Downtown favors West St. tunnel, poll says

By Josh Rogers

Most people living in Battery Park City think building a short tunnel under West St. is at least somewhat important if not a top priority, according to a new poll of Lower Manhattan residents.One third of the B.P.C. residents surveyed by Blum and Weprin Associates said building “a short vehicular tunnel adjacent to the World Trade Center site” is either a top priority (10 percent) or very important (22 percent). One quarter said it was somewhat important, but 42 percent said it was not very important.

Julie Weprin, who conducted the poll of 800 residents in B.P.C. and the other neighborhoods south of Canal St., did say people living in Battery Park City were the most likely to say the tunnel is not very important. The issue has been an emotional one in B.P.C. and that result was perhaps less surprising than the fact that the number of people who rated the tunnel to be at least very important was about the same in B.P.C. than it was in Tribeca and the Financial District/Seaport area.

Overall, nine percent said the tunnel should be a top priority, 24 percent said very important, 30 percent somewhat important and 31 percent not very important.

The poll on a range of subjects about living in Lower Manhattan was paid for by Friends of Community Board 1, a non-profit fundraising arm of the board. The respondents were interviewed on the telephone between May 4- 6.

The tunnel, which is estimated to cost $900 million, has been endorsed by Gov. George Pataki and others as a way to take most of the through traffic off the eight-lane roadway, also known as Route 9A, and ease pedestrian crossings between B.P.C. and the proposed memorial to the victims of the 1993 and 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Washington D.C.

Opponents of the tunnel, led by a residential group called the Save West St. Coalition, argue that the tunnel is too costly, will be disruptive to build, will cause new traffic problems at the tunnel’s exit and entrance ramps, and will primarily benefit Brookfield Financial Properties, which owns the World Financial Center, which is on the opposite of the street as the W.T.C.

Madelyn Wils, chairperson of C.B. 1, which commissioned the poll, said she is confident the tunnel would be an improvement for pedestrians, but she is undecided about whether it is worth doing.

“My concern is over the costs of West St.,” she said.

Similarly, after Pataki said the state was moving forward with the tunnel in April, Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff said he was not convinced yet that the benefits justified the cost.

The money would come out of the $21.4 billion in federal aid to help Downtown recover from the terrorist attack and Wils said there may not be enough for the tunnel if other priorities are addressed. Wils has been arguing for building a rail link from Downtown to the Long Island Rail Road and JFK Airport – which would cost at least $2 billion.

That idea rated significantly higher than the tunnel in the poll. Almost 60 percent of the respondents said an airport/L.I.R.R. link is either a top priority or very important and only 13 percent said it was not very important.

The margin of error for the poll was plus or minus three points. Weprin said 243 people in B.P.C. were surveyed. On questions dealing with the smaller sample of residents from B.P.C. the margin of error was larger, plus or minus about seven points, Weprin said.

Other poll results

There were other significant findings in the poll. Forty-two percent of the people living Downtown before 9/11 rated is as an excellent place to live, but only 14 percent say it is excellent now. Even so, 79 percent of the people who were living Downtown before the attack said they were not thinking of moving away.

“It seems the ones that are still here now, they are here to stay,” said Weprin.

Of the people who are considering moving away, the most common reason was for personal reasons unrelated to 9/11.

Most of the apartments of people who permanently moved out of Lower Manhattan after the attack were filled by new residents taking advantage of a federally-funded residential grant program administered by the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. The poll confirmed the anecdotal evidence that the residential turnover was most pronounced in B.P.C., where 43 percent of those polled had moved Downtown after 9/11.

Fifty-six percent of the people who lived in Tribeca and Battery Park City rated it excellent before 9/11, whereas only 27 percent on the East Side rated it that way. After 9/11, 29 percent of B.P.C. residents said it was excellent, compared to 26 percent in Tribeca and 10 percent on the East Side.

Thirty percent of the respondents who lived Downtown before 9/11 said someone in their household suffers from coughing, respiratory problems, or some other ailment which they believe to have been caused by the W.T.C. debris. As for new residents, 25 percent answered yes to this question.

Thirty-one percent of the pre-9/11 residents said they were still suffering from emotional difficulties, depression, sleeplessness, anxiety or nightmares as a result of the attack. Forty-one percent said they had these difficulties after the attack, but do not have them now.

Seventy-five percent said they would like to see a temporary, open-air public market at the east side of the W.T.C. site during the transitional years when no buildings are expected to be constructed there.

When asked what should be the “number one priority for Downtown construction,” 35 percent said street level local retail services, followed by schools (21 percent) and east and west waterfront park improvements (17 percent).

This question had more fluctuation depending on where people live. Since all of the public elementary and middle schools in the C.B. 1 area are west of Hudson St., it was perhaps not surprising that 26 percent of Downtown East Siders said schools were the number one priority, while in B.P.C. and Tribeca, the numbers were 16 and 19 respectively. In B.P.C., 44 percent said better retail was the highest priority, whereas on the East Side, it was 26 percent.

The first two parts of the poll were released last week. The final part on residents’ feelings on the memorial and the rest of the W.T.C. site will be released May 27, the day before a public hearing to discuss the memorial competition.


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