This Small Stretch of NYC Freeway is One Of the Most Infamous in the World

When most people look at the Cross Bronx Expressway (CBE), they mostly perceive it only on what they see. A dilapidated nexus of never-ending traffic jams which routinely ranks as one of the most congested freeways in America.
Cross Bronx Expressway 18 photos
Photo: Google Creative Commons Search
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Beneath the surface, this seemingly inconsequential six-and-a-half-mile freeway has a story steeped in more controversy perhaps than any other road in America, and perhaps the world.

From Shadowy Beginnings - Robert Moses is one of the most polarizing American figures of the 20th century. He’s been described as everything including a savant for urban development who turned New York City into a global powerhose. He's also been called a man that intentionally discriminated against disadvantaged Hispanic and African American communities with his urban planning.

Moses’ mission was simple in theory but endlessly complex in practice - to create a bustling public transit system that used a combination of trains, cars, and busses that could whisk people across the then exploding New York Metro Area.

Moses’ plan for the Cross Bronx Expressway was to be the first freeway of its kind in America, the first-ever to be constructed directly across a crowded urban environment.

Cross Bronx Expressway
Photo: Google Creative Commons
Moses' brainchild would stretch from the western edge of the Throgs Neck Bridge in the eastern section of the borough to the George Washington Bridge and east New Jersey.

The labor involved in clearing a path across a central urban area like the Bronx was astronomical, requiring dynamiting through ridges made of solid rock, laying asphalt across valleys, and even diverting several small rivers.

The freeway took 15 years, from 1948 to 1963, and cost over $140 million to complete, or $1.2 billion in today’s money. One particular one-mile section of the road was the most expensive mile of roadway laid anywhere in the world at that time. This stretch cost $40 million to build, over a quarter of a billion dollars in today’s money.

Cutting The Bronx In Two - The potentially nefarious intent of Robert Moses’ grand plan for New York City was not widely discussed until author Robert A. Caro published The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York in 1974.

Cross Bronx Expressway
Photo: Google Creative Commons
The book shattered Moses’ public image as a good-natured servant of the people. One chapter of the book detailed how one particular stretch of the Cross Bronx Expressway ran roughhouse on the business and residents of East Treemont, a primarily Hispanic and African American section of the West Bronx.

One of multiple once stable and racially diverse New York CIty communities laid to waste by Moses' urban planning. One study funded by Baruch College found that the south Bronx lost an estimated  600,000 jobs from the local economy as a result of the freeway.

The CBE Freeway had a secondary consequence of effectively splitting the borough down the middle, with poorer ethnically Hispanic and African-American neighborhoods in the south, and more affluent neighborhoods in the north Bronx. These and other accusations of power-grabbing and racism left a mark on his legacy that stayed with him until his death in 1981, and on to the present day.

An Iconic Traffic Nightmare, On Top Of All The Controversy - Apart from its dubious placement in the middle of a major urban center, the CBE is located at the gateway to a host of different destinations. Making it a primary lifeline for commuters and delivery drivers converging from one of several different locations.

Cross Bronx Expressway
Photo: Google Creative Commons
Its west end leads to the interchange at U.S Route 1 I-95 through the George Washing Bridge and on to Interstate-80 in New Jersey. This road can be taken all the way to San Fransisco.

Picking up Interstate 87 junction at Morris Heights will take you north out of New York City into the bordering county of Westchester. From there, I-87 will carry you to New York State’s border with Canada.

All this converging passenger and shipping traffic coupled with a booming city population has led to the iconic New York City traffic jams that often begin at the CBE and extend in either direction for miles.

The CBE is also known as being one of the most accident-prone and dangerous stretches of road anywhere in New York City, ranking fifth in the nation for serious accidents per year in 2019 according to Lipsig, Shapey, Manus & Moverman, a law firm representing auto accident victims in New York City.

Those statistics alone would cause any road to grow to infamy. The plethora of other unpleasantness surrounding this little freeway’s story brings it to a level of shame that leaves a substantial scar on America’s largest city.
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