Poll brings focus to West St. questions

The question of whether or not to build a tunnel to bury the portion of West St. near the World Trade Center site has been consumed by too much emotion and too few facts for about 20 months now. We are still in need of more facts, but the release of a poll of Lower Manhattan residents last week will be helpful as we decide if the tunnel is the best option to proceed.

The poll, paid for by Friends of Community Board 1 and conducted by Blum and Weprin Associates, gives us a better understanding of Downtown’s thoughts on the tunnel, based on the information that currently is public.

First, it puts to rest the misperception that residents of Battery Park City are dead set against a tunnel. While it is true 42 percent said a tunnel should not be a priority, a majority said it was at least somewhat important. One third said it was very important or a top priority.

Save West St. Coalition, the group formed in B.P.C. to stop the tunnel, is clearly representing only some of the people in the neighborhood. That’s what advocacy groups do and there is nothing wrong with that.

But most people in B.P.C. and the other Downtown neighborhoods appear to have the sense, as we do, that tunneling the roadway will make it easier for people to cross and help connect B.P.C. to the rest of Lower Manhattan. It will also allow for more space on West St. for a tree-lined boulevard.

The estimated price tag, $900 million, is considerable and one of the strongest arguments the coalition makes is that there are better ways to help Lower Manhattan recover from the attack. Some who see the benefits of the tunnel make a similar argument.

We reiterate our call on the state Dept. of Transportation to release all of their studies and information on tunneling the roadway so the public can make an informed decision.

Gov. George Pataki said in April that the tunnel will be built, yet the public meetings to provide details on the options have still not been scheduled. Just because the governor says there will be a tunnel, of course does not make it so.

The poll suggests most of Downtown would support the tunnel if they knew the benefits exceeded the costs. It is time for Pataki and his appointees to make the case. Or else those same people who favor the tunnel, will start to wonder, “if it’s so great what are they hiding?”

Court ruling backs equal representation

By overturning the decision of the State Supreme Court on the City Council’s term-limits extension modification, the Appellate Court has given six councilmembers a fair chance to serve as long as their colleagues.

The East Side’s Margarita Lopez is one of these six, as is Council Speaker Gifford Miller. Lopez says all she wants is an even playing field and for her district to receive the same benefits as other districts whose councilmembers can serve a full eight years.

Because the six councilmembers were elected to their first term in 1997, these districts are stuck in a cycle in which councilmembers serve shorter terms than their peers.

Several of these districts happen to include neighborhoods sorely in need of extra help, like Harlem, East Harlem and parts of Lopez’s District 2, and will, as Lopez has argued, suffer from lack of continuity and experience if their councilmembers are limited to six years in office. That’s not fair.

Furthermore, it’s obvious if Miller could not run for reelection new leadership struggles would prematurely consume the Council and disrupt its functioning. Miller has been speaker just under two years and to depose him now would destabilize the Council and hurt the city.

That Miller aspires to run for mayor and Lopez for borough president and that their staying in office would help them in this is a separate issue. The inequality in term limits law needed fixing.


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