Why Local Leaders Want Funds From Infrastructure Bill to Fix Cross Bronx Expressway

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As President Joe Biden is poised to sign the $1 trillion package of road and other infrastructure projects, New York City leaders are calling for some of the funding to be used to cap one of its busiest highways.

Activists have long called for capping portions of the Cross Bronx Expressway because the highly-congested 6.5-mile freeway constructed in 1955 has displaced Black and Latino residents and destroyed developing businesses since its conception, as well as left communities with serious health impacts from toxic fumes. Democratic Rep. Ritchie Torres is among those who want to transform the sunken portion of the highway into parks and green space.

"The Cross Bronx Expressway, built by Robert Moses, is both literally and metaphorically a structure of racism, with diesel truck traffic polluting the air black and brown kids breathe everyday," Torres said.

Moses designed the highway in the 20s and bulldozed Black, Jewish and Puerto Rico homes, building the highway right in the middle and creating the South Bronx -- which has the highest asthma rate anywhere in the country.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg acknowledge Monday that there is racism built into many infrastructures across the U.S., including in the Bronx.

"If an underpass was constructed such that a bus carrying mostly Black and Puerto Rican kids to a beach … in New York was designed too low for it to pass by, that … obviously reflects racism that went into those design choices," Buttigieg said.

Buttigieg said that at least 40% of the clean investments of the infrastructure bill will go to benefit underserved communities. He added that once Biden signs the measure into law, his department will start doling out the first of about $660 billion in federal money, with some projects just waiting for funding.

Other longer-term projects such as capping the Cross Bronx, and investments in new electric vehicle chargers and promoting safer streets for bicyclists and pedestrians, will take longer. In contrast to the 2009 stimulus, Buttigieg said, Biden’s infrastructure bill is “short term, but it’s long term.”

"This is about many many years ahead, starting now," he said. “This is how we do right by the next generation.”

A case study published by Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health in 2018 found that capping the expressway by adding parks would help both save lives and money because green spaces promote health benefits in the long term.

Researchers said that the cost to cap the Cross Bronx is approximately $760 million.

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