Is there a last word on the Arterial road? Probably not. It’s too soon to say!
One thing is for sure: The Arterial road exists. If it were built over, the original problem would be restored: It would take too long, be too tedious, to travel across Auburn, especially on the west side.
Another thing is for sure: The Arterial road was not built "for the convenience of the automobile." Automobiles do not have volition — yet. The Arterial was built for the convenience of motorists (drivers) or, in other words, people — you and I — who want to get to where we’re going quickly.
People, in their guise as motorists, brought about the Arterial. As Pogo said — well, you know what Pogo said.
From Fingerlakes Crossing, using the Arterial, I can get to Seymour Library in a few minutes, which would not have been possible in the old days. And police, fire and ambulance can get where they have to go more quickly, and (probably) save more lives.
Among the buildings sacrificed for the Arterial was the State Street Armory. Built in the early 1870s, this stone, towered building served for decades as a site for balls, assemblies, speeches and concerts, as well as sporting events. Secretary of State Robert Lansing spoke in the Armory in 1918 as part of the Auburn Theological Seminary’s centennial. It was a veritable civic center, as much a candidate for the “heart” of the city as any other.
It could have stood for a thousand years, and were it to come on the market today, would be made into condominiums.
Also a victim of the road’s building was the synagogue located on Seminary Avenue, a short distance down from the seminary. It was a handsome, substantial building, dating from the 1920s, able to accommodate some 250 worshippers.
Another casualty of the Arterial may have been the first Presbyterian church (where the OTB now stands). Its tower collapsed in April 1973, possibly because of tremors caused by road construction.
Land is limited in Auburn; it is not the South Bronx, where the Cross Bronx Expressway might have been shifted a little to spare some neighborhoods. Once the decision to build the Arterial was made, these structures— like Central High School — would have been too close to the road for comfort.
At least the flatiron building was replaced by a park, not a parking lot.
As for the Loop Road, it was very destructive. But it does allow the motorists — like me — to go home without going through the main business district. And as Connie Reilley has pointed out, the Loop Road does provide a route around the business district while it's closed for special events. Be careful about fiddling with it!
Through urban renewal, Auburn lost a sense of urban density. In the old crowded commercial streets, with their shadows and clanging trolley cars, one had more sense of being in a city. (How do I know? I can imagine it!) With the new breweries, maybe a sense of this is slowly coming back?
As for the high schools, maybe consolidation would have come anyway. The old system was parochial, tribal and expensive. This way, everybody knows everybody else. There are fewer “others.”
The future of the Arterial road is in front of it. The parkway effect of wide grassy medians and shoulders should be continued east as far as possible as the old residential stock on Grant Avenue gradually wears out. This may take decades, but Auburn may end up with a “central greenway” yet.
Gallery: Archive images of urban renewal in Auburn and the Arterial's installation
The '60s and '70s in Auburn saw the construction of the Arterial highway, the demolition and replacement of several downtown buildings through the City Center Urban Renewal Project, and the creation of Loop Road. Here are several images from that transformative time in the city's history.