One of those highways was in Portland and Floyd McKay has a great column about the history of Portland's "viaduct moment," when they made a choice between more highways through downtown and using that money instead for transit:
Amen Floyd. Read the entire thing here.
To your right is a stubbed-off exit ramp into southeast Portland. The aborted "Mount Hood" Freeway would have uprooted a huge swath of the city's working-class neighborhoods, only to end on the outskirts of Portland, far short of Mount Hood.
To your left, on the river's west bank, is the green stretch of Tom McCall Park, built on what had been a six-lane highway between downtown and its river. Harbor Drive expansion (to 10 lanes) was killed in 1971 by the City Council, and in 1974 the highway was bulldozed for a park bordering downtown.
The so-called Mount Hood Freeway was killed in 1974, also by the City Council. The federal government allowed Portland to divert freeway millions to mass transit. Taken together, these actions were a signal moment for Portland, committing the city to mass transit and downtown preservation.From these actions emerged MAX, the light-rail system that now has lines to the east, north and west of downtown, making Portland a national model.
Let me just back up to the post I wrote above though. Portland, at the time, didn't make the choice to tear down and not build highways through downtown because it sought to be "world class," rather it was a humble choice base on being a livable city.
It was actually Portland saying that they didn't want to be Seattle:
"It was Portland's defiant 'no' to Los Angeles and Seattle, which had, in effect, dismembered themselves," adds Alan Webber, a former aide to Mayor Neil Goldschmidt. "You can think of it astearing up Robert Moses' postwar transportation plan."