Could underground highways provide more opportunity for above-ground development?
- Cities are increasingly looking to replace aging infrastructure and revive once-thriving neighborhoods by routing highways underground and installing parks and green spaces atop decks, according to the Huffington Post.
- These "highway cap parks" are popping up in Dallas, Denver and other cities where previous highway construction in the 1960s and 1970s split up urban neighborhoods, often devastating them economically. These same areas are now in desirable urban cores, and metros are finding that the additional park space is attractive to companies contemplating relocation. Such parks also have been shown to raise property values for adjacent land, translating into more tax revenue.
- Critics of these projects say they're being used to cover the issues created by highways, such as noise and air pollution, with expensive land that may not be as high in quality as parks that are located away from busy roadways.
In Denver, the initial construction of Interstate 70 split up Hispanic neighborhoods, but the argument that a cap park will correct what construction might have destroyed hasn't won everyone over. New neighborhood dynamics have emerged during the decades construction began. Meanwhile, some critics have accused project officials of gentrification since existing businesses and homes in the still predominantly Hispanic area will have to be relocated to make way for the new park's construction over the revamped $2.2 billion I-70 project.
Because these park-capped roadways are often more expensive than the average highway project, funding will likely become an issue. Financing concerns could be compounded if President Donald Trump's $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan is passed by Congress. The plan would limit federal funding for transportation projects that are not of national importance, placing the majority of the financial burden on state and local agencies.
Projects like the I-70 expansion, however, could pave the way for public-private partnerships (P3s) to play a significant role in relieving such financial pressures on local governments. In Denver, Kiewit Meridiam Partners (KMP) will design, build, finance and operate the I-70 project and then maintain it for 30 years for the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT). Construction is expected to cost $1.3 billion, but total payments to KMP during the 30-year contract will exceed $2 billion. KMP will absorb cost overruns, and CDOT will pay the consortium from toll revenue.
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