Highway 16 was routed along city streets running through the heart of downtown. In 1963, the Metropolitan Edmonton Transportation Study (METS) identified the need for an expanded freeway system to handle the growing urban population. The study was published in 1969 and featured an overall transit plan in store for the provincial capital, the most infamous part being the downtown freeway loop – a tight, roughly 8 km loop of freeways that would encircle downtown and connect to a multitude of radial freeways to each corner of the city. Sounds like a Robert Moses pipe dream, yet with the automobile becoming the most dominant form of transportation, this was fairly standard for urban planners at the time.
During the 70’s era of freeway development, a growing backlash from the public was beginning to bubble over the surface. Known as the Freeway Revolts, many major cities in North America (including New York, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, etc.) became wary of unchecked freeway development throughout the heart of their downtown cores. Many planned freeways suddenly became unfashionable, as these routes would effectively bulldoze through sections of town where many of its poorest residents live, cited as ‘run-down’ or ‘blighted’. Learning the lessons from previous freeway construction through downtowns, the cost was far beyond financial. Historic neighbourhoods, many of which included areas where minorities had formed thriving communities, had been razed. The displacement of so many residents caused great alarm, especially with federal and state contractors buying up properties for right-of-ways, or otherwise using eminent domain to claim such properties. Grassroots movements from residents who were potentially affected by these acquisitions successfully stopped these planned freeways. Fortunately for Edmonton, the downtown loop was deemed unfeasible and the METS plan was scrapped in favour of a Light Rail Transit system.
Though these freeway proposals were eventually rescinded, there are vestiges of the METS plan that exist today. If you drive around the area south of downtown near the interchange at 98 Ave and Connors Rd, you’ll notice a tangled mess of flyover ramps and exits. This was part of the planned downtown freeway stretching east and west down River Valley Rd, with a connection to Groat Rd. East of Downtown on 101 Ave/Baseline Rd, the carriageway going through Refinery Row seems much wider than an arterial needs to be. This would have been the eastern section of the freeway connecting to what is now Anthony Henday Drive. On the west side through what was Jasper Place, the freeway’s western section would have been where Stony Plain Rd and 100 Ave make their one-way couplet.
Had the METS plan been approved and built, Edmonton would be a very different city today, especially considering the multitude of historically registered buildings in where these freeways would have gone. Development of the downtown core would have been much more difficult compared with the current state it is in. With the opening of the Edmonton International Airport in Leduc and the decommissioning of the downtown airport, I’d think that there would have been some freeway removals to facilitate the current growth of Edmonton’s downtown. With the continual cycle of construction and maintenance, imagine having to remove old freeways to that as well!