Putting a Lid on Highways

We are a mobile society. In fact, some would say we are addicted to our cars. Our interstate highway system is one of the engineering marvels of the modern age.

And yet… Controlled-access multi-lane, and especially elevated, roadways cause serious collateral damage. They split neighborhoods and upend property values. But as our highways are getting re-engineered, they are also being reexamined. It seems the next phase in this cycle of development is toward reconnection and the rediscovery of the importance of greenspace.

For example, when the historic city of Boston decided to reroute I-93, an elevated highway through the heart of the city, they went underground with the Central Artery/Tunnel Project, which became known as the Big Dig. Yes, it was very costly and plagued with problems, but the point is it relieved traffic congestion with a net advantage to the city’s downtown; an elevated highway was replaced by an underground artery and the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway. As the Boston Globe reported, “Backers of the beleaguered Big Dig were fond of saying that it wasn’t really a highway project but rather an exercise in urban beautification. On that score, the project has unquestionably delivered.” (“10 years later, did the Big Dig deliver?” by Anthony Flint, Dec. 29, 2015, https://www.bostonglobe.com/magazine/2015/12/29/years-later-did-big-dig-deliver/tSb8PIMS4QJUETsMpA7SpI/story.html)

Dismantling the Central Artery and replacing it with the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway has opened up views, connected neighborhoods, and created a vast public space.WENDY MAEDA/BOSTON GLOBE STAFF/FILE 2008

Similar efforts of varying ambitions have been proposed or are underway all across the nation. They are called highway lid projects, covering existing highways with parks and restoring neighborhoods. In Duluth, Minnesota, a series of lids have created green pedestrian connections between downtown and the Lake Superior waterfront.  “Transportation planners once saw lids as a last resort,” says Scott Bonjukian, co-chair of Lid I-5, a citizen group advocating a major highway project in Seattle. “We’re now at the point where they’re incorporated into [highway rebuilds] from the get-go.”

As we repair and expand our infrastructure, putting lids on highways seems like an idea whose time has come.

For more examples, see “America Begins Capping Freeway Scars of the Past” by Brian Martucci (https://www.ozy.com/the-new-and-the-next/america-begins-capping-freeway-scars-of-the-past/85513/?).

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