West Side Highway

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This article is about the section of NY 9A in Manhattan below 72nd Street. For the section of NY 9A in Manhattan above 72nd Street, see Henry Hudson Parkway. For the entire route, see New York State Route 9A.


West Side Highway
Joe DiMaggio Highway
Route information
Length: 5.29 mi[1] (8.51 km)
Existed: 2001 – present
Major junctions
South end: FDR Drive in Battery Park
  I-478 (Brooklyn–Battery Tunnel) in Battery Park City
I-78 (Holland Tunnel) in Tribeca
NY 495 (Lincoln Tunnel) in Hell's Kitchen
North end: Henry Hudson Parkway in Riverside South and Upper West Side
Highway system

The West Side Highway (officially the Joe DiMaggio Highway) is a mostly surface section of New York State Route 9A (NY 9A) that runs from West 72nd Street along the Hudson River to the southern tip of Manhattan in New York City. It replaced the West Side Elevated Highway, built between 1929 and 1951, which was shut down in 1973 due to neglect and lack of maintenance, and was dismantled by 1989. The term "West Side Highway" is often mistakenly used, particularly by the news media traffic reporters, to include the roadway north of 72nd Street which is properly known as the Henry Hudson Parkway.

The current highway, which was completed in 2001, but required some reconstruction due to damage sustained in the 9/11 attacks, uses the surface streets that existed before the elevated highway was built: West Street, Eleventh Avenue and Twelfth Avenue. A short section of 12th Avenue still runs between 125th and 138th Streets, under the Riverside Drive Viaduct. Eleventh Avenue is a separate street north of 22nd Street. The portion between West 42nd Street and Canal Street is part of the Lincoln Highway.

Route description[edit]

Roadside Shrine II art installation by Janet Echelman

The highway is a six-to-eight lane urban boulevard, with the northernmost section, from 59th Street to 72nd Street (where it becomes the Henry Hudson Parkway), elevated above a former rail yard adjacent to tracks still used by Amtrak. Trucks and buses are allowed only on the surface section. The West Side Highway's surface section takes three names: West Street from the Battery Park Underpass north to Tenth Avenue, then 11th Avenue to 22nd Street, and finally 12th Avenue to 59th Street.

In an outdoor installation for the Armory Show, American artist Janet Echelman affixed her sculpture Roadside Shrine II to the underside of West Side Highway's piers 90 and 88. The vinyl-coated polyethylene mesh cones were illuminated at night, fluttering in the wind as visitors flagged down taxis.[2]


Miller's Elevated West Side Highway[edit]

Various proposals circulated in the 1920s to build an expressway on the west side. Among the proposals:

  • Rail/Highway Double Decker – The New York Central Railroad proposed building a highway/rail double decked highway from 72nd Street to Canal Street, which would be constructed privately at no cost to the city. It would eliminate 106 grade crossings over 84 blocks. It ran into opposition because of fears that it would create a rail monopoly.
  • Hencken's Ten-story Train/Car/Office/People Mover – Engineer John Hencken proposed an exotic ten-story complex with a rail line underground, a road at street level, a people mover built above that, topped by ten stories of apartments and offices. A similar alternative was offered by Benjamin Battin.
The last elevated portion of the West Side Highway by Trump Place apartment complex

Manhattan Borough president Julius Miller said that something had to be done right away and ultimately pushed through the plan for the West Side Elevated Highway, which was to eventually bear his name.

The proposal immediately ran into stiff opposition. The City Club and New York City Mayor James J. Walker objected to the highway on the grounds that it would block waterfront-bound freight traffic. At the time, West Street exhibited a "daily avalanche of freight and passengers in traffic", and was "walled by an unbroken line of bulkhead sheds and dock structures"[3] blocking the view not only of the river, but even of the ships being serviced, and the commerce carried out on those piers and slips was vital to the economic health of the city. They believed that the plans should wait until the surface railroad tracks were removed in the area, at which point the elevated highway might not be necessary. Many objected that it would be ugly.

Construction started in 1929 and the section between Canal Street and West 72nd Street was completed in 1937 with a "Southern Extension" to the Brooklyn–Battery Tunnel completed in 1951.

Death Avenue[edit]

Before the West Side Highway was built, the road along the Hudson River was a busy one, with significant cross traffic going to docks and ferries. At 22nd Street, most traffic continued north along 11th Avenue, along which the New York Central Railroad's West Side Line ran; it was known by many as Death Avenue for the large number of accidents caused by trains and automobiles colliding.

The first official proposal for an elevated highway along Manhattan's west side was made by Police Commissioner Richard Edward Enright on January 12, 1924, in a letter to the New York City Board of Estimate. The highway was to be 100 feet (30 m) wide, running north from the Battery to 72nd Street at Riverside Drive, West End Avenue, or Amsterdam Avenue. According to Enright, "During business hours West Street [was] the most congested thoroughfare in the city. Vast quantities of the city's foodstuffs [were] handled in the territory adjacent to West Street." He cited traffic congestion as an extra cost of doing business and a blockage for fire engines.

Double decker railroad/highway proposal[edit]

On February 2, 1925, it was announced that the railroad would build a combined double-decker elevated highway and freight railroad (with the highway above the railroad) for $24,000,000, at no cost to the city. At the time, Eleventh Avenue was popularly known as Death Avenue due to the dangers of the surface line. The elevated structure would eliminate 106 grade crossings over 84 blocks. The proposal came about after six months of negotiations between Manhattan Borough President Julius Miller and the New York Central Railroad. The planned highway would no longer go all the way south to the Battery, instead ending at Canal Street, meeting the Holland Tunnel (which would open to traffic on November 13, 1927). The northern terminus was set at 72nd Street and Riverside Drive. Ramps were planned at Canal Street, 23rd Street, Riverside Drive, and at least two other locations.

The Port of New York Authority opposed the plan, preferring a more forward-looking comprehensive freight distribution plan. They attacked Miller as trying to push the plan through without input from the Port Authority. The Port Authority wanted a system of inland terminals and belt-line railroads. According to Port Authority Chairman Julian Gregory, it was almost certain that the New York Central Railroad would not go along with the Port Authority plan. It was also believed that giving the New York Central Railroad elevated tracks on the west side would allow the railroad to monopolize freight and raise prices. The Port Authority believed it was primarily a freight problem, but the New York Central Railroad and New York City considered it to be a grade-crossing elimination project.

Miller responded by arguing that something had to be done right away. He said that if the Port Authority could put forward a comprehensive plan within five years, he would put his full support behind it. He also pointed out that his plan was only one part of his "comprehensive plan for the relief of traffic congestion"; he had already widened many avenues and removed several Midtown elevated railroad spurs. He said the plan would not give the New York Central any rights they didn't already have; it was merely a relocation of existing tracks. The tracks had been on the surface for 55 years despite legal action taken against them, and Miller claimed they would be there for another 50 if nothing were done. Miller also received a letter from the Vice President of the New York Central Railroad, Ira Place, stating that the railroad would reduce freight rates if the new elevated structure were built.

Miller's elevated single deck highway[edit]

A plan for Boston's Central Artery, based on the West Side Highway

On January 20, 1926, Borough President Miller sent a plan for a $11,000,000 elevated highway, to be built completely on city property, to the Board of Estimate. The elevated railroad was removed from the plan, since the New York Central Railroad had come up with a separate project for partially elevating and partially depressing their railroad (now known as the High Line). According to Miller, there were questions over who would own and maintain the dual structure. There were also objections to its height of 40 feet (12 m) and its placement at the east building line of the existing surface roads. The elevated highway was to connect to a planned parkway (now the Henry Hudson Parkway) at 72nd Street, forming a highway free from cross traffic stretching from Canal Street to 129th Street. The elevated road was to be 60 feet (18 m) wide, wide enough for six lanes of traffic; the existing surface road would carry local traffic beneath the highway. Ramps would be provided at Canal Street, Christopher Street, 14th Street, 23rd Street, 34th Street, 42nd Street, and 57th Street. Slow-moving traffic would use the left lanes, due to the left-hand ramps. This contrasts with the current method of using the left lane for passing and putting ramps on the right side, and to the method popular around the 1950s of putting ramps on whichever side was easier. The highway would "carry buses that will make both its conveniences and its beauties available to the general public", according to Miller. He suggested Hudson River Boulevard for the name of the highway.

On April 24, 1925, Governor Al Smith signed a bill authorizing the construction of the highway. Funds for the $11,000,000 highway were to be procured by property assessments along the route; this was considered reasonable due to advantages gained from the highway by those living along the route. The road was to be 65 feet (20 m), five feet wider than Fifth Avenue, with a speed limit of at least 30 miles per hour (48 km/h), and would be 20 feet (6.1 m) off the ground. It would be built of steel, with a cement face. A three-foot (1 m) sidewalk would be built for pedestrians, although the highway was intended mainly for motor vehicles. Two-block long ramps would be provided with 'easy grades' for entering and exiting the highway. Trucks would be allowed on the highway.

The Board of Estimate approved the highway, now costing $13,500,000, on June 14, 1926. It was to be built so a second deck could be added at a later time for about $9,000,000, if traffic warranted. Controller Charles W. Berry questioned the proposal until he realized the money would come from tax assessments, at which time he agreed with the project.

On November 10, 1926, the Sinking Fund Commission voted to give the city title to the waterfront property along the proposed highway. The highway plan was linked to a plan by the city for more piers for ocean steamships; since the highway required land takings between 47th Street and 51st Street, it was easier to combine the projects and prevent additional expense.

On February 17, 1927, the Board of Estimate adopted the final plans for the highway, setting a hearing date of March 24. It was split into two sections, Section one went from Canal Street to 59th Street. Section two was to carry the road over the New York Central Railroad's 60th Street Yard from 59th Street to 72nd Street. Section two was approved by the Board of Estimate on August 16, 1928; section one was postponed until September 27 due to objections. On October 18, the Board of Estimate approved section one.

The highway was advocated by most business interests, including the Downtown League, the Fifth Avenue Association, the West End Association, and eleven other organizations. They cited increasing traffic and the need of a bypass route to support the highway, which would cost little in comparison to its benefits.

Manhattan Borough President Julius Miller spoke at a meeting of the Market and Business Men's Association of the Greenwich and Chelsea Districts on October 30, 1928, detailing plans for the highway. It was announced that between 90 and 100 meat and poultry dealers in the West Washington Market and the Gansevoort Market would be evicted to make way for the highway.

Minor changes to the highway were approved on January 10, 1929, in response to several objections. The alignment in the Chelsea district was slightly modified to avoid proposed piers, and the path through the markets was realigned to pass over a corner of the property. In addition, the 14th Street ramps were moved to the area between 19th Street and 23rd Street, where they would spare many markets at 14th Street.

Art Society objections[edit]

The old elevated highway, looking north towards the bridge over Canal Street

The plan was criticized by Thomas Adams, Regional Plan director, at the 1927 meeting of the Municipal Art Society. He disapproved of its ugliness and noise, and suggested simply clearing obstructions to the existing surface road to speed traffic. Adams also supported a comprehensive regional plan for development in the Hudson Valley. The Fine Arts Federation also opposed the highway, saying that elevated structures were unsightly, and that if the existing street were cleared a new highway might not be required.

The City Club and New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker objected to the highway on the grounds that it would block waterfront-bound freight traffic. They believed that the plans should wait until the surface railroad tracks were removed in the area, at which point the elevated highway might not be necessary. Parallels were drawn with elevated passenger railroads, which were being torn down at the time; Henry Curran of the City Club called elevated structures "a misfit in New York". The City Club also objected to more passenger cars in downtown Manhattan.

Concerns were raised by the Women's League for the Protection of Riverside Park, which opposed routing trucks through Riverside Park, which would contain a parkway extending from the north end of the planned elevated highway. The League emphasized that commercial traffic should be banned north of 72nd Street (as it currently is on the Henry Hudson Parkway).

Exotic alternatives[edit]

An alternate plan was put forth by John Hencken, an engineer, and approved by Ernest P. Goodrich, consulting engineer to the Regional Plan of New York and its Environs. A linear corridor would be built from the Battery to Yonkers. A freight railroad would lie underground. On ground level would be roads alongside the corridor and an indoor enclosed sidewalk. The mezzanine, between the first and second floors, would be occupied by office space. The second floor would carry a "continuous noiseless moving platform system for passenger service", with adjacent belts moving at various speeds, for a maximum of 21 miles per hour (34 km/h) in the middle. This service would be free, and would be a substitute for new subways in the corridor. Above the second floor would be about ten stories of apartments, offices, businesses, and other uses appropriate for the neighborhoods; these would be the main source of revenue to pay for the project. A high-speed motor parkway, open to passenger cars only, would lie on top. Cars would reach the upper level via ramps at both ends and elevators at convenient intervals.

Dr. Benjamin Battin, a professor at Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania, had a similar plan for an eight-story high boulevard. The street level and first floor would be connected to the Hudson River piers. The second and third stories would carry electric passenger trains, with the second floor carrying northbound traffic and southbound traffic using the third floor. A public garage would occupy the fourth and fifth floors, helping to pay off the bonds for the project. The sixth and seventh floors would carry one-way passenger car traffic, permitting speeds of up to 50 miles per hour (80 km/h). A reversible roadway, carrying cars in the direction of rush hour traffic, would occupy the eighth and ninth (top) levels. Ramps to the upper car levels would be provided every fifteen to twenty blocks.

West Side Highway.png

Robert Moses proposals[edit]

The elevated road began before Robert Moses came on the scene.

However, Moses built massive projects extending from the north and south ends of the West Side Highway.

  • Henry Hudson Parkway – The West Side Highway becomes the Henry Hudson Parkway just north of 72nd Street thanks to efforts by Moses called the "West Side Improvement." The parkway does not permit trucks. The parkway is partially an elevated highway over the rail tracks (now used by Amtrak).
  • Brooklyn–Battery Tunnel – The highway hooks into the Brooklyn–Battery Tunnel at its southern end. Moses had proposed to create the "Brooklyn–Battery Crossing Bridge" but federal intervention obliged Moses to use a tunnel instead.
  • Battery Park Underpass connects to FDR Drive.

In the 1960s, Moses proposed straightening and widening the West Side Highway and constructing both the Lower Manhattan Expressway and the Mid-Manhattan Expressways, connecting routes that would have stretched across Manhattan. None of these projects were ever built. Later, in his 80s, he opposed the Westway project, but by that time his ideas weren't taken seriously. Rather than constructing a below-grade interstate highway, Moses proposed merely straightening and rebuilding the West Side Highway south of 59th Street. Between 59th and 72nd Streets, the site of the former Penn Central 60th Street rail yard, he proposed bringing the highway to grade and moving it eastward to allow for a waterfront park and some housing at the southeast corner of the rail yard. This was the nucleus of the idea that led to the plan for Riverside South.

1973 collapse[edit]

The old elevated highway, collapsed at 14th Street

The highway was obsolete almost from the beginning. Its lanes were considered too narrow and it could not accommodate trucks. Sharp "S" exit ramps proved hazardous.

On December 15, 1973, the northbound lanes between Little West 12th Street and Gansevoort Street collapsed under the weight of a dump truck, which was carrying over 60,000 pounds (27,000 kg) of asphalt for ongoing repairs of the highway. A four-door sedan followed the truck through the hole; neither driver was seriously injured. The next day, both directions were 'indefinitely' closed south of 18th Street. Not only was the oldest section closed (between Canal Street and 18th Street), but the newest sections were as well (south of Canal Street), due to the placement of ramps to prevent northbound traffic from entering and southbound traffic from exiting south of Canal Street.


In 1971, the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) proposed bringing the highway up to Interstate standards and making it Interstate 478. The UDC plan, the "Water Edge Study," called for the highway to be routed along the ends of the then mostly abandoned piers on the Hudson River and the addition of 700 acres (2.8 km2) of land for parks and apartments, all to be constructed on concrete platforms between the bulkhead and the pierhead lines. It was championed by New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller and Mayor John Lindsay. Renamed "Westway" in 1974, the final plan called for burying the highway in new landfill south of 40th Street, placing the accompanying development on land instead of on platforms.[4]

Protesters demonstrating against the Westway project in New York City

Hugh Carey who was to become governor, and Ed Koch who was to become mayor, both campaigned against the plan saying that it would be a waste of government funds and would be a windfall for private developers. After the two were elected, they both reversed their position and supported the plan.

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan and the United States Army Corps of Engineers were on board for the construction with a 1981 price tag of $2.1 billion.

In 1982, Judge Thomas Griesa of the U.S. District Court blocked the permit, saying the road would harm striped bass. His order was affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.[5]

On September 30, 1985, New York City officially gave up on the project,[4] allocating 60 percent of its interstate highway funds to mass transit[4] and setting aside $811 million for the "West Side Highway Replacement Project".

West Side Highway Replacement Project[edit]

The least leafy portion of the new boulevard is the part by the midtown piers between 34th and 59th Street. This shows the West Side Highway at the Jacob Javits Convention Center. The bike path is in the foreground.

Construction of the West Side Highway Replacement Project was completed in August 2001. The period between the 1973 collapse and the 1985 demise of Westway was a chaotic time for drivers as the original elevated highway was dismantled (finally in 1989) and traffic was rerouted to temporary highways. The new highway permits trucks, which the old elevated did not. Together with the northern Henry Hudson Parkway, it creates a leafy boulevard along the Hudson River from the northern tip to the southern tip of Manhattan.

Donald Trump and Riverside South[edit]

During the period, debates raged about what to do with the section from West 72nd Street and 59th Street. Donald Trump, who had an option on the property, seized on Robert Moses' proposal to relocate the highway to grade as a way to facilitate a 12,000-unit residential development. The State Department of Transportation, however, rejected his ideas and proposed instead to renovate the elevated section between 59th and 72nd Streets.

A subsequent development project, "Lincoln West", accepted the elevated highway, but that project failed to obtain financing. Later, Trump proposed Television City, a design based on a massive 13-block-long podium to hide the elevated highway. When a deal with NBC fell through, he revised his plans slightly and renamed the project Trump City.

Six civic organizations opposed to Trump City proposed a plan that would bury the highway in conjunction with a much smaller development. Trump eventually agreed to this plan, known as Riverside South. After city approval in 1992, work began on the new apartment complex, although the debate still rages, even as Trump has sold his interest to the Carlyle Group and Extell Development Company.

Burying this section has always been politically complicated because in the 1990s $70 million was spent to straighten, widen, and reinforce the elevated highway. Nevertheless, in June, 2006, the new developer began construction of a tunnel for the relocated highway between 61st and 65th streets.

Hudson River Park[edit]

Main article: Hudson River Park

Legislation in June 1998 followed an agreement by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Governor George Pataki to create the Hudson River Park on the west side of the highway from West 72nd to the Battery. The park consists of 550 acres (2.2 km2) and is the biggest park construction in the city since Central Park. A bicycle path running the length of the highway to Battery Park City was one of the first additions. Piers are currently being refurbished and other work continues, with Pier 84 as the largest.

Joe DiMaggio Highway[edit]

Even though the highway has had two other official names, the official names have never stuck. The first official name was the Miller Highway, in honor of the city council president who pushed for the highway. On March 30, 1999, at the urging of Rudolph Giuliani, the highway was renamed for Yankee great Joe DiMaggio, who had just died. Legislation to rename the highway had been introduced before DiMaggio died.

Joe Dimaggio Highway sign on the elevated portion of the highway

Signs bearing the new, ceremonial name of the highway were erected on April 25, 1999. This was in the midst of a reconstruction, finished on March 29, 2002, after the September 11, 2001 attacks destroyed part of the road, which was still being rebuilt. As of May 2006, there is only minimal signage for the new name while "West Side Highway" signs abound.

Some[who?] have speculated Giuliani championed the name change because the highway would have been the approach to the proposed West Side Stadium at the highway and 32nd Street. DiMaggio lived on Manhattan's east side.

September 11, 2001[edit]

The World Trade Center towers as viewed from the highway before the attacks.

The highway, which runs just west of the World Trade Center, played a major role in the September 11, 2001 attacks and its aftermath. The famous flag raising photograph by Thomas E. Franklin of the Bergen Record took place by the highway on the northwest corner of the site. In addition, three chunks of the tower that crashed into the highway were used in iconic pictures of the day. Emergency personnel went down the West Side Highway and were greeted by cheering crowds at Christopher Street on their return. Virtually all the debris from the Center traveled up the West Side Highway to be shipped off by barge. For the last half of the month, out-of-town ambulances waited on the highway for a chance to help injured patients.[citation needed]

There was debate over whether to rebuild the damaged section of the road as a surface street or a tunnel. As a master plan was developed for Ground Zero, plans initially called for the West Side Highway to be buried in a tunnel between the site and Battery Park City that was expected to cost $1 billion. Goldman Sachs, which had planned to build its headquarters in Battery Park City, announced its intention to cancel those plans because of concerns about the traffic pattern and long-term construction disruptions. This prompted New York Governor George Pataki to cancel the tunnel project in favor of a boulevard.[6] The boulevard approach was also recommended by a panel.[who?][citation needed]

In 2004, the police forces of both the PANYNJ and the NYPD announced concerns that the proposed One World Trade Center would be too close to the West Side Highway and thus vulnerable to car bombs. This prompted a total redesign of the tower and the relocation of its site away from the highway.

There used to be four West Street pedestrian bridges, two of them erected after the September 11 attacks. A below-grade crossing of the West Side Highway connecting the Brookfield Place (formerly the World Financial Center) complex and the Concourse level of the World Trade Center opened in October 2013, allowing the pedestrian bridge adjacent to Vesey Street to be removed.

Major intersections[edit]

Despite being a surface road, with many at-grade intersections and traffic lights, some of the intersections are given exit numbers.

Location mi[1] km Exit Destinations Notes
Battery Park 0.00 0.00 Battery Place
Battery Park City 1 FDR Drive north
0.00 0.00 2 Brooklyn–Battery Tunnel (I-478) to I-278 – Brooklyn
Tribeca 3 Canal Street to I-78 / Holland Tunnel
Greenwich Village 2.43 3.91 4 10th Avenue
Chelsea 3.32 5.34 5 West 30th Street to Lincoln Tunnel (NY 495) Lincoln Tunnel exit for cars
Hell's Kitchen 6 West 40th Street (northbound) / West 42nd Street (southbound) to Lincoln Tunnel (NY 495) Lincoln Tunnel exit for cars, trucks, and buses
4.66 7.50 7 West 56th Street / West 57th Street (northbound)
Upper West Side 8 West 59th Street - Ship Terminal (northbound)
5.29 8.51 9 West 72nd Street Northbound entrance only; former northbound exit
5.29 8.51 Henry Hudson Parkway Continuation beyond 72nd Street
1.000 mi = 1.609 km; 1.000 km = 0.621 mi

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "2010 Traffic Volume Report for New York State" (PDF). New York State Department of Transportation. July 25, 2011. p. 26. Retrieved January 26, 2012. 
  2. ^ "Roadside Shrine II". Janet Echelman, Inc. Retrieved February 15, 2010. 
  3. ^ Federal Writers' Project. (1939) New York City Guide. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-403-02921-X (Reprinted by Scholarly Press, 1976; often referred to as WPA Guide to New York City), p. 69
  4. ^ a b c Roberts, Sam (May 16, 2006). "After 20 Years of Delays, a River Park Takes Shape". nytime.com. The New York Times. Retrieved 30 March 2015. 
  5. ^ "Sierra Club v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers". Retrieved April 9, 2011. 
  6. ^ Goldman Sachs Breaks Ground Across From Trade Center Site, NY1, September 26, 2006

External links[edit]

Route map: Bing