Downtown Crossing, a plan to reconnect a city split in two by Route 34, could be in danger.
Last October, University and city administrators celebrated news that the federal government had awarded New Haven $16 million in TIGER II federal stimulus dollars to tear down Route 34, the highway constructed in the 1950s in hopes of decaying urban areas, and replace it with surface streets and 10.5 acres of land for development. City officials said the project will bring in hundreds of millions in economic activity and bring together neighborhoods — including Yale’s Medical School and central campus — currently divided by the freeway.
But the feasibility of this project was brought into question after the midterm elections in November, which saw 87 freshmen Republicans, including many members of the budget-minded Tea Party, win seats in the U.S. House.
If these freshman Republicans get their way, Downtown Crossing might not happen at all. On Saturday, the House passed a bill that would slice $61 billion — including all funding for TIGER II grants — from President Obama’s budget for the current fiscal year. If the bill clears the Democratic Senate and a threatened presidential veto, the federal stimulus money that made Downtown Crossing possible will vanish. Still, city administrators are “plowing ahead” on the project, said Kelly Murphy, the city’s director of economic development, and members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation said they will continue to fight these cuts.
“As with so many other aspects of the new Republican majority’s budget, these misguided cuts to transportation investments are shortsighted and will destroy middle class jobs and endanger the economic recovery,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro said in an e-mail statement to the News Tuesday.
City officials are planning for Downtown Crossing to play a key role in the revitalization of downtown New Haven. The project will begin by tearing down sections of Route 34 that separate the downtown area from the Hill, and central campus from the medical school. In its place, developers will build “urban boulevards,” opening up land for business development that will include sidewalks, bike paths and storefronts.
Without the TIGER II funding, “it would be very hard” for the project to continue on schedule, Murphy said. Still, she said she remains optimistic that the project will be able to continue as planned.
“It’s never pleasant to hear things that you’re working on could potentially be cut,” Murphy said. “But I think that this is a very strong project.”
Downtown Crossing also has a safety net because it’s already so far along, she added. In 2005, the city received $5 million in earmarks for the project, a sum that has covered about 30 percent of the total design process. Additionally, real estate developer Carter Winstanley, who owns property in Science Park and throughout New Haven, has already announced plans to build a 400,000 square foot building on land that will be available once Route 34 comes down. The construction project, known as 100 College Street, will bring in 2,000 construction jobs, 1,000 permanent jobs and $1.5 million in property taxes. Last Tuesday, city officials held the fourth community forum on Downtown Crossing, where residents had an opportunity to sound off on plans for development.
At this point, cancelling the project would actually cost more money that it saves, said Director of City Plan Karyn Gilvarg in an e-mail Tuesday.
“The proposed cut would not be a cut — it would be a recision, a broken promise, and waste of all the time and effort in feasibility and design the federal government has already paid for,” Gilvarg said.
Across the state, Democrats have decried the House Republicans’ additional cuts — which would take effect in the current year — and pledged to fight the Republicans’ trims in any way they can.
“I will work with my Senate colleagues to fight these irresponsible cuts, ensuring that we maintain our commitment to important projects that create jobs in Connecticut,” U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal said in a Tuesday statement.
Construction on the project is slated to begin in early 2012, Murphy said. She said she hopes Winstanley’s 100 College Street will open by 2015.
Correction: February 24, 2011
A timeline accompanying the article “Cuts threaten Route 34 project” misstated the amount of federal TIGER II grants New Haven received last year. The city received $16 million. In addition, due to an editorial editor, city officials were once mistakenly referenced to as city editor.