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Rethinking life without the JFX

Plan: A developer suggests razing part of the elevated freeway downtown, as other cities have, to foster renewal.

March 09, 2005|By Jill Rosen | Jill Rosen,SUN STAFF

John Norquist, Milwaukee's former mayor, heard plenty of naysaying when he suggested tearing down his city's elevated freeway. But Norquist, who's now president of the Congress for the New Urbanism, an organization that advocates creative metropolitan planning and alternatives to sprawl, says such obtrusive roadways have no business in urban areas.

"It ruins property values, it destroys the aesthetics of a neighborhood - it sort of creates a dead zone," he says. "Building a freeway in the city is like loosening your belt to solve obesity."

Despite the challenges, Norquist sold Milwaukee his plan with two promises. First, property values would rise if the highway fell. Second, that while demolition would be expensive, it would cost even more to maintain the highway.

Over the last 3 1/2 years, Baltimore spent $20 million to repair the JFX from Kelly Avenue in Mount Washington to Eager Street, according to David Brown, the city's transportation department spokesman. Despite the expense, Brown says the JFX is vital, with its ability to speed people directly into downtown without the grief of miles of traffic lights.

"The JFX is relevant and will always be relevant," Brown says, "because it's the fastest way to get to our most-sought-after attractions at the Inner Harbor."

The plan that will be unveiled today isn't the first to recommend tearing down the JFX.

In 1991, a mayoral commission, led by Sondheim and involving more than 300 people, recommended razing the JFX to open up East Baltimore. That plan was just one facet of a long-term development strategy for downtown, meant to guide the city over 20 years.

Fourteen years later, the city apparently hasn't gotten to that part in the guide.

Yet Edison is prepared to join Sondheim and wait.

"You can't just say no because you think it would be hard to do," Bell says. "They may not have money now, but in the future, who knows?"

Sun staff writer Eric Siegel contributed to this article.

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