By Ronda Kaysen and Josh Rogers
The proposed Downtown rail link to J.F.K. Airport is a really stupid project as far as U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler is concerned, and the money would be better spent on other transportation projects.
In an exclusive interview with Downtown Express editors and reporters last Friday, Nadler discussed Downtown transportation projects, favoring the Second Ave. subway and practically any other transportation proposal on the docket over the rail link. He also spoke at length about the post-9/11 environment Downtown, saying people are being slowly poisoned. The situation in apartments and offices is so dire that Nadler suggested he would not support the idea of his children living in the neighborhood unless environmental agencies did more to test and clean indoor spaces.
Nadler called for the Environmental Protection Agency to oversee any buildings that are being demolished Downtown, even those that have been in use in the years since the World Trade Center disaster. Lower Manhattan has never been properly cleaned, Nadler said, adding, By not cleaning it up now, were committing slow motion murder.
When asked whether he would advise his children to move out of Lower Manhattan if they lived there, Nadler said, I dont want to answer that question but the logic
You can draw your own conclusions but Im not going to say anything further for obvious reasons.
Last week, Nadler hailed the Metropolitan Transportation Authoritys decision to delay demolition of 189 Broadway, a two-story building a block away from the World Trade Center that was slated to be demolished to make way for a new Fulton Street Transit Center. The previous owner had cleaned the building and the exterior was cleaned by the city. Unlike other buildings overseen by the E.P.A., which have stood empty and visibly scarred since 9/11, 189 Broadway was occupied by several small businesses until December, when the M.T.A. evicted the tenants to make way for the subway hub.
Even a well-used building poses a risk to public health if it is demolished, according to Nadler. Right now you have to assume that anything near ground zero is contaminated.
Now, the E.P.A. will oversee the buildings demolition, something Nadler hopes to see repeated. 189 [Broadway] may be a model. All demolition on that sight should be done properly so as not to further endanger people, he said. If we have to delay it a couple of months till they get it right, okay.
Downtown residents and activists have long criticized the E.P.A. since 9/11. In the days and weeks after the disaster, the agency misled the public about air quality Downtown, encouraging workers and residents to return to the neighborhood. The agencys residential cleanup program in 2002 and 2003 was criticized as ineffective and a repeat cleanup program unveiled last year was dismissed as unsound by a scientific review panel.
Nevertheless, the agency has regained some support in the community in recent months. Theyre doing a better job, Nadler said.
Because they did such a poor job initially, they are now much more attuned to Lower Manhattans needs, said Community Board 1 chairperson Julie Menin. They are finally paying the serious attention that they should to these serious concerns.
The E.P.A. has taken steps to oversee the M.T.A.s demolition plans for 189 Broadway. We are trying to get information to determine more about these buildings, E.P.A. spokesperson Bonne Bellow said about the M.T.A.-owned buildings facing demolition. Were they impacted? Were they cleaned?
The bottom line is that any building that was impacted and is coming down needs to be taken down in a way that protects peoples health and is taken down safely.
Nadler, whose district includes Lower Manhattan, much of Manhattans West Side and parts of Brooklyn, said his fellow Democrats have a good shot at winning back control of the House in November, and if so, he plans to hold hearings to take a closer look at the environmental response to 9/11.
The $6 billion rail link that would connect Lower Manhattan to J.F.K. Airport and the Long Island Rail Road should be ranked minus 4,000 on the list of transportation priorities, Nadler said. He doesnt think the number of people who would use the line justifies the cost, particularly compared to the Second Ave. subway.
The best investment is the Calatrava [train station] and the Second Ave. subway because those will have a tremendous impact on Downtown, Nadler said in reference to the Santiago Calatrava-designed, commuter-subway station being built at the W.T.C. The airport link would stop near the W.T.C. station.
The projects environmental impact statement is in the preliminary stages and is expected to be completed sometime next year. According to initial estimates, the project would shorten the commute from Long Island by 15 minutes and get Downtowners, business travelers and tourists to the airport in about 20 minutes.
Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, a group made up of the citys leading C.E.O.s, said if the link only benefited Lower Manhattan, it probably wouldnt be worth it, but since it should also lead to economic development near its other stops on Atlantic Ave. and in Jamaica Queens, it looks like a worthwhile project. The combination of Lower Manhattan, Downtown Brooklyn and Jamaica that would put it over the top, said Wylde.
She ranks the commuter-airport link ahead of the Second Ave. subway, which is about three times more expensive and will not lead to enough economic activity to justify the costs, Wylde said. She ranks the link behind the extension of the 7 line in Midtown and the Fulton Street Transit Center under construction Downtown.
Jeremy Soffin, a spokesperson for the Regional Plan Association, said his group is waiting to see the environmental statement on the rail link before making a final judgment, but said as long as officials maintain their current plans to allow a Second Ave. subway extension into Brooklyn as part of the link, it is a project worth considering.
About $1 billion has been committed to the rail link by the Port Authority and the M.T.A., which are both working on the E.I.S. with the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and New York City. The governor, mayor and business leaders have been lobbying Congress to transfer $2 billion worth of unused tax credits targeted for Downtown after 9/11 to the rail link.
President Bush has put the tax transfer in his budget and it has also passed the U.S. Senate with the support of New York Senators Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer. House Speaker Dennis Hastert told Downtown Express two years ago that he thought Congress would approve more transportation money for Lower Manhattan, but the House has not approved the tax transfer.
Stefan Pryor, L.M.D.C. president, said he expects the House to consider including the transfer next month in its comprehensive tax bill.
Pryor said the rail link plan is the only feasible way to get a one-seat ride from J.F.K. to anywhere in Manhattan. It will make Downtown more attractive to international businesses and increase the number of Long Island commuters above the current level, 100,000, he said in a telephone interview.
Well never draw more Westchester workers than Midtown, Pryor said, but we have a strong Long Island base and we should build on it.