Protesters demonstrating against the Westway project in New York City

Scott Benowitz looks at New York’s Westway,  urban infrastructure improvement project which had been proposed back at the end of the 1960s that never came to light.

As far back as 1969, various groups within New York State had proposed relocating a section of the West Side Highway in New York City underground into a proposed tunnel, with the intent that the space above the highway would be used for a combination of urban parkland and mixed use commercial, retail and residential buildings.  The proposal for this project involved creating 220 acres of land in the Hudson River by burying landfill.  

There were a few factors which contributed to the cancellation of this proposed project in 1985, including the high cost of constructing this proposed project, as well as a court order from 1982 which had postponed the project because a number of groups had found that striped bass were breeding in the Hudson River in the location where the people who were planning this project were intended to dump landfill.

Yes, we do need to be careful about preserving striped bass, just as we need to be careful about preserving all marine species throughout the world.  However, the Hudson River extends 315 miles from its northernmost starting point at Henderson Lake in the High Peaks Wilderness Area in the Adirondack Mountains, south to where it merges with New York Harbor. Would 220 acres of landfill significantly damage this species?  

Marine biologists could easily relocate these fish to other nearby areas in the Hudson River while construction projects in the river were occurring.  There are quite a few train tunnels as well as two automobile tunnels under the Hudson River which connect Manhattan to New Jersey- if these fish had been able to survive the construction of those tunnels, they’d have probably been able to survive the Westway too.

Ultimately, the 1982 court order only temporarily halted this project, other factors including the high cost of building the proposed project contributed to its cancellation. 

However today in the second decade of the 21st century, the technologies involved in constructing highway tunnels are notably more advanced than the boring machines of the 1970s, and comparable projects would be much more cost effective to attempt to build today.

Read also: A Walk Through Hudson Yards, The New York Playground For A Select Few

Scott Benowitz is a staff writer for Afterimage Review. He holds an MSc in Comparative Politics from The London School of Economics & Political Science and a B.A. in International Studies from Reed...

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