National Highway System

Even as excitement for the interstates grew, criticism was strong in areas where new roads erased the old, often wiping out entire towns along with them. In some instances local governments clashed with federal authorities seeking to use eminent domain to create new rights of way that would permanently alter or destroy neighborhoods. The Papago Freeway through Phoenix, Arizona is a modern example of how local opposition forced major changes to a nationally funded roadway. Federal contractors proposed a cluster of elevated roads passing directly through the city center, accessed by eight-story high arcing entrance and exit ramps that would have cast a literal shadow over the newly bisected downtown. After fierce debate the design was overhauled, and this stretch of Interstate 10 was constructed as a depressed highway, tucked below the landscape and hidden by pedestrian bridges and a stretch of parkland that united the halves of the neighborhood separated by the road cut.

  • A model of the original Papago Highway design, featuring the 80-foot tall “helicoil” interchange, circa 1960.

  • The completed Papago Highway, Phoenix, Arizona, 1991. Roadway passing under parkland visible at lower left.