Bronx highway could feature greenspace with infrastructure bill passed

Local News

CROTONA PARK, The Bronx — It’s the most congested roadway in the country, according to a pre-pandemic traffic survey; it’s also part of the reason the Bronx has the nation’s highest child asthma rate. But now, the Cross Bronx Expressway is a small-but-significant step closer to being covered over with parkland.

The proposal has been discussed for years by community activists, city planners, environmentalists, legislators and others. With the passage of the $1 trillion infrastructure bill in Congress that’s now been signed by President Joe Biden, the proposal is actually entering the first steps of becoming reality.  

Residents in the neighborhoods around the expressway were very supportive Tuesday.

Tawanna Hill was walking her son and nephew home from school across an overpass above the expressway when asked about the idea of capping it with parkland and open plazas.  

“Children need parks,” Hill said, affirmatively. “They need to be able to run and play.”

Jorge Luna, another local resident, agreed.

“The neighborhood needs it,” he said. “It would be perfect for having more kids.”

Rep. Ritchie Torres, the local member of Congress, has been an advocate for covering the Cross Bronx since he was a city councilmember five years ago.  

Now, he said, “We are the closest we’ve ever been. We have a historic opportunity.”

The infrastructure measure contains $110 billion for roadway and tunnel improvements, which includes programs such as the U.S. Dept. of Transportation’s Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity grant.  

Torres said that New York has applied for RAISE funds that could begin the process of capping, or building over the Cross Bronx. The funds would specifically pay for a feasibility study for the proposal, which is required by federal authorities in order to proceed with a plan.

If it does go ahead, it would end up looking like the so-called Big Dig project in Boston, according to Torres.
That project, now called the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, cost a whopping $24 billion dollars, making it the most costly roadway project in U.S. history. Still, it resulted in one-and-a-half miles of open space and parkland.  

The Cross Bronx project would be longer, different, and less costly, according to Torres. 

“We’re proposing simply to cap the 2.5 miles of the Cross Bronx Expressway that are beneath ground, that are already underground,” he said in an interview. “That’s a much simpler solution.”

He said it was a solution to many things, like the Bronx’s sky-high asthma rates, as well as something that’s been mentioned before by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer — a supporter of the parkland project — as well as Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg: segregation by highway.

“Highways that have cut communities in two,” Buttigieg said that he’s seen during his travels to ensure that infrastructure dollars are wisely spent.  

It’s what happened to the central Bronx when the expressway was built in the mid-1950s, said Torres. A variety of historians have long agreed.

During the building process, though, a two-block stretch of the Cross Bronx was covered with a park and two playgrounds.

They’re between Crotona and Prospect Avenues, right on top of the expressway.  

For that short stretch, a series of vents allows exhaust to escape from the roadway, through its covering, and up to the sidewalk above, next to the playground.  

In order for the Cross Bronx Expressway to be covered over its length, a much more expensive and sophisticated ventilation system would be needed.

“You would have to install electrostatic filters that prevent the exhaust from polluting the air,” Torres said, but he added that a filtration system would be part of a larger strategy to drastically cut toxic fumes from the areas surrounding the expressway.

Torres acknowledged that it may take many years to get it done, but said that this is a real start, that’s an important piece in a grand strategy.  

“Not only are we proposing to cap the Cross Bronx,” said Torres, “but we’re determined to electrify trucks, we’re determined to create a clean energy grid that brings clean energy to places like the South Bronx.”

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