A start to the end of 787

ALBANY – The pressure to level Interstate 787 is getting serious.

There’s a new group in town, the Albany Riverfront Collaborative, which is trying to build momentum to replace the waterfront highway with a boulevard that would open 92 acres for new parks and development. The ARC proposes a detailed plan for a redone pavement, as well as a report on the potential economic impacts of the project.

The idea, then, is to turn the long-discussed dream of replacing the freeway into something tangible – to give the region a feel for what Albany could be like without a massive elevated freeway towering over its shores. The hope is also to build the base and the political support necessary to carry out the plan.

To this end, the CRA has compiled a list from more than 30 contributors – including elected officials, developers, business leaders and heads of nonprofit organizations – and posts videos of community leaders reflecting on the grim impact of the highway.

In one, for example, Alice Green of the Center for Law and Justice details how 787 hurts the South End and Arbor Hill neighborhoods. In another, Proctors CEO Philip Morris explains what the freeway overhaul could mean.

“Certainly one of the characteristics that hurts Albany is that the waterfront is not part of town,” Morris said, adding that 787 has kept Albany from “redefining itself” as Troy, Schenectady and Saratoga Springs have it. made.

ARC is the brainchild of Troy-based architect Scott Townsend, who said the group’s mission and plan was a largely volunteer effort developed over a series of meetings that began earlier this year. . “We really wanted to not just start the conversation,” he said, “but get it moving down the track.”

As part of the ARC plan, the highway built in the early 1970s would be narrowed to a boulevard south of the Patroon Island Bridge, with lower speed limits, stop lights and crosswalks. The boulevard would be built to the west of an existing railway line, which would remain in place.

Meanwhile, the elevated South Mall thoroughfare and its tangle of spaghetti ramps would disappear, replaced with a ground-level causeway to transport cars to Empire State Plaza. The Dunn Memorial Bridge would also be rebuilt and simplified, freeing up land for development and parks on the Rensselaer side of the Hudson River.

Together, the moves would reconnect Albany to its shores and connect the impoverished South End to the city center. The goal, Townsend said, “is to unleash all the potential that has been repressed and strangled for so long.”

The group has not established a cost for the project, but a fiscal impact report compiled by the MRB Group in Saratoga Springs estimates it would generate 3,100 construction-related jobs and a total of $ 302 million in revenue. tax and land tenure over 20 years.

The reconstruction would also bring 6.1 million square feet of new residential and commercial development, ARC predicts, while removing 73,000 tons of concrete and allowing the planting of 6,500 trees on land that is now a highway.

In short, the remake would transform downtown Albany in a way that no other project perhaps could.

As I noted in previous columns, Albany wouldn’t do anything unusual by razing 787. Cities across the country, including Syracuse and Rochester, have destroyed ill-placed highways to reclaim valuable land. Cities such as San Francisco and St. Louis have removed or closed freeways to regain access to the waterfront.

Visit AlbanyRiverfrontCollaborative.com to learn more about the group and its plan.

While these efforts are widely viewed as successes, I’m not sure any city can benefit from a highway remake more than Albany. That’s because the 787 is unusually monstrous in the way it completely towers over the riverside, with its 11 lanes of travel (including arteries) and all those ridiculous ramps sucking up land and wiping out a resource.

In short, Interstate 787 is significantly oversized for demand, which is why the CRA believes a boulevard would have minimal impact on travel times. The highway is also incredibly expensive to maintain, and the CRA argues that the maintenance savings, along with the anticipated increases in tax revenue, will help recoup the admittedly substantial cost of the project.

With a press conference with elected officials scheduled for next week, the Albany Riverfront Collaborative is promoting its proposal just as the federal government prepares to spend big on infrastructure, thanks to the trillion dollar package adopted. by Congress earlier this month. The timing is not entirely a coincidence.

State Congressman Patricia Fahy (D-Albany) and other 787 overhaul advocates feared the lack of a serious plan could cost the region spending. Federal money, Fahy said, will go to well-thought-out projects with demonstrated local support.

ARC is hoping to show that the Interstate 787 redesign has this local support, with a list of funders that includes George McNamee, president of Plug Power; Chet Opalka, co-founder of Albany Molecular Research; and Anthony Gaddy, head of the Black Chamber of Commerce in upstate New York.

The group is also trying to prove that getting rid of the highway isn’t just empty talk and pipe dreams. His plan could be the start of the end of the disastrous Albany highway.

[email protected] â–  518-454-5442 â–  @chris_churchill

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