Ever wondered why the Dunn Memorial Bridge provides a ramp to thin air? Why the Livingston Avenue exit of I-90 is so overbuilt, and ends so abruptly? Why there are extra tunnels underneath the Empire State Plaza? Or why Corporate Woods has its own highway exit?
They're all vestiges of a highway system that was never built.
In the heyday of urban highway planning, there was a lot of high-speed concrete planned for Albany. Starting in the 1950s, there was a plan to build a Northside-Northway Connection, which would have been I-687, from the still-to-be-realized Exit 3 of the Northway through Colonie to Exit 5A of I-90. There was a Southside Route which would have perfectly paralleled the Thruway from Exit 24 to Exit 23, with a convenient connection to Route 85/Slingerlands Bypass, which also would have continued north to I-687. The South Mall Arterial was to have connected the Empire State Plaza complex to I-90 across the river, splitting the City of Rensselaer.
Any of these proposals would have had a tremendous impact on Albany and its immediate suburbs, but perhaps none as dramatic as the Mid-Crosstown Arterial.
The Mid-Crosstown Arterial
First appearing in a 1950 proposal, the Mid-Crosstown Arterial would have run from Exit 23 of I-87, north through the heart of the city to I-90 at Livingston Avenue. Halfway along, there would have been a massive connection to the South Mall Arterial, right at the eastern edge of Washington Park.
For much of its route we would have had a sunken four-to-six lane highway cutting through the very center of the city, except where it would have run through Washington Park. Even highway planners of 1968 had to admit there were detriments to a plan that required the taking of a chunk of Albany's most historic and beloved park, so they came up with a solution -- they'd bury the highway and its connection to the South Mall Arterial underneath the park.
The connection between the two highways would have been entirely underground. To the east, the road would have daylighted at Dove Street, filling in the space between Hudson and Jay that to this day is filled with pesky houses instead of sweetly flowing traffic, all the way to the Empire State Plaza and points beyond.
Let it not be said the engineers behind this vision were without souls. After all, they rejected the option that would have torn down every building on Willett Street (save the Presbyterian Church and one other) in order to run the highway interchange along the edge of the park. In fact, their option of building underneath the park was touted as the most feasible location for the interchange "from the standpoint of preserving the local community structure." The interchange would preserve the park in its entirety, and Willett Street and all the buildings to its east, "except those between Jay Street and Hudson Avenue," would be untouched.
So the local community structure would only have lost about 350 buildings, displacing 750 families -- small change in comparison to the impact of the Empire State Plaza. There was even the promise of a "restored" Washington Park, most of which seemed to involve moving some of the statues around and adding a block of parkland to the east where the buildings would have to be taken out for the South Mall Expressway tunnel.
It almost happened
We came perilously close to seeing this vision of high-speed access to a gutted city come to fruition. Those strangely overbuilt (and misaligned) ramps connecting Northern Boulevard to I-90 were the beginnings of I-687. Those tunnels under the Empire State Plaza that are used for storage were to be the other lanes of the Expressway. That oddly abrupt ending to the Dunn Memorial Bridge was meant to extend out over and through Rensselaer. The interchange that would have led drivers from I-90 to I-687 was completely constructed before local opposition, changes in highway plans, and funding priorities killed I-687 -- which is how Corporate Woods came to have its own highway access.
And the plan to run the Mid-Crosstown Arterial through, or under, the park led to vociferous opposition from neighborhood groups, which were just beginning to coalesce around issues of preserving Albany's history and heritage.
Credit to the website for Capital Highways for background info on some of these projects.
Carl writes about "random pieces of history from New York's Capital District" at his blog, My Non-Urban Life.
Earlier on AOA: The Livingston Avenue Bridge
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