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New York’s Master Builders

“Rather like an aging samurai or a 19th-century empire builder who has lived past his time, Robert Moses remains proud of his monuments and cannot accept the modern challenge to his build-at-any-price ethic.”

by

Rocky at the Bridge: Avalanches of Cement

Nelson Rockefeller will be remembered for two things, and the second is arrogance. When he wants someone or something, he’s willing to pay for it. It makes no difference whether the money is his or ours. With the World Trade Center and the Albany Mall safely in the bank, his appetite is now focused on a $400 million bridge across Long Island Sound, from Oyster Bay to Rye. Despite six years of unrelenting opposition from the communities the bridge is intended to “serve,” the unanimous vote of both houses of the state legislature, numerous lawsuits and court injunctions, funding cuts for critical social programs, and even the denial of needed permission by the Depart­ment of the Interior, Rockefeller insists he will have his bridge. Asked how this could be in the face of clear legal, political, and economic barriers, the Governor replied on April 5, “That’s up to me. You’ll find out as the scenario unfolds.”

As background, it is important to remember that Rockefeller has learned to discipline his social altruism. The driving motivation he brings to this crusade springs not only from unreformed reverence for road-building, but from a workmanlike relationship with the construction interests and the commitment to provide a half-­billion-dollar sinecure for his faithful Robert Moses, a generous use of the public purse even by the Governor’s high standards. In a curious way the Oyster Bay Bridge is not a transportation story. It is a personal matter, and it belongs to two men, Nelson Rockefeller and Robert Moses. The rest of us are just paying for it.

Governor Rockefeller’s alliance with the construction unions was not achieved at quite the exorbi­tant moral price of Nixon’s contract with Jimmy Hoffa’s Team­sters. But Rockefeller’s invest­ment of public money in highway and construction boondoggles (plus the lending of private aircraft and socially flattering personal favors) yielded a fine re­turn in 1970 when Peter Brennan’s construction union endorsed Rockefeller for governor over labor advocate Arthur Goldberg. Since then Brennan has graduated to a higher master as Nixon’s Secretary of Labor. (You will recall the pearl-handled “Uncle Peter” of the labor movement recently earned his keep by bailing out the Governor and Dr. Ronan in the 1972 Long Island Rail Road strike.)

For over 60 years Robert Moses has been, and still is, endlessly employed by various public agencies and departments. Long hailed by the Daily News as “Big Bob the Builder,” he has built highways and tunnels, power plants and bridges, parks and playgrounds, Jones Beach and the Coliseum. As the jacket of his au­tobiography puts it, “Fiercely dedicated and almost Napoleonic in his energies, he has transformed the face of this country as perhaps no other public servant has ever done.”

Robert Moses is one of those successful men who have grown venerable without achieving the restraint and modesty generally incident to physical decline. It may be difficult for the normal 70-year-old to accept, but at 84 Moses still has an untiring ambition and unyielding sense of what New York owes him. Nelson Rockefeller likes him because he gets things done and because he understands the game. Rather like an aging samurai or a 19th-century empire builder who has lived past his time, Moses remains proud of his monuments and cannot accept the modern challenge to his build-at-any-price ethic. He cannot perceive that his bridges and access roads, his expressways and Battery Parking Garage, have destroyed mass transit and are magnets for the cars that are choking his city. He will never understand that “changing the face of the country” may be not progress but destruction.

The 1960s were tough for Moses, and he means to come back. First there was the 1964–65 World’s Fair, with its massive debts and embarrassing questions. Fortu­nately Moses himself did not take too seriously the optimistic pro­jections of his consultant Ma­digan-Hyland, Inc. His benefits, an island of solvency in the sur­rounding bankruptcy of the Fair, totaled over $1 million, and were carefully funded before the bad news began to come in. In 1965 George S. Moore, president of First National City Bank and chairman of the Fair’s Finance Committee, resigned his Fair post midway between the Fair’s two summer seasons. Moore charged that “financial information sought by his committee had not been provided,” and noted Moses’s “recently discovered” employment contract. City Comp­troller Abraham Beame later reported that the Fair’s financial statements were inaccurate by $3.5 million and that “controls necessary for good management were lacking and the World’s Fair payment procedures were not in accordance with good accounting.”

For managing this bankrupt en­terprise, Moses was rewarded for over seven years with an annual salary of $100,000, further enriched by a yearly annuity of $15,000. Today, over seven years after the Fair closed bankrupt, he is still receiving an annual salary from the World’s Fair of $27,500. The City of New York, on the other hand, recovered none or its $24 million direct investment and the noteholders salvaged only 62 cents on the dollar.

From 1946 to 1968 Moses was also chairman of the prosperous Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, which resisted sharing its wealth with New York’s ailing mass transit system until Rockefeller absorbed it into Dr. Ronan’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority. This indignity left Moses without a title. He went along anyway when the MTA took him on as a $35,000-a-year consultant and, according to the Daily News (7/19/71), when Rockefeller promised Moses the Oyster Bay Bridge would be his baby. “This crossing has long been a cherished project of mine” Moses wrote in his apt book Public Works: A Dangerous Trade. “I was told by Dr. Ronan and by Governor Rockefeller several times that the building of the Long Island Sound crossing from Bayville to Rye would be my primary responsibility when that project was in the clear.” Serious students of politics may detect in this public statement a wary attempt to nail down Rockefeller’s commitment. They will not be shocked than Rockefeller, Ronan, and Moses regard the state’s public resources as their own personal assets.

When Moses first proposed a Long island Sound crossing in 1965, the Governor dismissed it as “completely premature.” But Rockefeller is known to look after his own. Once he had made his commitment to give Moses his bridge, the Governor began to come through. By 1967 the project became serious business. The traditional steps followed: mobi­lizing the support or potential beneficiaries, preparing favorable consultants’ reports, a smooth public relations hustle (which initially led the New York Times and Newsday to favor the proposal), and a lightning attempt to whisk it through the state legislature.

Madigan-Hyland, the World’s Fair wizards and Moses’s favorite independent consultants, came forward eagerly with favorable feasibility reports. The fun­damental rationale, then and now, is that a bridge will stimulate the development of Long Island and will ease congestion on metropol­itan bridges and expressways by linking Nassau County directly with the mainland. Perhaps more to the point, it is part of a vast but discreet plan to build a “circum­ferential” expressway (Interstate 287) around New York, carrying heavy traffic through West­chester and over the Sound, across Long Island to a new “Sunrise Expressway” along southern Nassau into Brooklyn, and linking up with the Verrazano Bridge.

Beloved by commuters as the Trojan Horse of public transportation, Dr. Ronan enjoys pre­senting himself as a mass transit advocate. During last year’s LIRR strike he agonized that “it’s simply tragic to put more trucks on Long Island highways.” There will be no railroad tracks over the bridge. In Moses’s favorite phrase, it means a major shift “from rail to rubber” for both freight and passenger traffic. Skeptics like attorney Bronson Eden of the Action Committee Against the Bridge point out that what is needed to help the Long Island economy and metropolitan transportation is money for LIRR freight-handling improvements. The Long Island is not even equipped for truck piggyback operations.

From the very beginning, bridge sponsors were committed to the absolute priority of the automobile. As Moses put it in his 1965 Comments on the plan, “Public officials have taken an oath… They are charged with anticipating the daily and seasonal demands of the au­tomobile.” He has less respect, however, for the drivers of the cars. “Why must a driver behave like an ant, and if he must, why isn’t he an obedient ant?”

What the planners did not anticipate, and still haven’t learned, is that many people no longer share their reverence for the automobile. In Long Island and Westchester, an eight-mile-wide pollution corridor surrounding six lanes of choking traffic is no longer considered heaven. But like the Hapsburgs, Rockefeller and his courtiers have forgotten nothing and learned nothing. By clinging to the expressway think­ing of the ’50s, Rockefeller, Ronan, and Moses are ignoring every modern concept of mass transit and regional planning.

In 1967 the MTA’s Dr. Ronan en­dorsed the plan for the 6.5-mile span, and Governor Rockefeller pushed the scheme in state legislative hearings. Under pres­sure from horrified constituents, Nassau and Westchester legislators resisted. In exchange for support for his $2.5 billion ­Transportation Bond Issue, the Governor­ temporarily retreated to a vaguer proposal for two Long Island bridges. John Mitchell (yes, John Mitchell) then drafted a crafty omnibus bill packaging the bridge authorizations with the unification of metropolitan transportation under the MTA, and the Governor slipped it through the 1967 session.

By 1968 the push was on again, but citizens groups were mobilizing, and the Mayor of Bayville was already describing the scheme as the “rape of Bayville.” Nearby citizens painstakingly as­sembled private shorefront, lot by lot, to give a bird sanctuary to the Department of the Interior. The day after the State Transpor­tation Department endorsed the bridge, the U.S. Department of Justice approved a deed transfer­ring 3100 acres of Oyster Bay wetlands to the Interior Depart­ment. The deed prohibited the Department from building any­thing “over, under, through or on” the refuge. By then the Times had also grown more sophisticated, and was asking thought­fully (12/14/68) whether there was “a proven traffic need for a $140 million structure that will destroy many homes on both sides of the sound and may seriously and permanently impair the recreational value of that magnificent body of water?”

The opposition was getting more dangerous, and 1969 was another bad year for Moses. Effectively represented by Edward Costikyan of that formidable law firm, Paul, Weiss, Goldberg, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, the City of Rye and 11 Nassau County communities won a decision challenging the constitutionality of packaging the bridge in the MTA bill and holding that the MTA was not even authorized to build bridges or expressways. After some wavering these findings were overturned by the Court of Appeals in a 4-to-3 decision.

By the time the Governor disposed of these problems, it was time for a new consultant. The up­state firm of Creighton Hamburg, Inc., was engaged to prepare the next endorsement. Meanwhile the voters rejected Rockefeller’s $2.5 million 1971 Transportation Bond Issue. Even the state legislature was getting the message that peo­ple were tired of poor housing and state-financed office buildings, expensive expressways and crumbling mass transit, social service cutbacks and massive construction boondoggles. In 1971 Assemblyman Joseph M. Reilly, a Rockefeller Republican from Oyster Bay, sponsored a bill barring construction of the bridge. It passed the State Senate 49 to 4, and the Assembly 131 to 8. The Governor was not impressed. He vetoed the bill.

Ordinarily that would have been that. But for the first time since 1872 the Assembly tried to override a governor’s veto. Even Rockefeller’s thick hide would have been tickled by that one, and the Governor began to flex his muscles. Bridge opponents needed 100 Assembly votes to make the two-thirds majority necessary to override. By the time the Governor was finished with them, he had the override votes down to 93, and the bridge was still alive.

In January 1971, Creighton Hamburg delivered the ideal con­sultant’s report, endorsing the ur­gency of the Governor’s project and minimizing residential, rec­reational, and environmental costs. The cost of the bridge itself was set at $189 million, ultimately to be paid for by bonds financed by tolls. Interest costs would add another $67 million and access roads $70 million more, for an easy round number (at the time of the 1971 homework) of $305 million. Neither Ronan nor the op­position had to read the report to know their response to it. Ralph J. Marino, Republican Senator from Oyster Bay and the Senate sponsor of the 1971 bill, promised “This doubles my determination to see to it that legislation is passed prohibiting construction.”

By now the Times had con­cluded gravely (2/7/72) that New York should have no difficulty now in rejecting the advice of the consulting firm… an exorbitant price would have to be paid for whatever vague and uncertain gain it might bring in reduced traffic congestion, new jobs or lower trucking costs. Speaking of the same project it had once en­dorsed the Times now referred to “additional bonded indebtedness… deterioration of the area on both ides of the bridge… fume­-choked traffic conduits; houses destroyed; boating seriously af­fected… noise and a new eyesore on the horizon.”

After the libertine financial his­tory of the Rockefeller Albany Mall, not to mention the Moses Fair, nobody took the estimates too seriously. (Just apply the “Rocky Factor” and multiply by four the cost of his favorite pro­jects.) Even on the Creighton Hamburg figures, the accom­panying analysis prepared by co-­consultants Merrill, Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith was in­consistent with the Summary provided by the State Transpor­tation Department. The Summary indicates the bridge will be self­-supporting, although additional security could be used to restrict the size of the bond issue. The Merrill, Lynch analysis, however, said it was “desirable and prudent and in the public interest… to provide some form of addi­tional security” beyond the tolls. An additional wrinkle provided by Merrill, Lynch was the suggestion that bridge bond investors require restrictions against other facili­ties which might compete for traffic, a bad omen both for mass transit, and for proponents of a bridge further east on Long Island.

By 1972, the legislators had tasted the full richness of the bridge public relations campaign. But they had also talked to the voters. The anti-bridge bill unanimously passed both houses of the state legislature. Once again, the Governor vetoed. Senator Marino moved to override the veto, but Senator Bridges moved to table his motion. Lieutenant Governor Malcolm Wilson promptly declared the tabling carried without taking a vote.

A critical element in these pro­cedural intrigues was the careful role of Senate Minority Leader Joseph Zaretzki. It was primary season, and Zaretzki faced an un­wanted June primary against Stephen Gottlieb. Despite the official Democratic position against the bridge, Zaretzki failed to work for the override and the over­ride attempt failed on May 11. On May 18 Gottlieb dropped out of the race against Zaretzki. On May 26 the Governor, alway sensitive to the needs of others, appointed Gottlieb to a $31,325 job on the State Liquor Authority. So the over-ride was bottled up and the bridge was alive for one more year.

The next step was to be public hearings which even Rockefeller and Moses cannot always avoid. Like all master planners, Moses has given considerable attention to the dilemma of using public funds without public consultation. A favored device is to hold public hearings that are not public hearings. This can be accomplished through notice, site selection, and timing. As Moses needlessly advised in a letter (12/3/68) to that old expert, Dr. Ronan of the MTA, “I strongly recommend a hearing on the pro­ject as such in Albany — as distin­guished from two local hearings, one in Oyster Bay and the other at Rye. The first hearing should carry out the Governor’s pledge of a public discussion of the need of the project at this time.”

With the candor developed from years of getting his own way, Moses continued “I am afraid that if the State Department of Public Works conducts local hearings, there will be demands to know whether state bond funds will be used, whether the department will do the actual building, just how much the federal govern­ment will chip in, etc.”

After commenting on the need to allocate carefully the costs be­tween federally-aided elements of the project and non-federal segments (which require less public debate), Moses advised Ronan in another letter: “Results in such instances are obtained either by one man acting in several capa­cities or by one powerful metro­politan organization. The current excessive demands for participa­tion of all factions and critics in technical decisions have become absurd,” the public servant con­tinued. “In these confrontations the thin line between the demo­cratic process and sabotage be­comes fainter.”

On December 18, 1972, Moses’s techniques were implemented when the MTA scheduled the required public hearings for January 1973. Municipalities, citi­zens groups, and individuals promptly sued Dr. Ronan, the MTA, and other agencies, contending that the hearings violated U.S. Department of Transpor­tation regulations. On February 13, U.S. District Judge Lloyd MacMahon granted a permanent injunction barring the hearings until Dr. Ronan obeyed the law, stating that “full opportunity for effective public participation and free and open discussion were substantially thwarted, if not deliberately precluded, by defend­ants’ dubious tactics.”

MacMahon’s vigorous opinion said that “the published notice was not only two days short of the 30 days’ notice required, but, as a practical matter, was further shortened by inclusion of the long Christmas and New Year week­ends within the interim 28-day period. The curtailed notice, we think, was inexcusable in light of the unmistakable purpose of cor­ridor hearings to ‘afford full op­portunity for effective public par­ticipation in the consideration of highway location and design pro­posals by highway departments before submission to the Federal Highway Administration for ap­proval.’ ” MacMahon also held that Dr. Ronan had failed to invite required comments and that “there can be no excuse for defendants’ failure to comply with the letter, not to mention the spirit, of the law requiring disclosure of pertinent informa­tion.”

On March 16 of this year the Department of the Interior ad­vised the MTA that it would not grant easements for access routes to the bridge “over, under, through or on” the Oyster Bay National Wildlife Refuge. In a letter to Dr. Ronan, the Department refused even to comment on the state’s Environmental Impact Statement because all the pro­posed access roads crossed the Refuge. The Impact Statement was later withdrawn under pres­sure from another suit challenging the MTA’s right to prepare its own Impact State­ment. Many bridge opponents naively view the Interior Depart­ment’s letter as a final obstacle to the bridge, but realists are not so sure. As Sebastian Albrecht, bridge spokesman for the gung-ho Long Island Association of Com­merce and Industry (“LIA”), puts it knowingly, “I imagine this one will be circumvented just like the others have been.”

By now the bridge has earned other enemies, and today the campaign continues on several fronts. Connecticut, horrified by suggestions that it might host one end of the bridge, found even a Rye terminus too close for com­fort. Senator Ribicoff, after devel­oping compromise language with Senator Buckley, got through the Senate on March 15 a bill barring federal funding for any project that would “significantly affect” the road system of a neighboring state unless that state concurred. Ogden Reid’s companion house bill would apply even tougher standards for contiguous state ap­proval. Bitter lobbying surrounds the conference committee, of which Senator Buckley is a key but uncommitted member. (The Senator has not been as conservative on this one as William Buckley, who calls it “that damned bridge.”) Additional struggles involve the Coast Guard and the federal Department of Transportation, which under the Rivers and Harbors Act must approve all bridges and navigable waterways.

Always shy in such matters, the Governor is keeping his “scen­ario” up his sleeve, but he himself has already gone to Washington and attempted to reverse the Inte­rior Department’s ruling. There is also talk of court action by the state and a re-examination of the Oyster Bay Wildlife Refuge deed. Groups like the Teamsters, the construction unions, and the inter­ested developers of the LIA con­tinue to push the bridge, and even if the Governor changes his mind, there would always be Bob Moses to provide for.

The 1973 Reilly bill to kill the bridge, approved unanimously by the Corporations Committee of the Assembly, was slipped into the Ways and Means Committee, instead of to the Assembly floor. From Ways and Means it was shuffled to the Rules Committee, hopefully anticipating an early vote on the Assembly floor. Rock­efeller is not anxious to replay the veto-and-attempted-override scenario, and is doing a resource­ful job of tying up the bridge bills in both the Senate and the As­sembly. Every legislator knows that if he bucks the leadership on the tough ones, then his own bills will never reach the floor. Even if the bills escape and pass, an override is a tall order, and bridge op­ponents are pledged to fight to Moses’s last breath.

Many bridge opponents, despairing that bridge advocates would respect aesthetics, the popular will, or even legal procedures, are focusing their arguments on State economics. During the 10 Rockefeller years from 1961 to 1971, the state debt swelled from $1.6 billion to $8.19 billion. Today New York State has the largest per capita tax in the country and the largest deficit in its history. In 1962 the state’s “indirect debt” (based on lease-purchase obligations, like the Albany Mall) stood at $33 million. Ten years later it was $1.8 billion. As State Comptroller Arthur Levitt put it in 1971, “New York is mortgaging its future to a point which approaches the capacity of public burden. By far the largest category of state debt incurred in 1971 was for highway construction. Citizens for Sound Planning point out that from 1965 to 1972 the state highway debt multiplied nine-fold.

For the 1972-1973 fiscal year the Governor proposed major cut­backs in housing code enforce­ment, clinics, mental health ser­vices, urban clean-up, community colleges, and other social ser­vices. Although the budget in­dicates that spending for highways is also down, analysis shows that this is achieved only by the Governor’s imaginative presentation. State highway con­struction was cut to a lean $220 million. The fat came back with $100 million in highway bonds for the Thruway Authority (over the Comptroller’s objection on consti­tutional grounds, not to mention the Governor’s announced inten­tion to spend $450 million from 1971 to 1973 to compensate for his defeated 1971 Bond Issue).

By now the project is not the modest $140 million baby it was when Moses started talking eight years ago (if it ever was). More recent MTA figures speak of $215 million for the bridge and up to $97 million for approach roads. If interest charges come to only $88 million, this puts the bridge at $400 million if it were already under way. Not yet included is the cost of related highway “im­provements,” which in West­chester alone are reportedly scheduled at $120 million. And with federal funding for even the access roads now in doubt, the whole project is even more ex­travagant. Just to show us that excess has no limits, on April 21 Governor Rockefeller telephoned key labor leaders to promise that he was going ahead even if New York had to pay for everything.

Not only is the bridge an un­wanted luxury the state cannot af­ford, but it won’t even help Long Island. As John Keith, president of the Regional Plan Association, said January 15: “We must challenge the basic premise of the proponents of this viaduct-cum­-bridge that a crossing is essential to the Long Island and West­chester economies. This unsup­ported assertion does not follow the findings of state consultants as to the total growth of Long Island. Their report slates: ‘the construction of a bridge across Long Island Sound will provide a short-term boost to economic growth rates, but will not be a sig­nificant factor in the ultimate fu­ture of land development on Long Island.’ ”

Faced with evidence that the bridge is bad transportation and bad economics, bridge backers characterize the opposition as coming from either “environ­mental nuts” or “big estate owners.” (Some estate owners reply with their own mythology that Moses wants to destroy Oyster Bay because he was excluded from the Creek Club in Lattingtown.) Unless one goes to interested groups like the LIA, it is difficult to find anyone who favors the bridge. Local store­keepers dread competing with the inevitable shopping centers. Old people fear higher tax rates. Workers are concerned about a competitive influx from the main­land. Everyone who cares about recreation, natural beauty, or pollution is fighting the bridge. After talking to people in Long Island and Westchester it is easy to see why the votes were unani­mous.

Some businesses will die al­together if the bridge comes. David Relyea runs an oyster hatchery. “This bay is unpolluted because the population density is low. If that bridge comes, we have to pack up and go.” H. Butler Flower, whose family have been oystermen since 1860, re­gards it as a mortal struggle. Shipyard plumber Dan Burke dreads the resulting congestion. Jack Howes has been clamming for over 20 winters. He brings in blackfish in the spring and flounder and porgies in August. “I live in Bayville right near where the goddam thing is supposed to go. It’s Rocky and Moses. They made a little deal. The develop­ment stuff is bullshit. Poor people don’t want it.”

Over at the Twin Harbor Marina, which might do a booming business with new bridge traffic, Frank Chircop leans on his axe and explains it. “We don’t need it. Throggs Neck is 20 minutes away. This bridge will kill the shellfish. It’s a personal thing with Rockefeller. It s a deal. It’s not just this. It’s everything. If he does this, he can do any­thing.”

Even people not directly threatened by the bridge respond with hostility. Many opponents own property which would appreciate long before the bridge casts its shadow on the beach. Among the direct beneficiaries of the bridge and its access roads would be Stephen D. Regan, president of Regal Cadillac in Greenvale. But Regan is fed up with “the arro­gance of Albany” and as soon as the bridge is discussed he drops everything and talks intensely about the Governor. “There is a time for irreverence. We have got to call this guy names. It’s a petulant little man who doesn’t want to admit his pet project has been beaten. He is licked. He is a little boy. A spoiled brat.” Regan concentrates on the economics. “Long Island does need jobs and development. But the money ought to go into sewers and solid waste disposal, schools and hospi­tals. The day of the automotive commuter has got to come to an end. It should go to mass transit.”

Regan once voted for Rockefel­ler. Like well-informed Rockefel­ler critics in both Westchester and Long Island, he details sub­terfuges by which Rockefeller predetermines the wisdom of his proposals. Typical is the pre­sently un-needed six-lane construction of the Forest Avenue ex­tension in Glen Cove. Once the feeder roads are in place, the access roads and the bridge site make more sense, and the apparent cost is reduced by the unpublicized early expenditures.

On March 19 Regan wrote a “Dear Guv” letter to Albany which sums up sentiments common to those who attend the Governor’s “town meetings” or have challenged him directly. “I think it is time for a little plain talk. Trying to reason with you has proven to be an exercise in fu­tility for the many who have tried and now is the time for some sledge-hammer diplomacy. Are you so obstinately pig-headed that you can’t gracefully say ‘I’m licked’ or ‘I was wrong’ and go about the more important business of planning now to eliminate the dead end aspect of Long Island’s economic life?”

The bridge struggle is now so old that a network of organiza­tions, community leaders, and even political careers has built up around the issue. Ed Grainger, the Republican Mayor of Rye and once a Rockefeller man, has led the fight for eight years. He reports that more than 2000 peo­ple have contributed $238,000 to fight the bridge. In Westchester Barbara Mathis of Citizens for Sound Action has “telephone pyr­amids” ready to go when Dr. Ronan springs his next cut-rate hearings. Across the Sound, Claire Stern has more than 100 or­ganizations (with a combined membership of 50,000) tied into the Long Island Environmental Council and has worked against the bridge every day for three years. The Action Committee Against the Bridge, the Road Review League, Friends of the Earth, the Sierra Club, Commut­ers for Railroad Action, the Environmental Planning Lobby, and many others have become expert at community organization, fund raising, litigation, and pressure politics. In Stamford, Connecticut, citizens are bracing for a long haul by setting up a founda­tion to fight the bridge.

The grueling controversy has provided an unusually full oppor­tunity for public education. No one in the threatened communities is without an opinion. Bridge opponents know the enemy. For both sides, the bridge is a per­sonal matter and it may ultima­tely die for personal reasons: the presumptive mortality of Moses, and the Governor’s need to be re­-elected in 1974 so he can run for President in 1976 and start paving over the Great Lakes. But Rockefeller may have to slow down. His projects are creating a potential anti-Rockefeller state-wide coali­tion that could do what Harriman and O’Connor, Goldberg and Samuels, could never do by them­selves.

The intensely surreptitious and personal flavor that Rockefeller, Moses, and Ronan bring to their relentless pursuit of the bridge precludes objective discussion. When the Governor starts out with a duty to Moses, pre-deter­mined consultants’ reports, and an alliance with the construction and trucking unions, it is impos­sible to ask other parties to be open-minded. Immediately their backs are against the wall. They must litigate or be over-run. Whether in Orange County with Stewart Airport, in Manhattan with the Third Avenue terminal, or in Westchester and Long Island with his bridge, the Governor’s methods leave no room for reasoned behavior.

In both words and actions the Governor and his men use a dis­tasteful mix of stealth and heavy­ handedness. On April 5 the Governor boasts “it’s up to me” how the bridge will be built. On May 1 Dr. Ronan demands “an end to sec­ond, third and fourth guessing” by “local interests.” And back in 1965 the old master said it all in his Comments on the bridge, “Don’t forget that we are not merely prophesying. We are also helping to determine the future… No machine can take the place of the shrewd, prescient and clairvoyant practitioner. Ma­chines do not measure the impon­derables, the freaks of human na­ture, accidents, hell, high water and the King’s enemies, time, chance and luck. Road building, like banking, is not an exact science. We must still bet on human beings and their judgment and, if possible, find the right ones to put faith and money into and to guide pioneering and growth.” Recommending early seizure of private land for the bridge, Moses complained that “democracy gives back none of its victories.”

The monster builders may know how to squeeze the round pegs into the round holes. But New Yorkers did not elect Ronan or Moses to make judgments on how millions will live. In 1974 we may not even elect Nelson Rocke­feller.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 24, 2020

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