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Surface Transportation Board grants railbanking certificate, allowing reuse of New York City's elevated rail structure as pedestrian walkway

June 13, 2005 (New York, NY)—The High Line project received a crucial federal authorization today, effectively opening the way for the High Line's transformation to public open space.

The Surface Transportation Board (STB), the federal body that oversees rail corridors, issued a Certificate of Interim Trail Use (CITU) for the High Line. The CITU enables CSX Transportation, the High Line's current owner, to negotiate a trail use agreement with the City of New York. This agreement would transfer control of the High Line to the City for use as a public walkway and open space.

"The STB's ruling is a great win for all New Yorkers," said Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. "It allows us to implement our plans to preserve this valuable historic resource, create a much-needed public open space, and strengthen our city's economy."

"Thanks to the STB's ruling, we can move forward with plans to create one of the State's most unique and exciting public open spaces on the West Side of Manhattan," Governor George E. Pataki said. "By using the visionary railbanking program to transform this historic structure, we demonstrate New York's commitment to preserving its heritage and its environment at the same time that we create economic development opportunities for our future."

"We're very pleased with the STB's ruling," said John P. Casellini, Vice President for Public Affairs, CSX Corporation. "We look forward to working with the City of New York on an agreement that will allow the High Line to be used for the public's benefit."

"This is the most important victory yet for the High Line," said Robert Hammond, co-founder of Friends of the High Line (FHL). "Just six years ago, saving the High Line seemed like an impossible dream—and now it's reality. Thanks to railbanking, which preserves priceless transportation corridors and permits their reuse as public parks and walkways, one of New York City's most exciting preservation and urban planning projects can now move toward construction."

About the STB Ruling
By issuing a CITU, the STB has enabled the City and CSX Transportation to conclude agreements that will allow the High Line to become a railbanked trail. Railbanking, a method of creating trails from out-of-use rail corridors, was established by a 1983 Congressional amendment to the National Trails Systems Act. There are over 13,000 miles of rail-trails across the country, with nearly 16,000 more in development.

The City originally petitioned the STB for the CITU in December 2002. Subsequently, the State of New York and CSX Transportation filed with the STB supporting the City's request. In addition, a group representing the underlying property owners filed with the STB withdrawing its previous objections to railbanking.

Next Steps
The City of New York and CSX Transportation will proceed to conclude an agreement for trail use on the High Line. This legal structure is expected to include a transfer of ownership of the High Line from CSX Transportation to the City. Ground-breaking is projected for later this year. It is anticipated that the first phase of the High Line to be converted (from Gansevoort Street to 15th Street) will open to the public in late 2007 or early 2008.

Other Recent Advances for the High Line Project
Funding: In the fall of 2004, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Gifford Miller announced new capital funding commitments to the High Line project. The City's capital funding commitment now stands at $51.3 million. Senators Charles Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton worked with Congressman Jerrold Nadler to bring $1 million to the project in the FY 2005 omnibus appropriations bill. Congressman Nadler has also included $5 million for the High Line in the six-year transportation bill now moving through Congress; Senators Schumer and Clinton are working to supplement that allocation while the bill is in the Senate. $3 million in federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ) funding was allocated to the project by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council's New York City Transportation Coordinating Committee in January 2005. In addition, New York State Assembly Member Richard Gottfried worked to bring $50,000 in State Multi-Modal Transportation Program funds to the High Line.
Design/MoMA Exhibition: A widely acclaimed Preliminary Design for the first phase of the High Line's transformation (from Gansevoort Street to 15th Street) is on view at the Museum of Modern Art, in New York City, until October 31, 2005. The Preliminary Design was created by Field Operations (landscape architecture), Diller Scofidio + Renfro (architecture), and a team of consultants including experts in engineering, security, lighting, and numerous other disciplines. The Preliminary Design can also be viewed at www.thehighline.org/design.
Zoning: A rezoning proposal for the West Chelsea neighborhood surrounding the High Line is now moving through the City's public review process. The proposed rezoning includes a number of provisions intended to support the High Line's reuse as a public space. The proposal would also provide opportunities for new residential and commercial development and would enhance the neighborhood's thriving art gallery district. Adoption of the rezoning proposal is expected to take place in June 2005.
Dia Plans Move to High Line: On May 9, Dia Art Foundation announced a proposal to construct a new museum adjacent to the High Line. The museum would be located at the corner of Gansevoort and Washington Streets, at the High Line's southern terminus, on a City-owned site in the Meatpacking District. Dia seeks to have the main entrance to the new exhibition space on the High Line level. The plan must go through the City's Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) before construction can begin.

High Line Project Background
Since 1999, Friends of the High Line (FHL) has been working to preserve the High Line for reuse as an elevated walkway. The City of New York endorsed the project in 2002, when it filed with the STB for a CITU.

The High Line was built in the 1930s as part of the West Side Improvement, a major transportation infrastructure project which eliminated street-level rail crossings from the northern tip of Manhattan down to Spring Street. When rail traffic declined in the 1960s, the southern section of the Line was demolished.

Legal disputes about the future of the High Line began in the mid-1980s, after the final train rolled down its tracks pulling a carload of frozen turkeys. Underlying property owners began lobbying for the structure's demolition, arguing that the Line prevented them from developing their properties. A local resident named Peter Obletz fought for the Line's preservation, at one point even purchasing the Line from Conrail (the High Line's owner at that time) for $10. The purchase was later challenged and overturned by the underlying property owners.

In 1992, the Interstate Commerce Commission (which later became the STB) issued a conditional abandonment order, which would have allowed demolition of the structure if certain financial conditions were met by the underlying property owners. The attempts to satisfy those conditions were never approved by both the railroad owner and the STB.

In 1999, neighborhood residents Joshua David and Robert Hammond founded Friends of the High Line with the mission of converting the structure to an elevated public space—a greenway or promenade—and began building community support.

The Giuliani administration favored and worked towards the demolition of the High Line. When Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg took office, he directed his administration to take a fresh look at the High Line's potential. In 2002, FHL commissioned an economic feasibility study that showed that the High Line would add value to its surrounding neighborhood, generating $262 million in new tax revenues over a 20-year period. In December of 2002, the City changed its policy and took the first step to converting the High Line to a public walkway by filing with the STB for a CITU. The State of New York and CSX Corporation filed in support of the City's petition in the fall of 2004, and the underlying property owners filed to withdraw their objections to railbanking later that year.

About Friends of the High Line (FHL)
FHL is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization established to preserve the High Line for reuse as an elevated public open space. Support for the project comes from hundreds of local residents, business-owners, and civic organizations, as well numerous elected officials. For more information on Friends of the High Line, please visit www.thehighline.org.

PLEASE NOTE: The High Line is currently private property, owned by CSX Transportation, and managed by CSX and the City. At this time, the site is not open to the public, and trespassers will be subject to prosecution.

Joshua David, FHL (212) 206-9922; josh@thehighline.org
Robert Hammond, FHL, (212) 206-9922; robert@thehighline.org

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