Foss: Time to tear down I-787

Albany's I-787 looking north.
Albany's I-787 looking north.

Waterfronts are in vogue. 

Communities throughout New York are working to improve access to their waterfronts, having recognized, somewhat belatedly, that people like being near the water. 

This energy is perhaps most visible in Schenectady, where Mohawk Harbor has supplanted an ugly brownfield and opened the riverfront up to recreation, entertainment and luxury living. 

But there are signs of progress in other riverfront communities, such as Amsterdam and Troy, and if I had to rate Capital Region enthusiasm for redeveloping its waterfront, I’d say it’s at an all-time high. 

Which is why I’m optimistic that an idea that once seemed so pie-in-the-sky as to be utterly fanciful has now entered the realm of the possible. 

I’m talking about tearing down Interstate 787, the region’s biggest barrier to what ought to be one of its biggest attractions. 

This monstrous highway system separates the city of Albany from its waterfront and hides it from visitors, concealing the Hudson behind a giant, maze-like wall of concrete and blacktop. 

Getting rid of this unsightly infrastructure has long appealed to me, but I’ve never been convinced it was doable. 

Until now. 

With more cities – including Rochester, Syracuse and Buffalo – looking to demolish ill-advised urban highways, I’ve come to believe that knocking down all or part of I-787 is perfectly doable. 

And I’m not the only one. 

On March 11, the civic luncheon series the Albany Roundtable will host a discussion on the impact of I-787 on the city’s waterfront. 

Scott Townsend, principal of Troy-based 3tarchitects, will present in-depth studies showing how the highway can be reimagined so that Albany can regain access to its waterfront. 

“There is no better time than now for the city of Albany to recapture and embrace its waterfront,” the flyer for the event proclaims. “Come and see how Albany and the Hudson River can interact with one another again.” 

One local Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, D-Albany, has said she wants the state Department of Transportation to study the feasibility of removing I-787 to better connect the city of Albany to its waterfront.

This is a good idea.

A feasibility study would provide a much clearer picture of just how much it might cost to rip out all or part of I-787, and what might be gained by doing so. It should also address the cost of maintaining the status quo. What does the region lose when a multi-lane highway makes it difficult to access or develop waterfront? 

Boston, San Francisco and Seattle have all razed highways to spur economic development. Just this week, the New York City Council proposed tearing down the crumbling Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and building a three-mile long tunnel to replace it. 

Over the past two decades, the Capital Region’s riverfronts have become a lot more accessible.

But there’s still plenty of work to be done. 

Tearing down I-787 is an idea whose time has come. 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. 

Categories: News, Opinion

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