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New York City's High Line park to get US$60m link to brand-new train station

The project has drawn concerns over splashing out on this and other infrastructure projects amid the pandemic

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Officials said the new link will be an alternative way to access the new Moynihan station, which is part of Pennsylvania Station.

New York

FOR more than a decade, the High Line, an elevated park that stretches for nearly 2.4 km through the western side of lower Manhattan, has been a symbol of ambitious urban renewal: a sleek, tree-lined walkway created from an old rundown rail line that cuts through once-industrial neighbourhoods.

Before the pandemic, it had become a major New York destination for residents and out-of-town visitors alike, drawing about eight million people in 2019.

And now, the park, which showed how the city could reinvent itself and reimagine decaying spaces, is to be expanded.

Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Sunday that the High Line will be extended to connect to the newly opened Moynihan Train Hall, a project that he said will help spur development in the surrounding neighbourhoods and boost an economy facing a deep crisis because of the pandemic.

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The new link, officials said, will provide an alternative way to access the new station, which serves Amtrak and the Long Island Railroad. It is part of a broader package, including the new train hall and improvements sought for Pennsylvania Station, that seeks to improve the experience of taking mass transportation into and out of New York City.

"Traffic has reached impossible levels, and it's never been efficient or effective," Mr Cuomo said in an interview. "But it's clear that if the metropolitan area is going to grow, mass transit has to be better, safer, more pleasant, especially in this new world."

A 366-m elevated walkway will connect the existing High Line at 30th Street to a pedestrian path at Manhattan West, a mixed-use development adjacent to the train hall.

State officials could not provide a specific timeline on when construction on the expansion would start or when they expected it to be complete.

The Moynihan station, which opened Jan 1, is a US$1.6-billion building complete with over 0.40 ha of glass skylights, art installations and 28-m-high ceilings. It is just one in a series of ambitious infrastructure projects, including the Second Avenue subway along the Upper East Side of Manhattan and a rebuilt La Guardia Airport, that the governor is seeking to make a prominent part of his legacy.

The state is also eyeing another possible expansion of the High Line to connect it north to Pier 76 on West 38th Street, where Mr Cuomo wants to turn a police department tow pound into another park. The existing High Line travels 2.3 km from 34th Street south to Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District.

But expanding it raises questions about spending at a time when the state faces a major financial crisis. And the High Line, while a boon for the city, is an amenity that is little used by low-income residents and people of colour.

Still, the governor believes the park's growth is important to the city's future. "Franklin D. Roosevelt believed in building large infrastructure projects to lift the economy," Mr Cuomo said. "But there was another purpose, which was to lift people's spirits. If you lift the spirits, you lift the economy."

He plans to formally announce the expansion on Monday during his State of the State address.

The High Line project started after two men - writer Joshua David and painter Robert Hammond - met at a community board meeting in 1999 and discovered they shared an interest in saving a railroad trestle that had been out of commission since 1980 and was slated for demolition.

Construction began in 2006, and the first section, from Gansevoort Street to 20th Street, opened to the public in 2009. The third phase - what was then considered the final phase - opened in 2014, stretching the elevated walkway from 30th Street to 34th Street, looping around the Hudson Yards development.

The project has been celebrated worldwide, but it has also been expensive, with construction and maintenance almost exclusively financed through private funds.

The most recent leg of construction cost US$35 million. The first two sections of the High Line cost US$152 million, city officials estimated.

State officials estimate the connector between the High Line and Moynihan Train Hall would cost about US$60 million, though that figure could change.

Mr Cuomo said a third of it would be financed by the state; another third would come from Brookfield Properties, the developer of the mixed-use development next to the train hall; and the remainder would come from non-profit groups and other private organisations.

Mr Cuomo, acknowledging that the state was facing severe financial difficulties because of the pandemic, said that its portion of the cost would come from infrastructure funds that could not be used to help address budget shortfalls.

He said the state was also expecting aid from the federal government for infrastructure projects after Joe Biden becomes president.

The High Line has hastened a transformation in the West Side of lower Manhattan - a part of the city that for decades was lined with working-class homes, light industrial business and storage facilities for clothes, meat and mail.

It has enchanted tourists and helped spur the development of luxury high-rise buildings.

A 2012 study from the New York City Economic Development Corp said that between 2003 and 2011, property values near the park increased 103 per cent.

But the park has also drawn criticism that it is contributing to the displacement of lower-income people and people of colour living in the surrounding neighbourhoods.

Mr Cuomo noted that there would be no displacement of actual buildings during the expansion.

One of the groups that has criticised the High Line is Save Chelsea, a coalition devoted to preserving the neighbourhood's historic character.

Pamela Wolff, Save Chelsea's treasurer, is 85 and has lived there since 1956. She said on Sunday that life in the neighbourhood had changed greatly since the High Line opened.

The High Line led to a constant crush of tourists and expensive new condominiums that priced out longtime residents, she said.

"It has been difficult finding a way to live with that kind of influx into the community."

As for the extension, she said: "I don't see why we would have strong objections to it" as long as no historic structures were destroyed to build it.

Proponents of the expansion include Brad Hoylman, a state senator whose district includes the High Line. He said on Sunday that "to do it right is always going to be more expensive, but I think at the same time these are once-in-a-generation projects".

He said that engaging with the community would be critical, as it had been since the park's first development.

"I think the reason why the High Line is so successful is that it was created at the community level and had involvement by neighbourhood stakeholders from Day One, so we should most certainly replicate that model with this new connection," he said. NYTIMES

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