Fun with Highways: Seattle

After New York and San Francisco, Seattle has recently been among the top cities for this site and our Facebook page. So today we are paying tribute with a visit of some of the city’s highways.

Two of the major highways in the U.S., I-5 and I-90 meet in downtown Seattle at this massive interchange:

I did actually travel to Seattle through this interchange a few years ago, while on tour with the band that would later become Reconnaissance Fly. I-5 may look wide here as it passes under I-90, but further north it felt narrow and windy, more like the highways inside New York City, with buildings on either side of us.  We took the exit for Madison Street and headed up the hill to our gig, not far from some cool-looking transmission towers (Is it weird that I actually remember these particular details?).  It was a bit of a nostalgic trip to go back and read the gig report, and see how far we’ve all come musically since then.

To the west of I-5 is State Highway 99, the Alaskan Way Viaduct. This is a double-decked elevated highway along the industrial waterfront, and actually seems quite interesting, both looking at it from the bay and for the spectacular view of the city and bay that one would see while riding it.

In some ways, it seems like the former Embarcadero Freeway in here San Francisco, including the fact that it is scheduled to also be “former” soon. Plans are to demolish the elevated highway and replace it with a tunnel, and surface boulevard that connects the downtown to the waterfront. The replacement plans seem to be as controversial as the highway itself. Both fall along predictable lines, the typical reaction of many who see a highway like this as an “eyesore”, and those who are worried about the costs of replacing it. The bored tunnel seems quite impressive, and more walkable space seems like a good concept. The replacement of the Embarcadero Freeway here with an open and walkable waterfront space seems quite successful (it was all done before my time), but I still felt a little sad seeing those last vestigial bits of the old infrastructure get demolished last year. I thought they were architecturally interesting (and photogenic). These views (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) show the underside and details of the Alaska Way Viaduct.

Hopefully the project works out well for Seattle. Demolition began earlier this year.

Transbay Terminal overpass demolition

I often walk by the overpasses that connect (or once connected) to the soon-to-be-defunct Transbay Terminal here in San Francisco, including the Fremont Street “bridge to nowhere” and the curving elevated road over Howard Street. Both have been featured in Wordless Wednesday photos on CatSynth the posts Fremont Street Overpass and Shine.

[Click the above images to visit the original posts.]

The bridge to nowhere used to connect the Fremont Street exit off of I-80 to the Transbay Terminal. The Fremont Street ramp, which included the last remaining pieces of the Embarcadero Freeway, was truncated and left this bridge hanging. It was a particular favorite “architectural feature” of mine in the city, and in fact qualified as a “Thomasson” or hyper art structure in that was present and maintained but served no purpose.

The elevated road over Howard Street continued to function as a bus entrance to the terminal.

This past week both structures were demolished, as part of the project to replace the entire Transbay Terminal with a new modern transit center. Thanks to a tip from a close friend, I went to shoot some photos of the demolition in progress.

The Fremont Street bridge is completely orphaned on both sides. Only the single arch remained.

In the second photo, one can see the “Buses Only” ramp that temporarily replaced the bridge. That ramp was completely gone already.

The Howard Street overpass was being dismantled in pieces.

One could see the metal skeleton amidst the remaining concrete sections.

Here is a short video of the Howard Street overpass demolition in progress:

By Monday, the Fremont Street overpass was completely gone. And Howard Street structure will be gone soon as well. It is sad to so them go. For me, they were landmarks, part of the architectural landscape of the neighborhood. However, in a city where people get upset easily about architectural changes and preserving landmarks, these seem to have gone largely unremarked upon. I am glad I got a chance to see the demolition and take photos before they were gone. Indeed, some of the images can be quite beautiful in their own way. There is something about aging and decaying urban infrastructure, even when it is being reduced to a pile of concrete rubble and twisted rebar. But I would have rather seen it preserved – I wonder if San Francisco can ever do anything as creative with its old infrastructure as New York did with the High Line.

I may post more images in the near future.