous tunneling project that sent the artery underground.

Outcome: The $15 billion project — $24 billion counting debt service — was the most expensive in history. But it reduced traffic congestion, created acres of green space and led to revitalization of the city’s core. The Boston Globe called the project “transformational” for the city. “So it is that the greatest success of the Big Dig is this: It established a new landscape for the city to flourish all around it. Buildings once overlooking a clogged highway now have a beautiful park at their front door. That’s all it took. Boston would probably be booming even without the Big Dig. But the project removed all doubt. Numerous reports have chronicled big jumps in property values. The Shawmut Peninsula is some of the most sought-after and desirable urban real estate in the country.”

Alaskan Way Viaduct, Seattle

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A view of State Route 99 Alaskan Way Viaduct south end demolition, November 2011. Crews demolish the last 1,100 feet of the viaduct south of Seattle's King Street.

Built: 1953. The viaduct included a portion of double-decker elevated expressway.

Demolished:Began in 2011. The road had been damaged by an earthquake in 2001 and was at the end of its lifespan.

Replaced by: A 2-mile, four-lane tunnel currently under construction, plus a surface street and a shoreline park. Mechanical problems have led to long delays.

Outcome: To be determined.

Cheonggyecheon Freeway, Seoul

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Cheonggyecheon Freeway Restoration Project in Seoul, South Korea

Built: 1976. The four-lane, elevated expressway was built over the path of a man-made stream, which was covered by concrete.

Demolished: 2003.

Replaced by: A 5-mile-long recreational area. The stream, which had nearly gone dry, was uncovered and restored. The area now features such attractions as a museum and waterfalls where children can play. Ducks and other wildlife have inhabited it.

Outcome: Bolstered by positive public response, officials in Seoul have removed more than a dozen other expressways.

Bonaventure Expressway, Montreal

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Bonaventure Expressway in Montreal, Quebec, Canada being demolished August 20, 2016.

Built: 1967.

Demolished: Work began in 2015.

Replaced by: A $140 million plan for an at-grade urban boulevard and recreational space.

Outcome: To be determined. The Montreal Gazette paraphrased Mayor Denis Coderre as saying the remake was a “pivotal project for Montreal’s economy and its prestige as a world-class city.”

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