Fiscally strapped New York City may soon send $40.5 million to the Federal Government—but it doesn’t have to.
Nor does the state—which would pay the other half of a proposed $81 million payback to the Federal Government for money received long ago to buy the right-of-way for Westway, a highway project that was scrapped in 1985. Westway was to be tunneled through landfill in the Hudson River between Battery Park City and 34th Street.
If the city and state agree to use the river and shoreline in ways that qualify under federal highway law, the Federal Government will grant a payback waiver. Among the uses allowed under a waiver are a new or existing roadway, bikeway, walkways, landscaping along the shoreline, and preserving scenic river views—in short, the major components of a riverside park. The city and state could also allow commercial development on some of the land, in exchange for a partial payback.
But a new public authority, the Hudson River Park Conservancy, is pushing the city and state to forgo the waiver and pay back the $81 million to the Federal Government. The conservancy, a subsidiary of the Urban Development Corporation, would have exclusive control over lease revenues from any development in the area and would not be directly accountable to voters or taxpayers. The Hudson River Park Conservancy proposes a complex scheme by which the $81 million would be recycled through the federal treasury and come back to the state Department of Transportation in ways that might ultimately benefit the city. And the UDC subsidiary says its lease revenues could help build a park a decade or more in the future.
Fiscal conservatives, environmentalists, and those who simply want to see a park on the river are lining up against what they see as a lose-lose proposition for the city. They propose, instead, that the city and state file for the waiver; use a portion of the payback savings, combined with possible additional federal grants, to build an affordable park right away; and keep decisions in the hands of elected representatives.