Building a park over I-277 lingers on Charlotte’s ‘wouldn’t it be nice’ list

Building a park over I-277 lingers on Charlotte’s ‘wouldn’t it be nice’ list

Photos: Courtesy Center City Partners

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“Capping” I-277, a two-decades-old idea to construct public space atop the freeway, was largely left out of Charlotte’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan draft, but the concept remains on the city’s bucket list.

Why it matters: Where highways divided neighborhoods and disrupted the walkability Charlotte once had, a freeway cap would reconnect Uptown and South End, two of Charlotte’s busiest districts.

Yes, but: In the 20 years since the cap was first proposed in 2001, development has boomed in those neighborhoods. “Does the south side of town need any more incentive or momentum?” architect and developer David Furman says now.

  • Amid protests for racial justice last summer, the city refocused some of its priorities to target issues of mobility and equity.
  • ICYMI: Charlotte ranked last in a 2014 study of economic mobility in the country’s 50 largest cities.

“If you put a big, bold idea out there in Charlotte now that’s strictly under the heading of ‘wouldn’t it be nice if this would happen?’ … it does not have the priority,” over issues like Charlotte’s affordable housing crisis, Furman says.

south end no freeway cap

Now: I-277 connecting Uptown with South End and Dilworth neighborhoods. (Photos: Courtesy Charlotte Center City Partners)

south end freeway cap

Proposed vision: A “cap park” connecting Uptown with South End and Dilworth.

Details: If a cap does one day happen, which Charlotte Center City Partners CEO and president Michael Smith hopes is the case, it’ll include public space like a park and commercial activation.

  • The more connected and walkable our neighborhoods are, the more “Charlotte wins,” Smith says.
  • While it wasn’t referenced by name in the 2040 Comprehensive Plan draft, Center City Partners did discuss a cap park during a Facebook Live segment going over their 2040 Vision Plan, with renderings to illustrate how it could look (go to 1:27:00).
  • In the 2020 vision plan, the cap was proposed as a community gathering place that would host seasonal festivals and concerts and serve as a destination akin to Chicago’s Millennium Park or New York’s High Line.
  • There’s no estimated cost yet, Smith says. A past iteration of the cap was estimated to cost up to $300 million in 2009.
freeway cap 2010 vision plan

A freeway cap was first included in Charlotte’s 2010 vision plan created in 2001.

While the cap remains in limbo, Smith says they hope to use that idea to reunite highway-divided neighborhoods elsewhere in Charlotte. “Reconnecting these neighborhoods needs to be a priority of ours at all points of 277,” he says.

  • At the northwest edge of Uptown, a nonprofit wants to convert the rail yard into a massive central park called Queens Park.
  • The 2040 vision plan also proposes a redesign of the West Trade Street on- and off-ramps to I-77 to free up more land for development.

There’s also the pedestrian Rail Trail bridge to connect South End and Uptown, scheduled to be completed by spring 2023. Now the question is: How nice will it end up being? “Do we have the vision and the courage and the perseverance to make things happen that are beyond the normal baseline solutions? That’s what make cities special,” Furman says.


Proposed design of the pedestrian bridge of I-277 to connect South End and Uptown. (Rendering via City of Charlotte, by Depeña Studio)

What’s next: The city is seeking feedback on the vision plan draft as a whole. Its next speaker series is Tuesday, January 12 at 11:30 a.m. Adoption of the proposal will happen this spring.

Before you go: Instead of a cap park, what about a river? The hashtag “#Make277ARiver” has floated its way around social media in the past year, but it’s not out of realm of possibility. “I love it,” Smith says, laughing. “Crazier things have been done.”

Go deeper: Highway construction harmed Black neighborhoods in Charlotte. Now leaders are trying to “untangle” past mistakes

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