Rochester, N.Y., has selected Stantec for a $4.5-million contract to lead preliminary design of its Inner Loop North Transformation Project, which it estimates will cost about $100 million. Plans call for a partially sunken highway to be removed to reunite neighborhoods divided by the road’s construction in the 1950s and ‘60s.

City officials expect construction to begin in 2027 and be completed the following year. Last year, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the $100 million in funds for the project were included in the state Dept. of Transportation’s five-year capital plan. 

City officials said in a statement that, in parallel with the design phase, they would develop concepts for future land use in the area. Mayor Malik D. Evans said the planning would “focus on equity, sustainability and the reconnection of our neighborhoods and residents.”

Hundreds of homes and businesses were demolished to make way for the Inner Loop, which met Interstate 490 at two points to form a six-lane, 2.7-mile ring around downtown Rochester in an attempt to better accommodate drivers. Instead, city officials now say not only was it overbuilt and underutilized, it severed a community. 

The project covers the remaining 1.5-mile segment of the Inner Loop. It would fill in the sunken highway, remove seven bridges over it and replace the highway travel lanes, parallel service roads and on and off ramps, according to city records. The work would then restore the corridor at-grade to better connect with the surrounding community street grid and improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists. 

Like many other highway projects that cut through cities at the time, the Inner Loop construction primarily had a negative impacted on Black residents. Today, the Inner Loop North area’s population of about 8,000 is 45% Black and 30% Hispanic, according to a city study from last year. The median household income in the area is $16,000, compared to $35,590 across Rochester as a whole. 

“We’re really focused on equitable outcomes for this project,” says Jim Hofmann, senior principal and project manager at Stantec. “As we go through the scoping and preliminary design phase, there’s a lot of coordination and discussions that are taking place with the local communities.”

Rochester_map_ENR.jpgThe project would cover the remaining 1.5-mile segment of the Inner Loop. Map courtesy of city of Rochester

Planning to remove the Inner Loop began in the early 1990s. The smaller eastern portion was removed in an earlier $22-million project completed in 2017. Stantec designed that project, and Concrete Applied Technologies Corp. of Alden, N.Y., was the general contractor, records show. Rochester officials say the project opened up nearly 6 acres of land, which drew $400 million in private investment to build housing and other redevelopments. 

Hofmann says the Inner Loop East project team had significant community engagement, which helped refine the final design with features like a cycle track, which he hopes to extend with the new project. 

“It’s been wonderful from a community standpoint,” he says.

The project would also add green space and create room for new development. Hofmann estimates about 22 acres could be opened up by the project. He anticipates about 8 acres of that area would be dedicated for green space, such as restoring Franklin Square, a park that was cut nearly in half by the Inner Loop’s construction, and adding room for a playground and ball fields at World of Inquiry School, which currently has no green space.

Like the predecessor project, the current project will include input from local residents, Hofmann says.