Cross Bronx Highway, USA

An historical urban justice issue in New York city, when between 1948 and 1972 a highway was built by one of the biggest infrastructure promoters of the times, known as the "master builder"


The Cross Bronx Expressway is a major freeway in the New York City borough of the Bronx built between 1948 and 1963.  Envisioned and managed by Robert Moses, this freeway was an engineering marvel that brought opportunity and connectivity at the expense of local neighborhoods it destroyed in its path. In 1936, the Regional Plan Association (RPA) proposed an extensive network of expressways and parkways covering the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut metropolitan area with the goal of the expressway providing all traffic safe and uninterrupted roadways and solving New York’s traffic problems. The Cross Bronx expressway was one recommended route and would connect multiple bridges in the metropolitan area, serving as the only means of east-west travel through the middle Bronx [1]. This freeway was the brainchild of Robert Moses who was very active in many facets of the city’s planning and management.  He often controlled the City Planning Commission, came to dominate the city’s Housing Authority, and created a title for himself as the City Construction Coordinator which gave him authority over nearly every public construction project in the city of New York [2].  Moses proposed more than 100 miles of new expressways in the five boroughs of New York City in the 1945 highway plan.  Within this plan was the proposed Cross Bronx Expressway which was an 8.3 mile long, six-lane freeway which had to cross 113 streets, seven expressways and parkways, one subway line, five elevated lines, three commuter rail lines, and hundreds of utility, water and sewer lines without disrupting any of them during construction [1].

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Basic Data
NameCross Bronx Highway, USA
CountryUnited States of America
ProvinceNew York
SiteNew York
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Infrastructure and Built Environment
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Urban development conflicts
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Specific CommoditiesLand
Project Details and Actors
Level of Investment (in USD)140,000,000
Type of PopulationUrban
Potential Affected Population1400-5000
Start Date01/01/1948
End Date01/01/1972
Company Names or State EnterprisesRobert Moses from United States of America
Relevant government actorsNew York City government, Tenant Relocation Bureau, Regional Plan Association
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersEast Tremont Neighborhood Association
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)LOW (some local organising)
When did the mobilization beginPREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups MobilizingNeighbours/citizens/communities
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Religious groups
Forms of MobilizationDevelopment of alternative proposals
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Waste overflow, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Occupational disease and accidents
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCorruption
Development of AlternativesThe East Tremont Neighborhood Association developed a plan for an alternative route for the highway, one that would run a couple of blocks south of the plan put forth by Robert Moses and one that would avoid displacing 1400 families and only require a few families be moved along with a bus stop.
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.Robert Moses did not consider the proposed alternative plan, would not listen to the opposition, and went forward with his plan knowing the consequences and not caring. Progress was his goal.
Sources and Materials

[1]Cross Bronx Expressway- Historic Overview
[click to view]

[2]New York Times Learning Network: Robert Moses, Master Builder, is Dead at 92
[click to view]

[3]Recognizing Environmental Justice in History: Resistance and Agency in the Cross Bronx Expressway and the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike by Sarah Berkley, Connecticut College (2011)
[click to view]

[4]"Heartbreak Highway" - Steve Alpert, 2003
[click to view]

[5] 5 Things in NYC We Can Blame on Robert Moses - December 2013
[click to view]


The Legacy of Robert Moses - PBS January 17, 2013
[click to view]

Did Robert Moses Ruin New York City? - Barron's March 7, 2012
[click to view]

Other Documents

1998 Photo of Southbound Cross Bronx Expressway at Westchester Ave Subway line elevated over road in distance

Credit: Steve Anderson,
[click to view]

Cross Bronx Expressway Map
[click to view]

Construction crews on highway in 1959 Source: Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority
[click to view]

Initial construction of the expressway in 1950 Source: Bronx County Historical Society
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorBernadette Grafton and Paul Mohai, [email protected] and [email protected], University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environmen
Last update02/03/2016