Volume 16 • Issue 50 | May 7 - 13, 2004

Pataki backs rail, car tunnels

By Josh Rogers

Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert

Gov. George Pataki greets a supporter after his speech at the Ritz Carlton May 5.

Gov. George Pataki said Downtown can afford two new tunnels and voiced support for an airport-commuter rail tunnel and a vehicular tunnel under West St. Wednesday, the day he gave his third progress report speech on Lower Manhattan and took a tour of the 7 World Trade Center construction site with developer Larry Silverstein.

Pataki has been one of the strongest proponents of building an $860 million West St. tunnel, but the plan has come under fire from some residents in Battery Park City who dispute whether a tunnel will make the highway safer to cross and others who think the cost cannot be justified, particularly with other priorities such as building a Downtown rail link to J.F.K. Airport and the Long Island Rail Road.

Pataki appeared to be backing away from the tunnel during his May 5 speech at the Ritz Carlton in B.P.C. since he did not mention it at all while he was talking about West St. The governor who once declared that “West St will be buried,” has not been as enthusiastic about the car tunnel idea in recent months.

But at the top of 7 W.T.C., the governor told reporters that the West St. tunnel is still on track. “It’s still part of the plan,” he said.

Asked by Downtown Express if he had second thoughts about the tunnel, he said “No not at all.”

John Dellaportas, one of the founders of the Save West Street Coalition, leaders in the anti-tunnel fight, said when he read the text of the governor’s speech online, he wasn’t sure what to make of the avoidance of the tunnel issue. Pataki did speak about creating a pedestrian-friendly promenade along the highway, but that would be included in the tunnel and no-tunnel options currently being studied by the state Dept. of Transportation.

“I wasn’t sure if he was trying to save face and back off the tunnel, or by talking about the promenade, he was trying to slip it by without anyone talking about the tunnel,” Dellaportas said.

He said he’s optimistic the tunnel will not be built since it has to compete with important priorities Downtown.

“The governor’s support for the J.F.K. Long Island link makes the case against the [West St.] tunnel all the more compelling,” Dellaportas said.

Pataki is backing a $6 billion plan to link Downtown to the airport and the L.I.R.R. with a new East River tunnel, with stops at Jamaica, Atlantic Terminal and one near the W.T.C. An analysis by various state and city agencies determined that the new tunnel would cut 15 minutes off the time of the commute from Jamaica. The existing 36-minute ride from Jamaica to Penn Station to Downtown via the 2 or 3 express subway lines would be cut down to 21 minutes, according to the estimate. It would take 36 minutes to get to J.F.K. from Lower Manhattan under the plan.

“The rail project will cost up to $6 billion,” Pataki said. “But it will produce more than that amount in region-wide economic output every year. And it will help create 56,000 jobs in Lower Manhattan and Downtown Brooklyn.”

Jeff Zupan, a traffic analyst with the Regional Plan Association, had said several months ago that he didn’t believe the link would be able to shave 15 minutes of the Long Island commute. Thursday, he said he wants to see a detailed analysis by the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. before he evaluates the time estimate. He said another important consideration is that not all of the riders of the new line will work close to the W.T.C. so their time savings will be less than the 15-minute estimate.

He said the most promising thing about the new link idea is it would allow the proposed Second Ave. subway line and the E train to continue into Brooklyn.

“We think it’s positive that they are holding out hope to connect the Second Ave. subway to Brooklyn,” he said.

To get the money to build the link, Pataki has enlisted four Downtown C.E.O.’s, Tom Reyni, Ken Chenault, Stan O’Neal and Bill Rudin to lobby Congress for additional money.

The governor also said the L.M.D.C. and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority “will each allocate significant funding for this purpose.” The Port Authority has committed $560 million and Pataki has asked the P.A. to consider giving more. He is also looking to shift some of President Bush’s $21.4 billion post-9/11 aid to Downtown to the rail link. Perhaps as much as $3 billion in tax benefits targeted for Downtown was never used, although no precise estimate exists.

The L.M.D.C. has about $1 billion left in their budget, but various advocates have called on using it for things like affordable housing, job training, parks, schools and community centers.

It is not at all clear how much L.M.D.C. money will be used for the rail link. After Pataki’s speech, Kevin Rampe, the L.M.D.C.’s president, who was hired by Pataki and is a strong advocate for the rail link, said it hasn’t been determined yet if the L.M.D.C. money will help build the link.

Daniel Doctoroff, deputy mayor for economic redevelopment and rebuilding, said of the amount the L.M.D.C. will spend on the link, “I suspect it won’t be anywhere near a majority of the remaining amount ($1 billion).”

Madelyn Wils, an L.M.D.C. board member, said, “I’m hoping we won’t have to take that much from it.”

She said clearly the new tunnel option is better than the second choice, using the existing Montague subway tunnel which also is used by the M and R lines. Although it may cost less, at an estimated $3.5 billion to $4.5 billion it will only reduce the Long Island commute by 5 – 7 minutes making it hard to justify the costs, Wils said.

Pataki also announced that construction of the Freedom Tower at the W.T.C. site would begin July 4, two months ahead of the last scheduled date. He also tried to put aside speculation that Silverstein would be pushed out of the W.T.C. after losing an insurance lawsuit. Silverstein, who owns the leasing rights to the site, said “we still have $2 billion in capital in the bank” and he has enough money to build the Freedom Tower. He said it will take “a feat of financial engineering” to get the money to build the rest of the buildings.

Pataki also announced he is going to sign an agreement next month with Mayor Mike Bloomberg to set up a Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center to coordinate all Downtown projects.

Wils, also the chairperson of Community Board 1, said this office would be vital to residents who will have to live near 10 years of construction.

“We need one person to act and tell all of the agencies – to demand certain things. D.O.T. reports to the mayor and they can’t tell the police what to do or state D.O.T.,” said Wils.

Pataki also announced a $2-million marketing campaign for Chinatown, money for a feasibility study the 92nd St. Y is conducting to open a center Downtown and open space improvements. The costs of most of the initiatives have not been announced yet.

He said Louise Nevelson Plaza at William St. and Maiden La. would be repaired, new trees would be planted and an outdoor cafe would be built. Pataki said he would help Pace University transform the top of its building into a 30,000 square-foot “green roof” for students and the public. A Pace spokesperson said the school is just starting to develop the idea and did not have further details. Pataki also talked about building new fields at Pier 40, but Connie Fishman, president of the Hudson River Park Trust said this didn’t represent any new money for the Trust. She has a $70 million application to the L.M.D.C. to build the Tribeca section of the park.

She said she remained optimistic about getting the aid. “We’re always hopeful,” she said. “We never give up hope.”



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