New Haven removes badly-planned highway to reconnect and revitalize downtown

The city of New Haven, Connecticut, is leveraging $36 million in federal TIGER grants to convert an urban-renewal-era highway spur into more of a pedestrian-friendly boulevard, opening up 10 acres of land in the city center for development in the process.

The highway connector, Route 34, links Interstates 91 and 95 with downtown, dumping high-speed traffic onto parallel frontage roads before it comes to a sudden end. Originally conceived in the 1950s as a through connection to the suburbs, the connector was never completed, and instead has acted as both a physical and visual barrier between the downtown district and Yale University’s sprawling medical complex, a struggling neighborhood known as the Hill, where roughly 40 percent of residents live below the U.S. federal poverty line, and Union Station, the city’s main transit hub.

By transforming the highway into a boulevard that slows traffic and links with downtown cross streets, the city hopes to knit the neighborhoods back together.

A reweaving of the city grid is really the heart of the idea,” says Herbert S. Newman, a highly regarded architect who has been deeply involved in New Haven planning issues over the years and is a faculty member at Yale’s School of Architecture. “New Haven has an opportunity now that it is understood that Route 34 was a great divider.

Construction has started on the New Haven Downtown Crossing/Route 34 East project. This is the City of New Haven’s plan to transform Route 34 East, from Union Avenue to Park Street in downtown, from highway stub to slower speed, city streets. These city streets will bridge the gap between New Haven’s Downtown (its business, government, arts and entertainment, and education centers) and its Medical District and Hill neighborhoods. The Hill and the Medical District, in particular, were separated from the heart of the Downtown when the highway was constructed in the 1950s.

Today, Route 34 East of the Air Rights Garage is a physical and psychological barrier between the medical district and the larger Downtown area. Access to Union Station will also be improved; it is a major stop for both Amtrak and Metro-North rail service.

At Full Build, the Downtown Crossing/Route 34 East project will reclaim 10 acres of land, currently occupied by expressway stubs and ramps, and make it available for development, including residential, retail, and health care and research facilities. The new city streets will be designed at a scale suitable and safe for all forms of transportation: pedestrians, bikes, public transit, and vehicles.

A primary goal of the Downtown Crossing/Route 34 East project is to develop a livable, walkable community while providing local and regional connectivity. With housing and shopping linked to nearby transit and more comfortable streets for pedestrians and bicycles, this project will encourage increased physical activity and reduce air and noise pollution associated with automobile travel, supporting the City’s sustainable growth objectives.

Phase 1 of the project is now under construction. Exit 3 has been closed permanently in order to allow for development of the first parcel (Parcel D or 100 College Street). 100 College Street, a 495,000 s.f. med/lab building, will be the future home of Alexion Pharmaceuticals, a world-class bioscience company. The project will provide approximately 960 jobs upon completion in 2015.

Phase 2 of the project recently gained approval from the New Haven Board of Aldermen. In Phase 2, Orange street will be re-connected at grade and provide a seamless connection between the Ninth Square District of Downtown and Union Station. Phase 2 opens up the adjacent 4-acre Coliseum site for a 1.1 million s.f. development by the Montreal-based placemaking firm, Live Work Learn Play.

Phase 3 completes the project and will include the connections to Church Street and Temple Street as well as the final condition for the two frontage roads, MLK Boulevard (westbound) and South Frontage Road (eastbound).

Road and infrastructure design work is led by Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB Americas). PB Americas leads a multi-disciplinary firm to plan the urban design, traffic operations, stormwater management, infrastructure and utility aspects of this multi-year project.

See full Next City article by Lisa Prevost.

See New Haven Downtown Crossing/Route 34 East website & photo credits.

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