Proposal for the Lower Manhattan Expressway (LOMEX) that would connect the East and Hudson River crossings. via Library of Congress.
Among Robert Moses’ visionary plans throughout New York City during his time as one of the prime urban planners in the mid 20th century is a plan for a Lower Manhattan Expressway (LOMEX) that would connect the Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges to the Holland Tunnel. It would have also cut through SoHo and Little Italy, and the plan was ultimately nixed in 1962 due to widespread disapproval from the public (and from Jane Jacobs, of course).
Technically, the project that would bring an expressway to connect the East and Hudson River Crossings was approved in a 1941 proposal. In the two years that followed, six proposals for highways in Lower Manhattan were floated around the City Planning Department. What ultimately slowed the construction of the project was the construction of three other roadways in the city: the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, the Harlem River Drive, and the FDR Drive.
It wasn’t until 1946 that Robert Moses brought up another round of proposals for the construction of LOMEX (it was around this time that the nickname was coined). It resembled the map displayed above, connecting the Williamsburg Bridge and Manhattan Bridges over the East River, converging over SoHo, and heading west into New Jersey via the Holland Tunnel. The project would raze fourteen blocks of what is currently SoHo and Little Italy and cost the city an estimated $72 million in total, including the displacement of just under 2,000 families and over 800 businesses.
These artist renditions from the 1950s show the path of the Lower Manhattan Expressway through the city. (Left) The West Side Highway in the foreground where the Holland Tunnel underpass of LOMEX originates heading eastward. (Right) LOMEX splits into the two roadways that lead to the East River Crossings, in the foreground is Sara D. Roosevelt Park on Chrystie Street. via NYCRoads.
Entering the 1960s, support for LOMEX was greatly dwindling. Robert Moses continued to support the initiative, stating: “The route of the proposed expressway passes through a deteriorating area with low property values due in considerable part to heavy traffic that now clogs the surface streets. Construction of the expressway will relieve traffic on these streets and allow this locality to develop in a normal manner that will encourage improved housing, increased business activity, higher property values, a general rise in the prosperity of the area, and an increase in real estate tax revenues.”
Part of the Lower Manhattan Expressway was actually built in all the time it took to finalize the project. If you have been to Canal Street at the West Side Highway, there is a part of the street that was initially built for LOMEX and, obviously, repurposed when the plans were cancelled. Ultimately what doomed LOMEX was the fact that Moses’ estimates on the roadways benefits to congestion in the area were considered obsolete by the time LOMEX would have actually been finalized. They used outdated traffic counts that were meaningless by 1968 when the project received approval by the Federal Bureau of Public Roads. An increase in carbon monoxide levels in the vicinity of the roadway was one reason Governor Nelson Rockefeller shelved the project indefinitely in 1971.
Robert Moses was persistent, even in defeat: he wrote in his book Public Works: A Dangerous Trade, “Apparently the expressway has been shelved for the present. On the other hand, most of the parties concerned, including the Downtown Manhattan Association, the Regional Plan Association and others, agree that there must eventually be a Lower Manhattan Expressway.”
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