Highway revolts in the United States

Highway revolts have occurred in cities and regions across the United States. In many cities, there remain unused highways, abruptly terminating freeway alignments, and short stretches of freeway in the middle of nowhere, all of which are evidence of larger projects which were never completed. In some instances, freeway revolts have led to the eventual removal or relocation of freeways that had been built.

In the post-World War II economic expansion, there was a major drive to build a freeway network in the United States, including (but not limited to) the Interstate Highway System. Design and construction began in earnest in the 1950s, with many cities and rural areas participating. However, many of the proposed freeway routes were drawn up without considering local interests; in many cases, the construction of the freeway system was considered a regional (or national) issue that trumped local concerns.

Starting in 1956, in San Francisco, when many neighborhood activists became aware of the effect that freeway construction was having on local neighborhoods, effective city opposition to many freeway routes in many cities was raised; this led to the modification or cancellation of many proposed routes. The freeway revolts continued into the 1970s, further enhanced by concern over the energy crisis and rising fuel costs, as well as a growing environmentalist movement. Responding to massive anti-highway protests in Boston,[1] in February 1970 Governor Francis W. Sargent of Massachusetts ordered a halt to planning and construction of all planned expressways inside the Route 128 loop highway, with the exception of the remaining segments of the Central Artery and the segment of Interstate 93 between East Somerville and the Charles River. However, some proposals for controlled-access freeways have been debated and finalized as a compromise to build them as at-grade expressways.



In Phoenix, Arizona, regional planners had long planned a general belt loop and several freeways crossing the Salt River Valley through much of Phoenix, with the key feature to include a central-city portion of Interstate 10, running just south of McDowell Road. I-10 had been built westbound to a point southwest of downtown, where it curved and merged into Interstate 17. The largest unconstructed section of I-10 in the country, beginning just east of the Arizona-California border, was still its planning stage when a debate began for the Phoenix section. Designers had evolved the proposed Papago Freeway from a typical surface grade to a massive, elevated structure, rising 100 feet through the central city, with "helicoil" interchanges and a lengthy park under the structure. Led primarily by influential Arizona Republic publisher Eugene Pulliam (grandfather of future Vice President Dan Quayle), a massive public relations opposition battle began, citing the freeway sprawl of Los Angeles as a model Pulliam did not want Phoenix embracing. The rhetoric became so heated that in 1973 a non-binding public advisory election was held, resulting (largely due to Pulliam's regular editorial tirades) in an overwhelming "no" vote for the existing plan. The city and the Arizona State Highway Department (now Arizona Department of Transportation) scrapped the plans without further efforts for the central city segment. As the completed east-bound portion of I-10 advanced closer, transportation planners pushed for some resolution. By 1984 traffic gridlock had reached the point where planners devised a new plan, with I-10 still running although roughly the same alignment, but instead with the central city portion tunneled through downtown, with a large park on top. The revised I-10/Papago Freeway was opened in 1990.

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