Garbage Piles Up on West Side Highway Amid Funding Fight

By Julie Shapiro on August 21, 2012 6:46am 

LOWER MANHATTAN — No one wants to touch this trash.

Discarded bottles and fast-food wrappers have been piling up in the middle of the West Side Highway for months while government agencies argue over who should clean up the mess.

The unsightly litter — along with towering overgrown weeds — is drawing complaints from residents, community leaders and politicians who say the trash is detracting from their neighborhood.

"The middle of the highway is turning into a garbage dump," said Bob Townley, chairman of Community Board 1's Waterfront Committee.

"We need to figure out something to get these medians up to snuff."

The trouble started at the end of April when the maintenance contract for the medians ran out, a spokeswoman for the Hudson River Park Trust said.

The state Department of Transportation had paid the Hudson River Park Trust $300,000 to clean and prune the West Street medians from Battery Place up to West 59th Street between August 2011 and April 2012, the HRPT spokeswoman said.

But then the contract ran out, and the maintenance work stopped — which means no one has been picking up trash or watering the flowers along the busy street, which has gotten particularly messy in the wide, heavily trafficked crossings just south of Chambers Street, residents said.

The Hudson River Park Trust and state DOT currently are negotiating a new contract, likely also $300,000, which would cover from August 2012 to March 2013, the HRPT spokeswoman said.

But the state DOT — which rebuilt the highway following 9/11 and over the past several years planted flowers and trees in new stone-edged medians — said the ultimate responsibility for maintaining the medians lies with the city, not the state.

"Within the five boroughs, city DOT maintains the highways, including West Street," Adam Levine, the state DOT spokesman, said in an email.

"State DOT is supplementing that effort and working with HRPT to ensure that the West Street medians are maintained."

A spokesman for the city DOT, however, denied any responsibility for maintaining West Street.

The city is refusing to take care of the highway because the state has not finished building the section of road near the World Trade Center, which has been held up by World Trade Center construction delays, said A.J. Pietrantone, executive director of the Friends of Hudson River Park.

"The city has never accepted it," Pietrantone said of the rebuilt highway, which will not be complete and formally turned over to the city for another few years.

To help clean up West Street, the state and city DOT, along with the Hudson River Park Trust, plan to launch an Adopt-A-Highway program, encouraging local groups to voluntarily pick up trash, Levine said.

"This initiative, which has been successful in other locations around the metro area, is expected to take several years to be put in place," Levine said.

Another long-term option is a proposed business improvement district that would tax West Side property owners to fund the maintenance of Hudson River Park. The funds raised by the tax also could pay for trash pickup on the West Street median, Pietrantone said.

Last month, Community Board 1 passed a resolution urging state and city agencies to find a solution now — not in a few years.

"Garbage is not being picked up, weeds are growing and shrubs are dying with no plan to save them," CB1 said in the resolution.

"These islands should not be the victim of budget cuts and the state and City of New York should find personnel to attend to these areas."

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver sent a letter to the state Department of Transportation July 25 asking Commissioner Joan McDonald to take action.

"Many of the medians on this heavily trafficked street are not being properly taken care of, with garbage and overgrown weeds creating an eyesore and possibly safety hazards," Silver wrote.

His office never received a response.

Local residents and workers who were crossing West Street recently said they were surprised by all the garbage and weeds — and dismayed that so many people are littering.

"It doesn't look like the median has been cleaned for a long time," said Anthony Notaro, chairman of CB1's Battery Park City Committee.

"It's just getting choked with weeds. As it gets worse and worse, people make it look worse and worse [by dumping trash]." 

Jean Nayar, a Battery Park City resident, also was concerned about the garbage.

"It's disappointing, because they've done so much to improve it," Nayar said of the West Street medians. "It's too bad. Hopefully they'll get it sorted out."

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