SHADES OF THE AWFUL Three Sisters Bridge freeway fight along the Potomac: In New York City, the local highway holy war of the '70s is over a 3-mile long project called Westway that would reshape Lower Manhattan's West Side. And there as here (you can find other examples all around the country), the most frustrating aspect for all sides is the incredible, inability of officialdom-federal, state, regional and local parties to these projects-to reach a decision, one way or the other , that sticks.
It's been five years and a string of decisions since the old west Side Highway collapsed. And officials are still arguing all around their flow charts about what to do. Whatever should replace it, a large cheer is in order for Transportation Secretary Brock Adams, who has just raised the bureaucratic roof over the way Westway has been handled. Noting that the project had been proposed long before his predecessor, William T. Coleman Jr., acted on it, Mr. Adams points out that "every conceivable agency had been consulted," including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Interior Department, the Army Corps of Engineers, and that "everyone agreed something needed to be done...."
Last year, as Mr. Adams notes in a letter to Charles E. Warren, chairman of the council on Environmental Quality, he reaffirmed Mr. Coleman's decision, acting "at the urgent request of the governor of New York, the mayor of New York City, business leaders (led by David Rockefeller.), the AFL-CIO and just about everyone else I can think of, except one group on the City Council and a small group of residents." But, says the letter, "I recently went through this area again. I was struck by the condition of the waterfront and the abysmal deterioration of the West Side caused by the old highway still standing and an accumalation of problems still compounded of closed streets, rusting girders and very bad traffic conditions..."
At this point, EPA's New York regional director is opposing Westway, arguing that traffic way produce unacceptable levels of air pollution and that it might damage potential breeding and migratory areas for fish in the Hudson River. And he has urged New York State's Department of Environmental Conservation and the Army Corps of Engineers to reject the project. Meanwhile, back here in Washington, EPA chief Douglas M. Costle has said he has no intention of overruling the regional director-even though Governor Hugh Carey has asked him to.
This is precisely the kind of official paralysis that over a good 25 years has left cities with concrete strips going nowhere, with projects in limbo and with costs of completing them going up rapidly. Now, of course, to improve the decision-making progress, you would need to get agreements from all sorts of agencies at all levels of governments. Still, Secretary Adam's call for an attempt deserves some serious attention in official circles.