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Mass transit focus can provide more value than I-95 removal, says city transportation leader

I-95 is one of the country’s most prolific highways, running between Maine and Florida. For the most part the highway runs uninterrupted, except for a small gap in the Trenton, NJ-area. With this in mind, a movement to remove the highway from the Delaware River waterfront landscape between the Ben Franklin and Walt Whitman Bridges is gaining steam. The idea of reclaiming the city’s waterfront by removing the highway, or merely burying it, was discussed at the Re-Imagining Urban Highways forum last week at the Academy of Natural Sciences.

Speakers at Re-Imagining Urban Highways came from across the country, and represented the municipal, academic, and journalistic spheres. They include Aaron Naparstek of the transportation planning website StreetsBlog, Peter Park of Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, Thomas Deller of Providence, RI’s Department of Planning and Development, and Ashwan Balakrishnan with the South Bronx River Watershed Alliance. They discussed successful and current efforts to remove urban highways around the world, and the realized and potential benefits of removal.  

The final two speakers were Diana Lind, the editor in chief of Next American City, and Andrew Stober, the Chief of Staff for Philadelphia’s Office of Transportation and Utilities, both of whom gave a local perspective. Lind was the chief proponent of creating a dialogue about removing or burying I-95, as she cited other highways and arterials that motorists could detour on to avoid the highway. Unfortunately, some of these highways are as far away as South Jersey and the western suburbs. Lind revealed that she’ll be circulating a petition to PennDOT in favor of altering I-95 this week.  

As one of the most influential people in Philadelphia’s Office of Transportation and Utilities, Stober had one of the evening's more interesting points of view. While willing to discuss the merits of burying or removing I-95, he concentrated on other improvements that could be made to the city and region’s transportation network. Stober’s main focus was on mass transit, which he called “an incredible endowment from previous generations.” He showcased the city’s proposals for Columbus Blvd., which include a light-rail line running down the median.

Stober preferred to concentrate on transit access because it “gives us more bang for the buck than dealing with the highway.” The chief of staff also lamented the unwillingness of some state and federal lawmakers to fund transportation and infrastructure, given that it’s not a glamorous topic for many voters. He cited the multitude of constituent feedback to puppy mill legislation, and compared it to the relative silence from voters on transportation legislation. Apparently, bridges and trains will never be as cute as pug and Labrador puppies.   

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: Andrew Stober, Philadelphia Office of Transportation and Utilities
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