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Posted 10/6/2004 8:08 PM
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Elevated railway in Manhattan to become park
NEW YORK — An abandoned elevated railroad that snakes almost hidden through the heart of Manhattan will become a park with $27.5 million in new city funds.

The 1.5 mile-long High Line once carried freight to warehouses on Manhattan's west side. Last used in 1980, it is now overrun with grass, shrubs and wildflowers growing between and over the rails and ties.

The line, which runs for 22 blocks from West 34th Street to Gansevoort Street in the city's meatpacking district, offers views of the Hudson River and unique glimpses of the cityscape from its third-story vantage point.

The funding, announced Wednesday by city officials, is largely due to five years of effort by a local group, Friends of the High Line. The group raised money for a design competition and an economic feasibility study, attracted celebrity supporters, including actor Edward Norton and designer Diane vonFurstenberg. The group lobbied city government, winning over Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Gifford Miller, a college roommate of the group's co-founder Robert Hammond.

Miller said he didn't know the High Line existed until Hammond took him there. "I fell in love with this space and said, 'We've got to save this,' " Miller said.

The city had already promised $15.75 million toward design and construction of a multiuse public space on the rail line. The total cost will be $60 million to $100 million, Miller said, with most of the money coming from state, federal and private sources. New York's congressional delegation is seeking $5 million in federal transportation funds.

The city is planning several ambitious projects for the few underdeveloped areas in Manhattan, including a football stadium for the New York Jets on rail yards near the northern end of the High Line.

As New York becomes increasingly built-up, "We've got to be more imaginative in creating open space," Bloomberg said. The High Line is "something that's different, something that people are going to say, 'Wow.' "

Abandoned rail lines have long been used as trails under the federal rails-to-trails program, but urban elevated railways have been an overlooked possibility until relatively recently.

A rail viaduct in Paris was converted to a park, the Promenade Plantée, in the 1990s. Now efforts are underway to convert the Reading Viaduct in Philadelphia, the Bloomingdale freight line in Chicago and railroad bridges in the Florida Keys for pedestrian use.

Construction for the first part of the High Line park, on its southern end, will begin in November 2005 and is expected to be completed the following spring.