Saying it was time to address problems created by construction of the Vine Street Expressway, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx joined Philadelphia officials Monday to announce a new initiative to address those problems.
The expressway, part of I-676, opened in 1991, connecting I-95 to the Schuylkill Expressway while dividing Chinatown and other neighborhoods, adversely impacting businesses and pedestrians, the officials said.
"Here at this very intersection, the expressway has a troubling impact," Mayor Kenney said during a news conference at 10th Street Plaza, which crosses over the expressway and its brisk traffic.
"Every school day, we have hundreds of K-through-eighth grade students crossing Vine Street to get to Holy Redeemer Chinese Catholic School and the FACTS Charter School," he said.
"This expressway has also had a blighting influence on nearby businesses and has hampered safe pedestrian access to beautiful Franklin Square."
Foxx, who reportedly got caught in traffic, resulting in the news conference's starting 15 minutes late, announced that Philadelphia is one of four cities to win his department's "Every Place Counts" design challenge.
Selected from among 33 submissions from around the country, Philadelphia and the other three cities - Spokane, Wash.; St. Paul, Minn.; and Nashville - each will receive a Transportation Department design session that will convene elected officials, urban planners, designers, and residents to work on selected transportation problems.
Philadelphia's session on the Vine Street Expressway will be July 14 and 15.
"Each of these communities have projects that, like this one, created a line of separation, and they're very interested in finding ways to re-create those connections," Foxx said at the news conference.
"Through the Every Place Counts initiative, we're going to not only learn new ways to connect people again, but they're going to serve as examples to the rest of the country for how design can play a role in building a new infrastructure in the 21st century," the secretary added.
John Chin, executive director of the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corp., said that in addition to the expressway's posing danger for schoolchildren and dividing Chinatown, the Callowhill neighborhood, and the medical school campuses of Drexel University and Hahnemann University, it creates pollution.
"Imagine, over 10,000 cars pass through here every single day, and just imagine the pollutants that come up from the highway," Chin said.
City Councilman Mark Squilla, who represents the area, said all ideas for mitigating the divide and other problems will be on the table - including putting a cover on the roadway so green space or parking can be placed on top.
Chin said a covered expressway would dramatically cut down on pollution and has been done in Boston.
"We're looking to try to activate the space," Squilla said.
"I'm not sure what's going to come out of this, but whatever the needs of the community are and their concerns, hopefully by doing this design we're able to incorporate those concerns, then come up with a way to fix it."