Rochester's Inner Loop is an idea whose time never came. Now it appears that the city will finally get a chance to fix part of this costly miscalculation.
Last Friday, Rep. Louise Slaughter and Mayor Thomas Richards announced that a long-sought $17.7 million federal grant has been secured, giving a green light to plans to reconstruct a 2/3-mile section of the sunken expressway on the east side, from west of Monroe Avenue almost to East Main Street. In its place will be a street-level boulevard and some nine acres of land ready for mixed-use development.
This proposal, which has been discussed and studied for years, has broad support in the community. In an RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll conducted in December 2011, for example, two-thirds of respondents backed the plan.
Among those who oppose redevelopment, some seem to think the Inner Loop's time may yet arrive. How likely is that, however, if this expressway was built for a city that had 330,000 residents in the early 1960s but today has barely 210,000?
Others argue that filling in the Inner Loop East would be expensive. The total project cost of roughly $25 million is not pocket change, but leaving an aging expressway and several structurally deficient bridges in place has a price too.
Still, the real cost of maintaining this stretch of the overbuilt, underused Inner Loop would be lost opportunity. It occupies some of the most valuable real estate in the city, separating the East End from vibrant east side neighborhoods like Park Avenue, the Neighborhood of the Arts and the South Wedge. Removing this barrier would restore a connection and allow new retail, commercial and residential development, plus additional green space.
It also would bring a substantial improvement in quality of life. The Inner Loop is a gash in the urban landscape that discourages walkers and bikers; an at-grade boulevard would create a much more livable environment.
There are no sure things, of course. To achieve the potential city officials and others envision, with additional jobs and a growing tax base, will require substantial private investment. But common sense-plus a long list of supportive stakeholders-tells you this is a good bet.
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