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City May Tear Down ‘Ugly’ Freeway

November 4, 1985

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ City supervisors considered a plan Monday to tear down the long-criticized primary downtown highway, the Embarcadero Freeway, and replace it with a tree- lined boulevard that wouldn’t obstruct the view.

While this city has traffic problems like most others, backers of the proposal argue that the aesthetic benefits of getting rid of the roadway, which many consider an eyesore, outweigh a slight increase in travel time for downtown workers.

The proposal, part of a waterfront improvement plan, has the support of the mayor, several supervisors and the city planning department, but is opposed by some who feel there’s really no good reason to raze the roadway.

The Embarcadero Freeway, a mile-long, double-deck concrete hulk that separates the city’s downtown section from the San Francisco Bay, has never been particularly popular since it first opened in 1959.

It was originally planned to stretch eventually from the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge to the Golden Gate Bridge, about six miles away.

But in the early 1960s, ″it became the victim of a freeway revolt,″ said city planning director Dean Macris. Residents complained loudly that the freeway was ugly and that to extend it would disrupt neighborhoods.

Construction stopped, and as a result ″it really is not a freeway,″ Macris says. ″It’s a very long ramp to the Bay Bridge.″

Mayor Dianne Feinstein was one of the biggest supporters of the plan to tear down the freeway.

″Through a beautiful city a raised concrete monolith is very destructive,″ Feinstein said in an interview Monday. ″It destroys views, divides neighborhoods and blights the area.″

Although plans to raze it have come before the city’s supervisors at least twice before and always had widespread support, it’s only been since 1981 that the city knew it could obtain some $87 million in federal money for the task. Since then the city has worked on planning a waterfront project that would include razing the freeway.

Any proposal to raze the elevated roadway still faces a possible veto by the regional Metropolitan Transportation Commission or the governor.

Tearing down the Embarcadero Freeway would cost about $10 million, according to city estimate, but the whole project envisioned for the waterfront will come to about $171 million, so the federal cash is crucial, officials say.

″The freeway is just a small part of the overall project,″ said Supervisor Louise Renne, who supports plans to get rid of it. ″It opens up the whole waterfront area, making it a much more attractive place.″

The plan would also redesign the roadway below the freeway, called The Embarcadero, by lining it with trees and widening it.

But not everyone thinks improving the aesthetics of the city’s waterfront is a good reason to tear down a useful freeway.

″I have no faith that the plans would function as well″ as the existing freeway, said Supervisor Richard Hongisto, a vocal opponent of the proposal.

Both San Mateo County to the south and Alameda County to the east have gone on record as opposing the plan, contending it will make life a lot harder for their residents who commute to the city.

Macris acknowledges that getting rid of the roadway will add about three minutes to the average evening commute, but he thinks the aesthetic arguments should prevail.

″Concern about what the city looks like is probably more intense here than anywhere,″ Macris said.

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