Nearly half a century ago, the area between the Yale School of Medicine and downtown New Haven was the bustling Oak Street neighborhood, full of homes and small businesses. That space is presently occupied by Route 34, a busy highway that carries tens of thousands of speeding cars each day. 

In an ambitious project known as Downtown Crossing, the city is planning to convert Route 34 back to a street grid that will reunite the School of Medicine with the rest of the university and downtown New Haven. Developer Carter Winstanley has already committed to developing a $140 million office and lab building at 100 College Street. The proposed eight-story building will occupy what is now thousands of square feet of empty air above the connector between 300 George Street—another Winstanley building—and the School of Public Health. Like 300 George Street, which houses a number of medical school programs and offices, the new building is slated to accommodate some of New Haven’s burgeoning biotech enterprises and could also provide much-needed space for the medical campus. “We have an infinite number of ideas for growing our programs and we need space to accommodate them,” said Dean Robert J. Alpern, M.D., Ensign Professor of Medicine. 

Downtown Crossing came a step closer to reality in October when the city received a $16 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to begin Phase 1, covering the eastern half of the connector from Union Avenue to College Street. The grant will allow the city to reclaim 11 acres of land that will be used for new institutional, retail, residential, and commercial space—creating 2,000 immediate construction jobs and 960 permanent jobs, according to the mayor’s office. Phase 1 will also reconnect the medical school campus with downtown New Haven. 

“The medical school campus is very active during the day as a place to work but it’s not active as a place to live,” said Alpern. “We’d like one continuum as you walk from Chapel Street toward the medical school.” 

Returning the area to its urban origins will alleviate some of its traffic dangers—two pedestrians, including a Yale medical student, have been killed in recent years—and provide much-needed growing space for the medical campus and New Haven businesses. “This project allows us to knit the two principal job platforms of the city together,” said Mayor John DeStefano Jr. “It addresses a near-term demand for real estate and allows us to significantly increase the size of the central business district, which will have benefits for collateral economic growth as well.” 

The federal grant will be supplemented by $8 million from the state and $7 million from the city to cover the $31 million estimated cost of the first phase of the project. The second phase—to develop the western half of the connector from Orchard Street to Ella Grasso Boulevard—is still in the preliminary planning stage.