|The I-565 Urban Overpass (outlined in light blue) occupies about 140 acres in the heart of the city. (Google Earth)|
The overpass is underused volume-wise, especially the stretch between Memorial Parkway and Oakwood Avenue which averages about 45,000 vehicles per day-- less than many segments of University Drive. Also, the interstate's planners didn't think about the finite life span of an overpass-- most last up to fifty years, sometimes less, meaning that sometime in the next thirty years the cost of maintaining the overpass will become too great and we will have to talk about replacing it.
|Overpasses as far as the eye can see, over Church St. (Photo credit: James Vandiver)|
The officials at the 1991 opening ceremony praised the economic development opportunities that 565 would bring to the area, but when the time comes, replacing part of the highway with a surface or below-grade boulevard could bring substantial development as well. A boulevard would have a substantially smaller footprint than the current overpass structures, opening up valuable land near downtown for greenspace and development. It would also create a less hostile environment for bicyclists and pedestrians, and eliminate the physical divide between North and South Huntsville. Another added perk of eliminating the overpass is a redesign of the Parkway/565 interchange, which is badly needed even today.
Elevated freeway removal has been a growing trend in American cities-- even Birmingham is considering it in their long-term plans with I-20/59 downtown. You may have heard of Boston's "Big Dig" project, though that may not be the best example due to politics, shoddy engineering and massive cost overruns. Here are a couple of less infamous examples:
San Francisco: The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake damaged several elevated freeways in the Bay Area, including the Embarcadero Freeway. The highway was replaced in the 1990s with an at-grade boulevard, a light rail line, and park space along the once-inaccessible waterfront. Here's a link to a video discussing the Embarcadero transformation and the recent removal of another San Francisco highway (the Central Freeway).
Milwaukee: In 2002, the Park East Freeway was demolished, opening up 24 acres of their downtown for redevelopment. Projects include residential (apartments and condos), an Aloft hotel, and the new world headquarters for Manpower. http://city.milwaukee.gov/Projects/ParkEastredevelopment.htm
In a quick search, I found that Syracuse, New Haven, and New Orleans are considering highway removal as well. The Urban Land Institute has a list of current and proposed highway removal projects in the US.