AuthorBrennan, Grace

Introduction 826 I. Getting to "Futurama": The National Interstate Highway System 829 A. The 1956 Act 829 B. Building the Cross-Bronx Expressway 832 II. The Aftermath - A Lack of Viable Legal Solutions to the Harms Caused by the Interstate Highway System 837 A. Freeway Revolts 838 i. Freeway Revolts on the Basis of Racial Discrimination 838 ii. Eminent Domain Challenge to the Cross-Bronx 839 B. Environmental Protection and Historical Preservation Legislation to Combat Highway Infrastructure 840 i. Environmental Protection Legislation 840 ii. Historical Preservation Legislation 842 III. Park on the Highway - Infrastructure Project as a Viable Solution to the Cross-Bronx's Harms 843 A. Highway Cap Parks 844 B. Capping the Cross-Bronx 846 IV. Framework to Cap the Cross-Bronx 848 A. Agency Coordinated Racial Equity Impact Assessments 849 i. Racial Equity Impact Assessments in Urban Policy 850 ii. Appling Racial Equity Impact Assessments to Highway Infrastructure 852 B. Community-Based Infrastructure - Community Stakeholders Through a Discretionary Budget 853 i. Community-Based Initiatives for Policy Decisions 855 ii. Community Discretionary Budget for the Highway Cap Park 856 Conclusion 858 INTRODUCTION

At the 1939 New York World's Fair, the most popular display was the General Motor's "Futurama" exhibit which sought to predict the way of the world for transportation in the next 20 years. (1) The exhibit presented 14 lane highways, 50,000 cars, 500,000 buildings, and 14,000 vehicles to symbolize the future of the free movement of people throughout the United States. (2) Seventeen years later, in 1956, Congress would take a step toward realizing General Motors's vision with the Federal-Aid Highway Act (1956 Act), calling for 41,000 miles of highways, with 90% of the cost financed by the federal government. (3) At the forefront of U.S. urban highway construction was one of New York City's most infamous highways, funded by the 1956 Act, the Cross-Bronx Expressway. (4) Rather than realize an image of technological ingenuity, the Cross-Bronx has come to represent the blatant disregard for the consequences of ramming multi-lane highways through urban neighborhoods. (5) The six-mile, six-lane highway plowed through a dozen vibrant Bronx neighborhoods (6) and is now surrounded by the poorest and most densely populated congressional district in the nation, (7) with a high concentration of diesel truck traffic and disproportionately high asthma rates. (8) Such construction of highways through urban centers was replicated across the United States, with the consequences of construction disproportionately falling on communities of color. (9) Federal and state officials targeted marginalized communities to build massive highways under the pretext of "slum clearance" while in the process destroying homes, parks, churches, schools, and business districts. (10)

Policymakers today have once again placed highway infrastructure development at the forefront. (11) The landmark $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (Infrastructure Act) that recently passed into law sets out to address both highways in disrepair, along with the aftermath of devastating highway construction under the 1956 Act on communities of color. (12) While reconstruction carries the risk that highway builders repeat mistakes of the past at the expense of marginalized communities, lawmakers, however, are presenting significant infrastructure projects as an opportunity to rectify some of the harm caused by the interstate highway system. (13) Conversations around the legacy of land use and development have shifted discussions toward how developers can utilize new infrastructure projects as a solution to community inequities rooted in the impacts of decades-old highways. (14) Among such infrastructure projects are highway cap parks--a land bridge built as a park over highways through urban centers. (15) Research surrounding cap parks, both based on existing parks and future proposals, has provided data in connection with the positive environmental impacts of creating new acreage and green space, (16) in addition to acting as a means to rectify the losses of neighborhoods that never recovered from their initial destruction. (17) As a solution to the harms of the Cross-Bronx, this Note assesses the feasibility of a highway cap park over the Cross-Bronx. This Note argues that a cap park can serve as a feasible solution to rectify some of the harms caused by the continued challenges to communities living in the highway's path, provided that developers take on a series of measures, taking into account any disparate impacts on current residents, and ensuring that the character of the community is maintained.

Part I discusses a brief history of the 1956 Act, along with the construction of the Cross-Bronx, including the lasting harmful impacts on the community of the South Bronx. Part II addresses the legal response to slow the devastation of highway development, where battles in court based on racial discrimination or eminent domain fell short, and federal legislation focused on environmental protection and preserving historic sites rather than address the existing harms to communities. Part III explores the growing trend among urban planners to build cap parks over highways in U.S. cities and assesses the currently proposed highway cap park over the Cross-Bronx as a meaningful solution to rectify at least some of the harms caused by the initial highway construction. Part IV proposes that a highway cap park may be feasible provided that developers take on a series of measures, including (1) the implementation of a robust racial equity impact assessment and (2) a participatory community budget with the goal of ensuring that past ignored issues associated with broad-scale projects are addressed head-on and that the community is a stakeholder in the success of the project. This Note will conclude that where courts and laws have fallen short, rebuilding with the right tools can offer a means to rectify.


    In 1956, President Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. (18) Professed as the "biggest peacetime construction project of any description ever undertaken by the United States or any other country," (19) the legislation called for 41,000 miles of highways with 90% of the cost financed by the federal government. (20) Prior to 1956, there were only 480 highway miles either completed or under construction in United States's 25 largest cities, 290 of which were in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. (21) The 1956 Act would thereafter account for 8,600 urban highway miles. (22) This Part provides a brief history of the 1956 Act, focusing on Congress's silence on the legislation's potential social consequences, including community displacement while prioritizing the interests of private corporations. This Part further explains how the Cross-Bronx came to be built with lasting harmful impacts on the community of the South Bronx.

    1. The 1956 Act

      The practice of Congress authorizing federal "interstate" roadway programs dates back to 1921 following Henry Ford's mass production of the Model T. (23) Accessibility to cars and a series of Congressional reports and legislation calling upon states to designate a formal system of highways created the momentum that ultimately led to the 1956 Act. (24)

      The legislation sought to alleviate the problems of congestion and urban deterioration. (25) Interstate expressways moreover contributed to and embraced the suburban cultural boom, where highways and the proliferation of the automobile offered a link to the city and potential sites of suburban development. (26) By improving transportation, highways enabled suburbanites to easily access the city whereby impacting not only the population of cities but the overall structure to be amenable to the automobile. (27) Public officials generally supported urban highways because there was a belief that such highways, amid a broad, nationwide interconnected scheme, were essential to the success of the interstate system as a whole. (28) Moreover, public officials believed they were essential to improving urban transportation efficiency, thus strengthening urban economies. (29) Notably, President Eisenhower's 1956 State of the Union address called on Congress to address the growing problem of car accidents, when the numbers of cars, trucks, and buses had increased from 58 million to 61 million. (30)

      Funding of the 1956 Act was based upon the allocation of highway user taxes to pay the federal share and, in turn, allocating these funds to states for their highway projects. (31) Highway user taxes, such as the gas and tire tax, would pay for the federal portion of costs, which would subsequently be redirected into a Highway Trust Fund. (32) This fund could only pay for interstate construction, ultimately creating a self-financing system. (33)

      While the bill set out to impact every U.S. resident equally, several features of the provisions to the highway bill stand out as contributing to disparate impacts on certain communities. First, the statute did not include any relocation assistance. (34) The bill initially considered by the House would have included family relocation expenses in highway construction costs with 90% of the federal share of payments made to persons requiring relocation. (35) When the bill reached the Senate, however, the provision was deleted by the Public Works Committee and the House acceded to this provision's removal. (36) The reasoning for the Senate's removing the provision has been described as Congressional "horse trading" of issues, while the congressional record indicates that the Senate opposed an amendment for housing relocation because committees had not adequately considered the issue. (37) One prominent factor, however, is the lack of a strong lobbying organization to...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT