"To Tunnel or not To Tunnel?": Debates around the Route 9A Project

by Delphine Veaudor

Route 9A project: View North at Liberty Street and West Street

"To tunnel or not to tunnel?" That was the question raised at the public meeting organized on November 19, 2003 by the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) in the auditorium of the U.S. Customs House on Bowling Green.The agenda was to discuss alternatives under consideration for the reconstruction of Route 9A (also known as West Side Highway or West Sreet) in the vicinity of the World Trade Center site. The citizens' comments, which revolved around three project alternatives, highlighted the Community members' concerns about this delicate and controversial issue.

Just before September 11, the reconstruction of Route 9A from Battery Place to 59th Street was almost complete. This was subsequent to a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) on the project published in 1994. The direct damage caused to Route 9A by the attacks, as well as the their related social, economic and environmental effects, have led to reconsidering the changed conditions in a Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS), currently in preparation and discussed during the meeting. Other major changes which are underway include the conversion of older office buildings in Lower Manhattan to residential uses, and the continued built-out of Battery Park. The final SEIS publication is expected to be issued in Fall 2004.

Another public meeting was held in New York on November 19, 2003 to present the project for a World Trade Center Memorial. The projects are closely related: one of the goals of the Route 9A Project is to provide for "an appropriate and respectful setting for the World Trade Center Memorial," which is expected to attract millions of visitors.

The project information document delivered by the NYSDOT before the meeting mentions several other planned and ongoing public projects which are independent of the Route 9A Project. Those include the Fulton Street Transit Center, the extended PATH Terminal, Fulton Market Square, Battery Maritime building, and streetscape improvements on Fulton Street, Water Street and Broadway. The document stipulates that the cumulative effects of those projects have to be taken into account and that the NYSDOT studies the different options for Route 9A in cooperation with other public organizations, such as The Metropolitan Transportation Authority and The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. We wonder, since those issues are so related in both time and space, why aren't they included in one global project supervised by one authority?

Route 9A is a multi-modal facility comprised of a six to eight-lane urban arterial roadway with a continuous Class I bikeway and walkway. A temporary roadway was installed in March 2002 between Liberty and Vesey Streets, allowing the reopening of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. The three alternatives under consideration would affect the portion of route 9A located between West Thames Street and Chamber Street.

The first, called the "No-Action" alternative, was suggested by residents of Lower Manhattan who attended a previous Information Meeting in June, 2003. This alternative would only include minor modifications to the infrasstructure of the existing six-lane roadway (which would be made permanent), including the reconstruction of the temporary pavement.

Picture from NYS Department fo Transportation brochure showing what a promenade on Route 9A might look like.

The second, or "At-Grade" alternative, would reconstruct eight lanes in front of the World Trade Center site and provide pedestrian overpasses as well as a planted median wich would improve the aesthetics and provide pedestrian refuge areas between the northbound and southbound traffic lanes.

The third, or "Short Bypass" alternative, would consist of four through-traffic lanes traveling below ground, and four local traffic lanes remaining on surface. A wide sidewalk would be provided adjacent to to the World trade Center site to accommodate north-south pedestrian traffic, as well as a planted median and a pedestrian refuge area.

The creation of a landscaped urban promenade in the southern portion of Route 9A is also being considered, but that was not a point of contention at this meeting.

There was an overall feeling among the citizens present that the idea of a subterranean highway, defeated during the Westway controversy, had risen again like a Phoenix and was being pushed through the planning process without due public consideration, since notices for this hearing had been mailed late, leaving less time than is customary for the public to prepare for the hearing.

Even if no real consensus exists among the community members concerning either of the projects, a majority of them strongly opposed the Short Bypass alternative (yet presented as the "green space solution" by the NYSDOT), for two main reasons: its cost and its encouragement of the traffic in Lower Manahattan.

Many of the speakers pointed out that the one billion dollar estimated cost of construction for the Short Bypass is an excessive amount, and other less expensive alternatives exist to improve the aesthetics and the convenience of the West Side Highway for pedestrians. Among the listed propositions were the construction of a tree-lined way (likened to the Champs Elysées) to include a street-level row of businesses on the roadway's east side; of community gardens and playgrounds; and the enforcement of municipal speed limits on that stretch of roadway. It was often underlined that other more urging priotrities for Lower Manhattan, such as human services and affordable housing, are more worth spending a billion dollars on.

Encouraging traffic (and by the way pollution) in Lower Manhattan seemed nonsensical to most of the residents. One speaker, in a memorable statement, recounted the lack of traffic to various memorial spaces in Manhattan to convincingly assert that interest in the World Trade Center Memorial could be short-lived. (Who now travels to Manhattan for Grant's Tomb?) The great majority of speakers favored a blend of the No-Action and the At-grade alternatives: that is to say an improvement of green spaces and pedestrian overpasses on Route 9A, while maintaining a surface-level six lane roadway at theWorld Trade Center portion.

The public was only invited to comment. A three-minute rule was rigorously enforced and there was no give and take, so no questions could be answered, which was a pity. "Trust the community" was the refrain of meeting. Hopefully the NYSDOT members are only mute and not deaf, and will take the citizens' insightful remarks into account when preparing the Draft SEIS, which should be reviewed in a Public Hearing in Spring or Summer 2004. [Veaudor]

A full transcript of the meeting will be made available. For further information, you can visit http://www.route9a.info, or contact:

Richard J. Schmalz, P.E., Project Director
New York State Department Of Transportation
Route 9A/Lower Manhattan Redevelopment Projet--Community Outreach
21 South End Avenue
New York, NY 10280

Phone: 212 201 0917
e-mail: [email protected]



Search This Site The Web

Get a Search Engine For Your Web Site