SOUTH BRONX (PIX11) — For tens of thousands of South Bronx residents, including Lee Williams, living with asthma is not just a way of life. It’s part of a troubling, family legacy that has been passed down to her 1-year-old son.
“He was wheezing. His chest was crackling. It was bad, seeing a baby like that. My son, my only kid,” said Williams. “My mom had it. I have it. My son has it. The environment also plays a big part.”
It was not hard finding someone like Williams. PIX11 News simply stood in front of one of the many public housing developments in the South Bronx and randomly approached her on the sidewalk.
“They really don’t take too good care of where we live. They don’t care. This is poverty,” Williams said. “Their actions tell us they don’t care. Because if they did care, then out environment wouldn’t be as bad as it is,” said Williams.
It’s one of many neighborhoods that sit in the shadow of the Hunts Point food distribution zone, where thousands of trucks deliver their goods and often leave behind a blanket of asthma-inducing air pollution.
But elected officials said help is finally on the way, thanks to the latest phase of a transportation renovation announced Monday by New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and South Bronx City Councilman Rafael Salamanca.
The $1.7 billion project will create more new expressway on and off ramps for the estimated 13,000 trucks that often meander their way up and down residential streets.
“I’m a kid from the South Bronx, born and raised in this community. And I’m an asthmatic my entire life. I actually have to walk around with my asthma pump,” said Salamanca.
Back in 2020, PIX11 News reported extensively on the damage inflicted on the community, the result of urban construction projects led several decades ago by master planner Robert Moses.
The projects ultimately encircled the South Bronx in a ring of major highways – under a cloud of air pollution.
“I will take note that this is not a coincidence that this is a community of color,” Hochul said. “When we talk about environmental racism, people know what was going to happen. Who’s on these local roads? Kids who want to play. Seniors. Moms pushing strollers. This will increase safety, reduce air pollution and help some of the highest asthma rates in our city and our state. Righting the wrongs of the Robert Moses era past.”
Williams, the South Bronx resident, said the latest project sounds like a “breath of fresh air,” and she remains optimistic for her son’s sake.
“It’s better than nothing. What else can we really do but look for a solution?” said Williams.
Other phases of the transportation project include adding additional on and off ramps, a third lane to reduce bottlenecks and two dozen electric vehicle charging stations, all aimed at improving air in the South Bronx. It is due to be completed within the next two years.