Baltimore Considers Freeway Removal

Although those at the top of the city's political pyramid have been mum about the fate of the Jones Falls Expressway, which just turned 50 years old, a group of Baltimore's entrepreneurs are pushing to rethink the area now occupied by the roadway.

Will Baltimore be the next city to embrace the movement replacing elevated urban expressways with boulevards, redevelopment, and public amenities around the world? With the now 50-year-old Jones Falls Expressway (JFX) approaching its expiration date, Mat Edelson reports on the efforts of a group of entrepreneurs, led by Edison Parking, a major owner of land in close proximity to the expressway, who view "taking down of the JFX as key to redeveloping an area that would reach east to the blighted Old Town neighborhood (and beyond that to Hopkins Hospital) and west to Mount Vernon and the Downtown business district. "

Outlined in a sixty-page PowerPoint entitled "Fallsway: A New Downtown Neighborhood for Baltimore, MD...The study, with input from traffic planners Gorove/Slade Associates, University of Maryland School of Architecture and Planning professor Matthew J. Bell, and land use planners AB Associates, is, to say the least, ambitious. Renderings include a widened, greened boulevard in place of the JFX, including pictures of a park sitting on the banks of a river, presumably the opened Jones Falls."

"The gist of the message-one which, if successful, would greatly enhance the value of Edison's current holdings-is that the only thing standing in the way of a phenomenal new neighborhood and millions of dollars in new property taxes and sales tax for the city is that darn highway. Al Barry of AB Associates says that's not just his opinion, but that of some city planners as well; he notes that the Old Town redevelopment master plan calls for the JFX's elevated portion teardown (Barry was on the Old Town plan's steering committee, which also called for development of Edison's properties)."

So what do city officials think of the plan? According to Edelson, "Despite the potential revitalization dollars, no one is talking deals down in City Hall. In fact, no one's talking at all about the future of the JFX. The mayor's office offered no comment, while a spokesperson for City Council President Jack Young said: 'It's not something the Council President is focused on at the moment.' A similar lack of interest was expressed by the Greater Baltimore Committee, which has seen Edison's proposal."

It may be up to an unlikely alliance of civic activists and large property owners to push public officials into action.

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