Have you ever been driving down the highway and as you take the last exit you realize that the road keeps going but that you can’t drive on it? Even notice a large amount of land cleared near a highway but nothing has been built on it? What you are seeing are the remains of unbuilt highways. During America’s highway building boom of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, thousands of miles of new roads were cut through the nation. But there are many that never left the drawing board, whether because of funding problems, environmental issues, or community opposition.

Many cities had planned massive loop highways and spurs that were shot down during the Freeway Revolts of the 1970s. Boston, New York, Washington D.C., New Orleans, and San Francisco, among others, had vast networks planned but these roads destroyed so much of the tight urban fabric that their citizens felt that they did more harm than good and demanded that they stop being built. The Catch 22 is that many of these same cities face traffic problems because major arteries were not built to help existing highways, but had they been built they would have attracted even more traffic. Much of the funding that was to go toward highways was instead allowed to go towards building mass transit lines instead. San Francisco’s BART and Washington D.C.’s METRO were two brand new systems built with highway monies. Though these systems helped, highways still influenced suburban growth and now these cities are faced with even more traffic then they expected.

Now with the power of Google Maps I can show you what many great cities would have looked like if the highway men had had their way.

New York City

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Boston, MA

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Providence, RI

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Albany, NY

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San Francisco

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Washington DC

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Los Angeles

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9 thoughts on “Unbuilt Highways

  1. Your proposed route for I-95 North is somewhat in error. The actual route is slightly to the east of your proposed route. I remember when the properties in Lynn and Saugus MA, were taken for the route on the west side of Winnipurkit Avenue, in Lynn MA, less than one mile each from my Grandparent’s house on Chestnut Street in Saugus MA, and my Aunt and Uncle’s house on Holyoke Street in Lynn MA. Your route is correct until it hits Lynn Woods, where the highway was supposed to cross the 12th hole of the Gannon Municipal Golf Course in Lynn( on a paper map issued by the old Essex County Bank), then proceed thru Peabody MA, crossing Batholomew Street, Lynnfield Street and Centennial Drive (a.k.a. old Route 128), joining with the 128/I-95 interchange at what is now the Centennial Drive Industrial Park in Peabody.

    My Grandmother was very upset about the loss of a small corner grocery store on the east corner of Winnipurkit Avenue and Boston Street that was also taken for the route. All of the taken properties were sold by the state and new houses were constructed on the affected parcels to replaced the ones that were demolished for the highway.

  2. The Essex County Bank was bought by the Bank of New England in the 1980’s, then it went bankrupt in the Savings & Loan crisis after the 1997 stock market crash that was caused when the “dot com” bubble burst! Those maps were given to people who financed their new houses through Essex County Bank. Me, my brother and a friend each got maps when we went to the branch at Liberty Tree Mall asking for maps so we could find the best way home from the mall on our bikes, since we didn’t have our driver’s licenses yet, and couldn’t take our bikes out onto Route 128 to get home (and wouldn’t have even if it was legal to do it)! This was 1972, the Liberty Tree Mall had just opened, and my buddy and I were 13, my brother was 12, and this was the first time my Mom let us ride our bikes more than two miles from home (the distance for the trip to the mall from our home in Beverly to the mall in Danvers was about seven miles each way).

  3. Don’t forget Philadelphia. The 1966 map of proposed expressways showed they were supposed to build an I-695 where Island Ave and Cobbs Creek Parkway and Greys Ferry Ave are now, and go across South Philadelphia. South Street was supposed to be demolished to make way for it. Route 1, west of 76, was never supposed to be on City Ave. The Route 1 Lansdowne expressway was supposed to plow right through Chamounix Hostel and go down 54th Street and merge with I-695 and then go west along what is now Baltimore Pike. To the east of 76, Route 1 (Roosevelt Blvd) was supposed to be a full expressway, all the way through northeast Philadelphia to the Turnpike, instead of a crappy Inner and Outer Drive boulevard. Route 309 Expressway South wasn’t supposed to abruptly stop at Cheltenham Avenue. It was supposed to keep going, through Olney, following the Tacony creek, and go straight across the Betsy Ross Bridge. It was supposed to be named the Pulaski Expressway. Girard Ave was also supposed to be another cross-town expressway, to take the load off of the Vine Street. An insanely stupid group of “housing and community activists” stood in the way of all of these roads, and PennDOT cancelled all of them on July 1st, 1977. Now, Philadelphia is ruined. Every single day, there are backups on I-95, backups on I-676, and horrendous backups on I-76 otherwise known as the Schuylkill Expressway. These three roads cannot be widened, are totally overloaded, and cannot handle the traffic. All the people who protested the above unbuilt expressways are dead now. Why can’t they be built now?

  4. Why can’t they be built now? Even if the original opponents have died there would still be opposition. Many reasons why they were opposed still exist. Costs is another reason. When gas was cheap there was plenty of funds but now everything cost so much in most cases it is prohibitive. Not all plans were good ones. Still some plans should be revisited, especially where glaring gaps could really help relieve congestion.

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