Stantec, a global leader in sustainable design and engineering, was selected by the City of Rochester, New York, to lead preliminary design for the Inner Loop North Transformation Project. The estimated US$100 million project is one of many underway across the country aimed at reconnecting communities divided by the construction of highways in the mid-twentieth century.
“For more than six decades, we have partnered with the City of Rochester on an array of projects instrumental in building a stronger, better-connected community,” said Jim Hofmann, senior principal and project manager at Stantec. “We are thrilled to be involved in the next phase of the Inner Loop’s transformation and look forward to creating a new corridor that meets the needs of all users, reconnects neighborhoods, and opens parcels for equitable redevelopment and green space.”
The Inner Loop was conceived in the early 1950s at a time when Rochester’s population was growing rapidly. The 6-lane, 2.7-mile sunken highway was intended to position the City to compete with its growing car-oriented suburbs, but by the time construction was completed in 1965, Rochester’s population had started to decline. Like many other urban highway construction projects at the time, hundreds of homes and businesses were torn down and community connections were severed.
In 1991, the City completed a comprehensive plan that called for the removal of the southeastern portion of the corridor, and in 2014, the Inner Loop East Transformation Project kicked off, fueled by a $17 million federal grant. Stantec provided planning, scoping, preliminary design, final design, and construction support for the project, which was completed in 2018. The result transformed 2/3 of a mile of the sunken highway into an at-grade local street, restoring the original city grid and reconnecting neighborhoods cut off from downtown. Pedestrian mobility improved by 13 percent and bicycle mobility by 90 percent from 2014 to 2022. The revitalized corridor won multiple industry awards and the City estimates it has led to more than $400 million in new investments, including housing, businesses, and amenities.
The Inner Loop North Transformation Project seeks to continue this momentum in the northern portion of the corridor. New York State Governor Kathy Hochul committed $100 million to the project in March 2022. The City completed a planning study last year that identified a preferred design concept that will transform 1.5 miles of the highway into a complete street network, consolidating travel lanes, parallel service roads, and on- and off-ramps into at-grade, traffic-calmed, city streets. Pedestrian and bicycle safety will be prioritized throughout. The City also plans to add green space and identify opportunities for equitable redevelopment. There will be extensive opportunities for public input on both transportation design and future land use.
A growing trend to reconnect communities
Cities across the US are grappling with how to deal with aging, urban highways constructed in the 1950s and ’60s, often in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Some cities are choosing to rebuild in place while others are seeking opportunities for transformation. The Congress for the New Urbanism, a nonprofit that advocates for walkable urbanism, is tracking 33 proposed projects in 28 cities. Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced grants for 45 projects through the new Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program, a first-of-its-kind initiative to reconnect communities that are cut off from opportunity and burdened by past transportation infrastructure decisions. Stantec has been building a portfolio of these projects across the US.
Ninety miles away from Rochester, the City of Syracuse was one of the grant recipients for its I-81 Viaduct Project, which seeks to address structural deficiencies and outdated highway standards along a 12-mile corridor. The proposed solution involves demolishing the existing 1.4-mile elevated section, or “viaduct,” and dispersing traffic throughout the city grid. Stantec completed the original planning study and is now partnering with KC Engineering & Land Surveying and CNY Alliance to provide design services for the second contract of the project, which will divert interstate traffic out of the city to the southern portion of I-481 (which will be converted to I-81). This second contract is valued at $384.5 million.
Between Rochester and Syracuse, in the Town of Phelps, the deck and superstructure of a grade-separated intersection of NYS Route 96 and NYS Route 14 are deteriorating. Stantec is leading an intersection redesign analysis to determine the feasibility and potential benefit of eliminating the structure in favor of an at-grade intersection. In the New York state capitol, an underused highway ramp was transformed into the Albany Skyway, a vibrant linear park offering direct access between the city and the Hudson River. The Congress for the New Urbanism awarded Stantec a 2023 Charter Award for the firm’s role in the project, which included planning, design, and construction support.
Stantec’s role in urban highway transformation reaches beyond New York State. Earlier this year, the firm was selected to lead planning for a proposed deck plaza in El Paso, Texas, which would cap the I-10 for a length of 2,300 feet in the downtown core, creating room for redevelopment and public spaces. Stantec was also part of the team that worked to cap 2.25 miles of railroad tracks in Downtown Reno, as well as leading conceptual design for the subsequent beautification project.
Learn more about the work Stantec is doing to restore neighborhood connections and reimagine the transportation barriers that have long divided them.
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