Lower Manhattan Expressway Revived – 12/7/1964

US History |


The New York City Board of Estimate votes on December 7th, 1964 to revisit a plan that was considered controversial to construct a 10-lane, elevated expressway at the cost of $100 million. It would go across Lower Manhattan starting at the Holland Tunnel on the west and end at the Williamsburg and Manhattan Bridges that lead to the east.

The same board had denied the plans approval to construct the road in December of 1962. Members had agreed unanimously that the road would not really be effective to get rid of traffic congestion cross-town as well as most likely destroying the historic and crowded residential neighborhoods in its direction. Despite this, fervent lobbying by advocates for highways such as the well-known and influential urban planner Robert Moses as well as heavy-building companies stood to make money just by building the road itself; city officials were persuaded to reconsider their decision. Not surprisingly, the expressway was given the authorization to proceed by the board and Mayor Wagner, in 1965, swore that he would begin construction on the project “as quickly as possible.”

Meanwhile, while all of this was going on, the anti-highway protest was gaining support and momentum. The reason for the support was that the suggested road would go straight through across the city along Broome and Canal Streets which would demolish the neighborhoods we know at present to be SoHo and TriBeCa; this would displace 804 businesses and 1,972 families. Since the original attempt had been vetoed by the Board of Estimate, those who supported the construction of the highway worked on how to solve the criticisms they faced. Moses proposed to construct a $9 million apartment complex that would support 450 families that would be displaced and city officials stated that there was a lot of space for the others in high-rise housing projects.

Unfortunately, those whose jobs and homes that were afraid of losing them stood with the preservationists as well as other activists against the road being built; they chose to fight back and dug in their heels. Joining the fight was well-known urbanist Jane Jacobs who was presently the chairwoman of the Stop the Lower Manhattan Expressway Committee. Jane had said the highway was a “monstrous and useless folly” as not only would this remove individual from their neighborhood but argued that the road would definitely cause traffic congestion to be worse instead of better; another activist against the highway being constructed said the suggested expressway “would only serve as an elevated parking lot for added traffic waiting to funnel into the bottleneck.”

Thankfully, the efforts of Jane and her allies caused the opinion of the public to change and support for the activists could be seen and felt across the country. Another factor in the life or death of the expressway came in a 1968 study that estimated high levels of carbon monoxide would be in the air around the Lower Manhattan Expressway; the fact-finding study sealed the fate of the expressway. Plans for the highway in 1969 were abandoned by the Board of Estimate.

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