With 300 diesel trucks that travel on the Cross Bronx Expressway on a daily basis, the South Bronx is filled with harmful chemicals, air pollution and the highest asthma rates in New York. Recognizing the dangers of the six-and-a-half-mile road, lawmakers like U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres and state Assemblywoman Karines Reyes are clamoring for the highway to be capped off. But for one lawmaker, the plan doesn’t go far enough.
State Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, a Democrat who represents the 82nd District in the northeast Bronx, supports capping the Cross Bronx Expressway, but wants it extended to the Bruckner Expressway portion of I-95, which travels through Throggs Neck and Pelham Bay — communities within his legislative district.
“The problem with their request is I think it should encompass all of Interstate 95 going right into the Bruckner,” he told the Bronx Times.
Torres, a Democrat, is calling for capping the expressway to be included in President Biden’s infrastructure package, known as the American Jobs Plan, which will include $20 billion in investments to reconnect neighborhoods torn apart by “urban renewal.” In April, Reyes, a Democrat, launched a petition to cap the highway. Capping the Cross Bronx would eliminate 2.5 miles of below street-level portions of the thoroughfare and construct green space making the surrounding communities healthier places to live.
A 2018 case study of this proposal, conducted by academics at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, showed that the model would improve the asthma rates, general health and wellbeing of Bronxites in the adjacent areas while reducing Medicaid spending for disease intervention. Similar projects have successfully been adopted in Boston, Seattle and already in the Bronx with the pedestrianization of the Sheridan Expressway.
In June, the NYC Department of Transportation denied Benedetto’s request for an extension of the capping plan to I-95.
In July, the House of Representatives reached a $4.1 trillion infrastructure deal, called the “Invest Act” with $109 billion earmarked for roads, bridges and major projects. Torres included an amendment in the plan that made it clear that funds for the “Reconnecting Neighborhoods Program,” — which transforms roadways that have separated neighborhoods — can be used for capping highways like those that run through the South Bronx.
Benedetto then sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg asking him to consider his request.
“I do not understand why these areas were omitted. The citizens in the Throggs Neck and Pelham Bay communities should be entitled to the same benefits as other communities along the I-95 corridor,” Benedetto said in the letter. “I therefore implore you to include all highways that comprise the I-95 corridor in the name of environmental justice for all Bronx residents.”
Reach Jason Cohen at firstname.lastname@example.org or (718) 260-4598. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter @bronxtimes and Facebook @bronxtimes.