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Cuomo, Koch Say Westway Project Abandoned

September 19, 1985 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ State and city officials Thursday gave up a 10-year fight and abandoned Manhattan’s proposed $2 billion Westway highway and real estate development project.

Gov. Mario Cuomo and Mayor Edward I. Koch said they will seek to use the project’s federal funding for mass transit and a smaller substitute road, as opponents had urged since Westway was proposed in 1974.

Continued support of Westway would mean having ″to gamble what can be more than $1 billion of trade-in money on the chances of overcoming the legal impediments,″ Koch and Cuomo said in a joint statement. ″We regard that as a reckless gamble and have decided against it.″

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Westway would have run 4.2 miles along the Hudson River shore from the southern tip of Manhattan to 42nd Street, with half the highway tunneling through 169 acres of landfill topped with building sites and a park.

The announcement came just 11 days before a deadline imposed by Congress for the state to exchange Westway funding for an anticipated $1.7 billion in mass transit aid. New York leaders had campaigned without success to have the deadline extended.

″We regard this decision to be a prudent one under all the circumstances but it is by no means a happy one,″ Koch and Cuomo said. They said they remained convinced that Westway was ″an excellent public project.″

The fatal blow to the plan came Sept. 11, when the U.S. House voted to strip Westway’s federal funding and a federal appeals court refused to approve a crucial landfill permit that twice was rejected by a lower court judge.

″The governor and the mayor simply had to face the fact that not to act now would be to gamble $1 billion, and that would be a reckless gamble,″ Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., said in Washington.

″There is no realistic hope for an extension of time for which to proceed with Westway,″ added Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, R-N.Y., at a news conference with Moynihan. ″We obviously turn our attention to securing the trade-in funds.″

Marcy Benstock of the Clean Air Campaign, one of the groups opposing Westway, said she would not rest until she saw Cuomo’s and Koch’s signatures on trade-in documents.

″After 11 years, we want to see where they’ve signed on the dotted line before we believe anything,″ she said.

Westway officially was estimated at $2 billion, enough to make it one of the nation’s costliest highways per mile. Critics put the figure nearer $10 billion, which, given its length, would have made it the most expensive roadway ever.

Taxpayer and environmental groups fought the project in court, calling it a real estate boondoggle. They urged a smaller road and more spending on mass transit, arguing that the landfill would endanger striped bass in the Hudson.

Westway backers said the issue of the striped bass, whose numbers are dwindling, was a smokescreen used by anti-development activists. They contended the fish could be protected, and called the project an economic boon to the city.

The Army Corps of Engineers twice issued permits for the river landfill, saying it would have little or no impact on striped bass. But U.S. District Judge Thomas P. Griesa rejected both permits, saying the Corps’ studies were inadequate under the Clean Water Act.

The first time, in 1982, Griesa instructed the Corps to reconsider the matter. But when he rejected the second permit last month, Griesa permanently barred the Corps and the state from proceeding with Westway.

The Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled Sept. 11 that Griesa had overstepped his bounds by banning Westway outright. But its critical decision was to uphold Griesa’s rejection of the second permit, leaving Westway stalled.

Hours later, in another blow, the House voted 287-132 to bar the use of federal funds for landfill for one year.

D’Amato and Moynihan said Thursday that they expected the trade-in agreement would be worked out with the federal government by the Sept. 30 deadline, and that no extension would be required.

″No thanks, no favors. We’re not asking favors of anyone,″ Moynihan said.