Volume 16, Number 26 | Nov. 25 - Dec. 1, 2003


D.O.T. looks to lengthen proposed West St. tunnel

By Josh Rogers
The State Dept. of Transportation last week announced it was studying new options intended to improve pedestrian crossings on the portion of West St. opposite the World Trade Center site.
The agency held two public hearings last Thursday and most of the speakers criticized the most expensive option — a four-lane vehicular tunnel under the existing highway, also called Route 9A. That option — originally proposed to be 1,100 feet from Vesey to Liberty Sts. and expected to cost about $860 million — is likely to go up in price now that D.O.T. is considering extending the proposed tunnel by 200-400 feet to go south of Albany St. The agency is also studying the idea of not building the tunnel and keeping the six-lane roadway in addition to previously announced plans to consider a no-tunnel, eight-lane roadway.
Richard Schmalz, D.O.T.’s project director on the Route 9A project, said he hoped to have detailed cost estimates on all of the options in the spring as the environmental studies proceed and that there was no preliminary estimate on the longer tunnel. The eight-lane option would cost about $175 million since the temporary roadway would have to be rebuilt. Schmalz said the D.O.T. decided to look at extending the tunnel at the request of the Battery Park City Authority.
Tim Carey, the authority’s president and C.E.O., said that it would be safer for pedestrians at Albany St. to put the tunnel exit and entrance ramps south of the street.
“It’s such a busy intersection with everything meeting at the same place,” said Carey.
John Dellaportas, president of the Save West St. Coalition, which has organized the opposition to the tunnel, said it is possible crossing West St. at Albany would be safer under the new option, but the change “substitutes a whole new set of problems.”
The exit ramp would be closer to the entrance to Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel and would cause traffic problems and confusion, Dellaportas said.
Carey, who favors the West St. tunnel, said if it were built south of Albany St., southbound tunnel vehicles would have the option of entering the Battery Tunnel or going to the local West St. lanes, and Brooklyn-bound drivers in the local lanes would have to stay on West St. a few more blocks, make a U-turn and enter the Battery Tunnel while driving north.
Dellaportas said in addition to safety problems at the southern and northern ramps, the tunnel is too expensive and would cause construction disruptions for Battery Park City residents. He favors the six-lane option with the same traffic-calming measures proposed for the eight-lane option.
Madelyn Wils, chairperson of Community Board 1, who has been skeptical of whether the tunnel’s benefits justify the costs, said over the weekend that the proposed World Trade Center memorial designs may make the at-grade options less appealing.
The memorial would be adjacent to the highway and although some of the designs bring the W.T.C. site up to street level, they still leave the slurry wall exposed so that memorial visitors could look down at the protective wall, nicknamed the bathtub. Wils said that pre-9/11, West St. ran over the bathtub and that leaving a gap to see the wall takes up the equivalent of two lanes of traffic and makes it harder to find room for all of the surface traffic. She said covering up the bathtub was one possible solution. “The slit can be closed,” Wils said.
Schmalz said if a street-level memorial were chosen, D.O.T. would still have time to study a previously-dropped option, a pedestrian deck.
“If the scheme changes…if it brings it back up to the street, then we’ll take another look at it,” Schmalz said of the deck.
Dellaportas said the deck option has appeal particularly if officials don’t proceed with plans to extend Greenwich St. through the W.T.C. site. Greenwich St. has a lower elevation than Church and West Sts., so that a deck running from Church could lead to a smooth walkway to the second-floor lobbies of the World Financial Center on the other side of West St. Brookfield Properties Corp., which owns the W.F.C., has opposed the deck option because if it ran from Greenwich St., it would either lead to its basement or become an uphill climb to its lobby. The advantages of the deck are that it would be much cheaper than a tunnel and allow for more open space near the W.T.C. since there would be no surface traffic.
There are common elements to the three options currently being considered – a six or eight-lane roadway or a four-lane tunnel with four lanes of surface traffic. D.O.T. would keep the Liberty St. pedestrian bridge, possibly build one at Murray St. and remove the temporary ones at Vesey and Rector Sts. Each option has a truck and bus entrance ramp in the middle of West St. that would lead to an underground service entrance and bus garage at an as-yet undetermined site.
Since Dellaportas’ group came out against the tunnel last year, the number of people skeptical of the tunnel for cost reasons has grown. Carl Weisbrod, president of the Downtown Alliance, has not moved into the skeptical camp, but his enthusiasm for the tunnel has diminished. The Alliance did not submit testimony at last week’s hearing. Weisbrod said he still thinks the tunnel is the safest option, but he is waiting to see the more detailed cost estimates before he supports it.
“We won’t know until we see the studies,” he said. “I go in with the idea that the bypass is the best option.”



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