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NYC authorities jettison plans for expressway across Lower Manhattan

On December 11, 1962, the New York City Board of Estimate unanimously votes against a plan for a $100 million elevated expressway across the bottom of Manhattan. The road, known as the Lower Manhattan Expressway, had been in the works since 1941. It was supposed to link the Holland Tunnel on the city’s West Side with the Williamsburg and Manhattan Bridges on the east side, slicing right through the neighborhoods now known as TriBeCa and SoHo.

The powerful city planner Robert Moses had urged the city to build the Lower Manhattan Expressway because, he said, it would ease the cross-town traffic that made it very difficult, and no doubt very annoying, to get from New Jersey to Long Island in a car. Other highway advocates agreed with Moses. “The people who reap the benefits of such a project are numbered in the millions,” an official from one downtown business group told a reporter, while a spokesman for the Automobile Club of New York called the road “essential.”

However, the proposed road stood to cause a great deal of damage to the city neighborhoods in its path. Some 1,972 families who lived in the roadway would have to move, as would 804 local businesses. This was perfectly all right with Moses and his allies–“when you operate in an overbuilt metropolis,” Moses famously declared, “you have to hack your way with a meat axe”–but by 1962, preservationist groups had joined with residents of the threatened neighborhoods in protest against the road. Highways like the Lower Manhattan Expressway would make city life worse, not better, these anti-Moses activists argued; the road would make poor neighborhoods poorer and would actually lead to more traffic congestion, not less.

In December 1962, the Board of Estimate sided with this point of view and refused to give highway officials the right to condemn the land in the proposed right-of-way. In 1963, the City Planning Commission tried to “demap” the expressway, or kill the plan for good, but Moses and his allies fought back. The Board of Estimate reversed its 1962 decision in 1964, and the next year Mayor Wagner announced that he would begin to bulldoze as soon as possible. It took until 1969 for New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller to declare that Lower Manhattan was safe from the highway for good.

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