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December 11, 2018   
Freeway Parks Gaining Momentum  January 21, 2007

Before the 1970s, building a park over a major urban artery would have been unlikely. That was until Seattle completed Freeway Park in 1976, a 5.2-acre park that bridges a downtown section of Interstate 5 near the Washington State Convention and Trade Center.

Freeway Park has come a long way since its inception. It has overcome a high-crime period by installing better lighting, more pruning, increased security and greater public use.

The park has inspired more “deckings,” such as the 10-acre Hance Park over the Papago Freeway in Phoenix, Ariz., which connects uptown with downtown, and the three “deck parks” over Interstate 35 in Duluth, Minn. that bridge the city to the Lake Superior waterfront.

Freeway parks across the United States have been slow to develop as a whole because of the relatively-high construction costs, which put the highways underground. The costs can figure as much as $500 per square foot.

Yet two economic factors are driving new freeway park developments all over the country. The first advantage is that the land itself is usually free as part of state air rights. This can amount to millions of dollars in city center locations such as downtown Los Angeles, where land by city hall goes for between $2 and $3 million an acre, or the Balboa Park area in San Diego, where an acre can go for $13 million.

The driving force for the new breed of parks is the boost they give to private development or redevelopment in surrounding areas. Nearby housing prices often rise dramatically after parks appear over nearby freeway sections. For example, housing units in Trenton, N.J. went from $120,000 to $200,000 upon completion of a 6.5-acre deck.

Today there are over 20 highway parks in the country, several under construction and many more in the planning stages.

Peter Harnik, director of the Center for City Park Excellence, states that projects where freeways are already below grade are the most feasible and cites several high-prospect opportunities including the St. Louis, Miss. waterfront and Cincinnati’s plan to connect the downtown area (by the Ohio River corridor) to two new sports stadium.

“The real key to a successful highway park deck is the economic spinoff that’s generated,” Harnik writes. “A project needs to show its potential impact as a redevelopment tool for surrounding real estate. Only then will the rate of return give both public and private funding sources a sound idea of the value of the investment.”


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