Interstate-787, Albany, New York

By Mason Rowe, Urban Studies and Economics, Class of 2026.

A towering concrete wall known as Interstate 787 defends the Hudson River from the City of Albany. The elevated interstate spans 9.4 miles, running adjacent to the water, starting in the south of Albany and ending in the Village of Green Island. The span of the freeway bordering Albany City proper barricades access to the river for residents of the area. Interstate-787 stands as one of the most transformative infrastructure projects in the history of the Capital Region along with other massive projects such as the Empire State Plaza. Similar to the Empire State Plaza, the construction and existence of I-787 had unequal effects on Albany’s minority population and is now being reexamined, with its future as uncertain as ever.

Overhead View of I-787, 2021 (Source:

The highway was built throughout the 1960s and 1970s when urban reconfiguration and renewal in the United States had reached a fever pitch. Construction of large, elevated highways that either cut through minority neighborhoods or asphyxiated waterfronts was a main infatuation for local and state governments from the East Coast to the West Coast. Albany was no different. The construction began with the appropriation and demolition of approximately 100 acres of land, but it thankfully did not displace large sums of the population as the highway mostly tracked through industrial areas and rail right-of-ways. That does not mean it was without displacement as many homes and businesses were razed for the future freeway. Even though displacement was minimal, I-787 has largely negatively impacted its adjacent neighborhoods, which were and remain mainly communities of color. 

Albany is still heavily segregated by race and class. Despite the legal end of redlining over 50 years ago with the enactment of the 1968 Fair Housing Act, discriminatory practices by individuals and corporations continued to impact the areas in which Black families could live. As a result, the Black population in Albany is largely confined to the three downtown neighborhoods of West Hill, Arbor Hill, and the South End. The most impoverished is the South End, which runs along the southwest side of I-787. Living near the Hudson River waterfront should provide positive externalities that make waterfront property desirable throughout the United States. However, due to the existence of I-787, this area sees little benefit from its proximity to the water.

The waterfront has remained heavily industrialized despite its proximity to residential areas. Interstate 787 and its industrial surroundings have depressed housing values in the South End and have resulted in negative health consequences for its residents. South End residents have an asthma rate three times higher than Albany County’s average. Furthermore, with I-787 spanning the East Side of the South End and the South Mall arterial to its North, the South End is effectively separated from the rest of Albany, creating an island that is impenetrable to those without cars. Interstate 787 is a clear demonstration of the power infrastructure can have on the shape and well-being of neighborhoods and cities as a whole.

Overhead View of the South-End Neighborhood, 2023 (Source:

Moving to the present day, the era of massive elevated riverfront highway construction projects is long behind us. The current trend for city planners is to remove sections of these monstrous roadways. Other Upstate New York cities, such as Syracuse and Rochester, have active proposals for freeway removal. Besides the uneven effects these overbuilt highways have had on socioeconomically disadvantaged groups, they also cost a fortune to maintain. The I-787/Hudson Waterfront Corridor Study, published in 2018, found that maintaining the interstate would cost over $10 million per year for the next 20 years ($330 million total). Furthermore, these massive infrastructure projects built in the 1960s have a limited lifespan due to their heavy use and relatively quick construction.

I-787 will likely last for a maximum of 50 years before it would have to be replaced entirely, with an estimated price tag of $900 million. The combination of social and economic factors has led to a recent surge in support for the removal or reworking of sections of the interstate, mainly on the stretch that borders the capital city proper. Local advocates, such as New York State Assemblymember Patricia Fahy, have proposed numerous ideas such as placing a cap over sections of the highway or turning a specific stretch of the highway into a ground-level boulevard with at-grade crossings.

There has already been some progress in increasing accessibility to the waterfront with the creation of the Skyway. The Skyway is an exit ramp conversion now serving as a pedestrian park and pathway that crosses over I-787. These efforts regarding the I-787 have resulted in the previously mentioned 2018 study, and as of November 2023, the New York State Department of Transportation is partaking in a Planning and Environmental Linkage (PEL) study that aims to expand on the 2018 study to identify transportation strategies that would enhance access to the Hudson River waterfront. While the future of I-787 remains uncertain, change seems on the horizon. 

Albany Skyway, 2023 (Source:

Albany is a small city that was overbuilt in the 1960s and 1970s as politicians looked towards the future with an optimistic modernist lens that predicted a city that never became a reality. Shortly after, and even during, the construction of I-787 and the Empire State Plaza, Albany’s population spiraled downwards, until it reached 100,000, roughly where the population fluctuates around today. This new population is only about 75 percent of its all-time high, resulting in a city with bones far too big for its body. Moreover, the construction of I-787 potentially aided in the decline of Albany as it made it easier to leave Albany for its many affluent suburbs. With the creation of the South Mall Arterial, thousands of state workers can use I-787 and commute to the Empire State Plaza without ever driving down a city street. The construction of I-787 has disadvantaged those who live the closest to the highway while primarily benefiting those who don’t have a vested interest in the city itself. Although I-787 may not be torn down as soon as many wish, the critical examination of the effects of infrastructure on the surrounding built environments will have profound implications for the future of city planning and urban life. 

Learn More:

Anderson, Eric. “Study identifies what to do, and not do, with 787.Times Union, 15 March 2018, accessed 25 November 2023.

CHA Consulting, Inc. “I-787/Hudson Waterfront Corridor Study – Albany County, New York – FINAL REPORT.” Capital Region Transportation Council, December 2018, accessed 25 November 2023.

Churchill, Chris. “Churchill: A Syracuse highway is coming down. Albany’s 787 should follow.” Times Union, 25 July 2023, accessed 25 November 2023.

Churchill, Chris. “Churchill: Is 787 a racist highway?” Times Union, 20 April 2021, accessed 25 November 2023.

Mikati, Massarah, et al. “Why Albany’s Black neighborhoods are its most economically challenged.” Times Union, 6 June 2021, accessed 25 November 2023.

O’Sullivan, Feargus. “By Water and Air, Albany Seeks to Bypass a Bad Highway.”, 19 October 2021, accessed 25 November 2023.

Reimagining I-787 | Department of Transportation.” Department of Transportation, accessed 25 November 2023.

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