Volume 17 • Issue 3 | June 11 - 17, 2004

Rampe hoping rail link money comes from other sources

By Elizabeth O’Brien

The president of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation gave few clues last week about how the agency might distribute its remaining $1 billion, telling Downtowners only that officials hoped little, if any, would go toward the proposed rail link to J.F.K. airport.

During a June 3 talk on the rebuilding efforts, Kevin Rampe told residents at the Downtown Information Center that the L.M.D.C. was actively seeking separate federal funding for the rail link that would connect Lower Manhattan to J.F.K. International Airport and the Long Island Rail Road.

His remarks signaled a shift in the public discussion of the remaining $1 billion community development block grant. While the L.M.D.C. board has not yet announced how it will allocate this federal 9/11 aid, statements by Governor George Pataki as recently as last month indicated that a portion would go toward building a new tunnel for the rail link.

During a May 5 speech on Lower Manhattan rebuilding, Pataki said the L.M.D.C. and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority “will each allocate significant funding” to help construct the rail link, which is expected to cost as much as $6 billion.

“We’re very hopeful that it won’t be used toward that,” said David Dyssegaard Kallick, a senior fellow with the Fiscal Policy Institute. Kallick said he had recently noted a change in how officials have approached funding for the proposed rail link.

The governor’s office did not return two calls for comment.

In public workshops and polls over the past year, many Downtowners have said they do not want the rail link to detract from the creation of new public schools, cultural spaces, housing and other priorities.

Kallick and other advocates called Rampe’s remarks a good first step towards an equitable distribution of funds.

“I hope they can go further with that,” said Margaret Hughes, executive director of the Good Old Lower East Side, a community organization that has pressed for the creation of affordable housing and jobs with the money.
Many community and cultural organizations have applied for a piece of the $1 billion pie. At the June 3 event, Rampe deflected a question about which projects are the most worthy.

“I think at the end of the day, my point of view will be irrelevant,” Rampe said. Rampe does not have a vote on the L.M.D.C. board, which will ultimately decide how to spend the funds. Rampe said he did not know when the board would announce its highly anticipated allocation.

Rampe offered a more concrete timeline for other phases of the rebuilding process. He said redevelopment reached a “pivotal moment” last week when the L.M.D.C. approved an environmental impact study that clears the way for construction to begin next month on the Freedom Tower.

In addition, Rampe said environmental consultants are currently studying the best way to dismantle the Deutsche Bank building, a process that is expected to begin across the street from the World Trade Center site this fall.

Community Board 1 chairperson Madelyn Wils will appoint one community liaison to keep residents updated on the status of the Deutsche Bank deconstruction, Rampe said. She will appoint another community representative to the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center, a body that will facilitate inter-agency cooperation on all Lower Manhattan projects, Rampe added.

Downtowners spoke to the importance of regulating construction in a recent poll sponsored by Friends of Community Board 1. Fifty-two percent of the approximately 800 residents polled named limiting the number of parking spaces occupied by government and construction worker vehicles as their top transportation priority or a very important priority. The second transportation priority was for improved east/west access for pedestrian and vehicular traffic, followed by the rail link to J.F.K. at third, with 46 percent of respondents strongly favoring the plan.

While many Downtowners support the idea of a direct ride from Lower Manhattan to J.F.K., most do not believe the rail link should receive the lion’s share of the remaining $1 billion in L.M.D.C. funds, according to the poll. Asked about their top priority for the money, 26 percent named new public schools; 18 percent named a community recreation and cultural center like the 92nd St. Y; 18 percent named East and West Side waterfront and park renovation; 17 percent named new retail, housing and cultural facilities around Fulton St.; 13 percent named a direct transit ride to J.F.K, and four percent named a vehicular tunnel under West St.

Many don’t want to wait any longer for the L.M.D.C. board’s decision on who will get money intended to help the city recover from the terror attack of Sept. 11, 2001.

“Taking due time to think about projects is very appropriate,” Kallick said, “but it’s been two and a half years.”


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