Friday, August 08, 2008

Charlotte's own Big Dig -- without a dig

(At right: Digital rendering of Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway atop the Big Dig in Boston.)

All is takes, you see, is for a developer to be interested, and suddenly the city decides it's interested, too. At least, that's how it might look to a cynic. (Moi? Mais, non!)

It's been more than 10 years since the idea was first proposed to cap I-277 and put a park there. It's been eight years since it was included in the Center City 2010 plan.

Next week, the city's transportation department will take a serious look at the possibilities. It's part of a four-day design workshop to look at I-277 and its interchanges from Mint Street to Kenilworth. The freeway cap is sure to come up, I'm told.

Here's a tidbit that might be more than coincidental: Developer Afshin Ghazi of the EpiCentre has bought a spot of land uptown at Tryon and Morehead, overlooking the I-277 gulch. He's a smart guy and he knows that in other cities, freeways have been capped and developable land created. Columbus, Ohio, put a retail development above a freeway. In Boston the Copley Place shopping mall sits over the Mass Pike. And Boston's famous Big Dig (above) is really a freeway that's topped with a park. Of course, in Charlotte we wouldn't have to do that expensive digging part.

The caps themselves aren't all that expensive -- at least, not in the relative terms of massive freeway construction budgets. But putting development on a cap would boost city revenues. It will be interesting to see whether the original idea for a park survives.


Also, I hear that the consultants who'll do the workshop, HNTB, have been hired in Kansas City to help explore a freeway cap there.

Read my Saturday column in the Observer -- here's a link to the Opinion page for CharlotteObserver.com -- and I'll tell you more about what's happening.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

To go back to one of your prior threads, maybe you should try to think of the overstreet tunnels as really narrow freeway caps.

And I'm sorry, but at what point will we have spent enough money trying to turn the inside of 277 into a creative-class playpen? We have a revolving-door joke of a justice system and dreadful schools (and no, Mary, it ain't a perception problem - unless you mean the willful blindness of the apologists for the status quo) yet trifles like this somehow continue to become civic priorities.

Anonymous said...

The only thing that needs capping around here is local govco's ability to spend money frivolously on shiny projects... money which, it should be pointed out, is being BORROWED against projected future tax revenues which may come up short of overly optimistic projections.

Anonymous said...

Isn't Ghazi the developer who moved his headquarters into a bed and breakfast in violation of city zoning ordinances?

Anonymous said...

It's a simple matter of investment and return.

Yes, it would be expensive to cap 277. It would require money to come out of the transportation budget (not the justice system or schools as implied above), money that might otherwise go to public transit or road improvements, and possibly from other sources such as the Parks & Rec budget.

But I think it's fairly easy to see that the long-term return would most likely be much greater than the cost. IMO, the idea of a park is a tad frivolous considering there are already several parks in Uptown and South End. So developing the cap is a much more feasible solution, perhaps with a small park involved.

Assuming the cap is developed, it will be the most desirable space in the county -- directly between the museum district and the upscale end of SE, a short walk from the light rail stop. So the tax valuation of anything built there will be massive... and in the case of commercial towers will provide hundreds or thousands of high-paying jobs.

That's not even to mention that a cap would mitigate the effect of 277 in breaking the center city in half. Anyone who has moved to Charlotte in the past 25 years has little sense of what the city was like before uptown became an island... both physically and culturally. The more we can do to connect our districts, the better.

Long story short, this would cost a lot upfront but be hailed as visionary in a couple of decades. It would generate more than enough revenue to pay for itself, would potentially provide jobs and homes to thousands, and would have a positive effect on both uptown and South End. I don't know of any other transit project, including LYNX, which deserves more serious consideration on the basis of cost versus return.

Uncle Dennis said...

I have always thought that instead of capping the Belk Freeway, we just eliminate that 1.5 mile stretch entirely. Don't cap it at all, bring it up to grade. It will be an extension of Charlottetowne Road, like it once was, connecting Rte 74 from the Independence Freeway to Wilkinson Boulevard.
Being at grade does several things. It pushes the city towards Dilworth, and also removes the barrier between Myers Park, Chantilly, Elizabeth, CPCC, the Greenway, etc.
The Greenway becomes a natural draw, not unlike Riverwalk in San Antonio.
Airport traffic coming from the East could easily continue to I 85, and then to a real interchange taking traffic directly to the airport.
Cap it, no! Change it to a surface street, yes. Look at all the reclaimable taxable property along that path!
UD

Anonymous said...

Great Idea. Capping certainly has helped the revitalization of several cities. But who maintains I-277, the city or state or both?

The Columbus, Ohio project was a joint venture of the Ohio Department of Transportation and the city. From what I've seen here in NC, those Raleigh legislators aren't anxious to spend tax money on Charlotte.

I hope Ghazi and other developers had the foresight to contribute as heavily to state officials as they have to city campaigns. Something tells me moola trumps merit when it comes to getting your way here in Charlotte.

Anonymous said...

I don't see why further connecting Dilworth, South End, and Uptown should be a priority. They've all done just fine on their own. With other areas struggling, it's hard to justify even more stimulus for those. Nice neighborhoods all, but the entitlement mentaility of some of their residents is pretty baffling.

Besides South End and Uptown are already connected by street, sidewalk and rail. No two other neighborhoods in the city are so well-connected.

Anonymous said...

If it's economically viable, do it!A cap over I-277 keeps freeway traffic flowing while providing a few more block at grade unifying Uptown and South End. This could only amplify one of the most dynamic regions of the city.

Screw the cynics on this board who don't seem to like anything new that ever happens in this town. We already have the problems of living in a big city guys, shouldn't we strive to have some of the benefits of living in a big city too?

Mary, you forgot to mention the supermarket and hotel in Newton that traverse the Mass Pike as you drive into Beantown. This stuff makes sense guys.

tozmervo said...

To one of our many anonymous posters up above - "IMO, the idea of a park is a tad frivolous considering there are already several parks in Uptown and South End."

I'd love to know what parks in South End you're talking about.

Anonymous said...

I think the idea of a cap has merit. My 7 year old son and I rode our tandem bicycle to the Panthers game from Dilworth on Saturday and it is a little crazy trying to ride a bike into Center City because there are no good facilties to cross I-277. If the cap was in place I can envision a much easier bike trip or pedestrian trip into Center City. I say let's see what they come up with and who knows maybe some day it will be implemented.

Anonymous said...

My 7 year old son and I rode our tandem bicycle to the Panthers game from Dilworth on Saturday and it is a little crazy trying to ride a bike into Center City because there are no good facilties to cross I-277.

which serves as evidence for

I don't see why further connecting Dilworth, South End, and Uptown should be a priority....Nice neighborhoods all, but the entitlement mentaility of some of their residents is pretty baffling.

If you don't want to drive, Uptown is easily accessible using public transportation. Every inconvenience you encounter isn't a public policy - which is to say, everyone else's - problem.

And ditch the tandem bike. Trust me, your kid hates being seen on it.

Anonymous said...

Previous anan, how pathetic can you get...geez!

Anonymous said...

I'd love to know what parks in South End you're talking about.

Latta Park is accessible to the heart of the district, only 3 blocks from South Blvd.

I have always thought that instead of capping the Belk Freeway, we just eliminate that 1.5 mile stretch entirely. Don't cap it at all, bring it up to grade.

So you would invest the same amount of money as a cap, but instead of having developable land to show for it you'd have 8 lanes of asphalt.

Anonymous said...

While a park sounds like a nice idea, South End, Dilworth, and Elizabeth all have fine connectivity to Center City for pedestrians that cross you either under or over 277. It isn't necessarily pretty or green, but it works.

Right now, IMO, we have much more basic needs not being met in many areas. Fix the crime, fix the schools, fix transportation in all area. Then build fancy things.

AG said...

I am in favor of the cap.

But there is one HUGE problem that has not been mentioned yet, at least not directly.

The "island" effect has served Uptown very well. With out it there would be no clear markers to what is and is not Uptown.

Uptown Charlotte has a very different feel to the rest of downtowns in the south. It has helped it to stay compact when it had no natural barriers to growth(bodies of water, mountains, etc.) even through the post war/ auto boom.

This, however, is not an impediment. It simply needs to be understood that this demarcation line is an asset to Uptown and all of its surrounding neighborhoods.

I only hope this asset is recognized and preserved in some way.

That visual cue needs to be present so everyone is clear as to what is Uptown and what is not.

PS
I am aware of the contentious history of I-277 (The destruction of the Brooklyn neighborhood.) And that it was not built until the 70's.

But what is done is done and we should all the benefits out of it as possible.

Tom said...

ag,

A perceptive point, but I think the "island" effect will stay in place since there would be towers all the way up to the edge of the cap. It would be pretty easy to recognize the point at which the park ends and the skyscraper "canyon" begins.

But you are right, 277 has had the same effect for Charlotte as Lake Michigan has had for Chicago. As much as the urbanist in me wants it buried, that might not be the best thing for the district as a whole.

Anonymous said...

I find it difficult to believe that as the city and county prioritize the use of available funds, THIS comes anywhere near the top. We have a crippled criminal justice system that is not going to be fixed merely by having a new police chief: it will take tens of millions in ongoing spending for DA's office and courts. We have a serious infrastructure problem looming with regard to water capacity. We have street and road issues in abundance. And we have a school board, city council and county commission who tell us they do not have enough money to maintain basic police, fire and educational services.

Where, pray tell, do they see money for optional frills when they repeatedly tell us that they're on the edge of financial collapse?

Tom said...

^ Money for this would come out of the transportation budget and possibly the parks & rec budget. None of those other issues are relevant to whether this project happens.

Relative to other proposed transporation and parks issues, this project would seem to have the greatest upside in terms of tax revenue, not to mention creating a new neighborhood out of thin air in a critical location.