Friday, June 20, 2008

Plan looks to turn highway into neighborhood

By Maria Garriga
Register Staff
— An aldermanic committee Thursday threw its support behind a request to approve funding for new design plans for the Route 34 connector that separates the Hill neighborhood from downtown.
The connector makes it more convenient to travel between the suburbs and the heart of the city, bypassing most city neighborhoods.
The new design would convert the expressway into an urban boulevard filled with housing, businesses and green space. The highway and its access ramps occupy 18 acres of prime downtown land.
"We are taking out a highway and putting in a neighborhood," said Alderwoman Erin Sturgis-Pascale, D-14, chairwoman of the City Services and Environmental Policy Committee. "This is the most important project we have. That’s if we do it right."
Sturgis-Pascale said the plan would reconnect the Hill and train station with downtown, add 18 acres of prime downtown landto the tax rolls, and create a more people-friendly urban design.
In her view, the right design would mix affordable housing with high-end housing, which would be interspersed with businesses; wide sidewalks and narrow streets to allow residents to use many kinds of transportation, from bicycles to trolleys; and bring nature back downtown with tree belts and open space.
The redevelopment may somewhat slow suburban commuters heading in and out of the city, Sturgis-Pascale conceded, but, with a quick grin, said it might encourage commuters to spend a little more time in the city. "They might like it, they might even move here," she chuckled.
The vast project has moved along in increments because of its sheer size and the work involved.
The City Services Committee’s recommendation will be voted on by the full board, which will authorize the city Plan Department to apply for a design grant of up to $5 million from the federal Department of Transportation, and allow the city to put a 20 percent match. To get the 20 percent match for the entire $5 million, or $1.125 million, the city would set aside $250,000 a year in its capital budget for about 5 years
The funds will allow the City Plan Department to commission a variety of site studies to examine aspects such as transportation, engineering, economic development and environmental impact.
Alderman Joseph Rodriguez, D-15, a member of the city services committee, also works as a community liaison for the Hill Development Corp. In that capacity, he has been working with Hill residents to increase their participation in the design. The City Plan Department has already provided him with community surveys it will circulate in the neighborhoods closest to Route 34.
"We are at the outreach stage," he said.
Maria Garriga can be reached at or 789-5726.

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