As the $1 trillion federal Infrastructure Bill was approved last week and is awaiting President Joe Biden’s signature, NYC is set to receive the largest funneling of infrastructure money in its history.
Among this massive historic piece of legislation is $7.5 billion allocated for the RAISE (Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity) Grant Program, which would fund transportation upgrades, including funds for capping the Cross Bronx Expressway.
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 Democrats U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres and state Assemblywoman Karines Reyes are clamoring for the highway to be capped off.
Now, with the help of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the ball is finally rolling in the right direction. On Nov. 9, Schumer, was joined by Torres, Reyes, NYC DOT Commissioner Hank Gutman, activist Nilka Martell, Columbia Professor Dr. Peter Muennig, Democratic City Councilwoman-elect Marjorie Velazquez and advocates as they celebrated plans to cap the highway.
“We’re here hit to hit the gas on a plan to mitigate the harmful effects of the Cross Bronx Expressway,” Schumer said at the press conference. “This expressway built by Robert Moses is one of the greatest examples of environmental injustice. When it was planned, they didn’t give a hoot about the community.”
In April, Reyes 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.
Schumer said this is the first step in the process to cap the highway as studies will be done within the next year, prior to beginning.
According to Schumer, Moses — the famed builder who developed much of the roadway system in and around NYC — displaced people when he constructed the Cross Bronx. Capping it, however, will create jobs, bring people together and make the South Bronx environmentally safer.
“You can’t undo the highway, but there are a lot of things that can be done to protect the community,” he said.
Torres, who battled asthma as a child, knows firsthand about the harmful pollutants from the Cross Bronx. The congressman was grinning from ear to ear as he spoke about the money finally being there to cap the highway. Children who live or go to school near the throughfare should not have to breathe in harmful chemicals every day, he said.
“We have a historic opportunity to confront poverty in the air our children breathe in the South Bronx,” Torres said.
Like Schumer, the Bronx lawmaker said the South Bronx continues to be haunted by the ghost of Moses. Well, now it is time to finally turn things around, he said.
“We have to send a message that clean air is not a privilege, but a right,” Torres added. “If we can build back better in the South Bronx in the poorest congressional district in America, then we can build back anywhere.”
The announcement that there is finally money to cap the Cross Bronx is quite meaningful for Martell, founder of Loving the Bronx, who has been championing for the roadway to be capped since 2016. She said five years ago people thought she was crazy when she wanted to cap this highway.
But, in her mind, there was never a doubt about what needed to be done.
“There’s no greater project in the borough than capping the Cross Bronx,” she said. “For far too long we’ve been negatively impacted by the noise and air pollution created by the vehicles that travel on the Cross Bronx Expressway.”
Reach Jason Cohen at firstname.lastname@example.org or (718) 260-4598. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.