New York governor unveils South Bronx highway rebuilding plan

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announces a $1.8 billion project to transform the South Bronx by reconstruction of the Bruckner-Sheridan Interchange in New York City, United States in this March 19, 2017 handout photo. Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo/Handout via REUTERS (Reuters)

By Ian Simpson

(Reuters) - New York Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo on Sunday unveiled a $1.8 billion highway reconstruction plan in New York City's South Bronx aimed at benefiting one of the world's biggest food markets and an area once seen as a symbol of urban blight.

It was the latest public works plan announced by Cuomo at a time when such projects are increasingly on the national agenda. Republican President Donald Trump has vowed to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure, which the American Society of Civil Engineers has given a near-failing grade.

Cuomo's highway project in the Bronx, the poorest of New York's five boroughs, would rebuild the Bruckner-Sheridan highway interchange to allow the area's largely black and Hispanic residents easier access to parkland and the Bronx River on the other side, Cuomo said.

The plan also calls for new highway ramps to give vehicles direct access to the Hunts Point Market, one of the biggest food distribution sites in the world. Residents have long complained of respiratory problems from the 13,000 trucks daily that spew exhaust as they rumble through local streets.

"The best future for the Bronx is ahead and we're going to lead a Bronx that is better than any Bronx that has ever been," Cuomo said in announcing the project.

The project is expected to generate 4,250 jobs and will be completed in multiple phases, he said. Cuomo has earmarked the $700 million needed for the first stage in this year’s state budget, which is expected to be voted on April 1.

Cuomo's emphasis on public works projects includes a stage of New York's Second Avenue Subway, renovation of LaGuardia Airport and replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge across the Hudson River.

Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic Party strategist, said in a telephone interview that the South Bronx project would boost Cuomo at the local, state and national levels. The second-term governor faces re-election in 2018 and has been floated as a potential presidential candidate in 2020.

"It makes him the guy people have to pay attention to nationally on urban issues," Sheinkopf said of Cuomo, son of former New York Governor Mario Cuomo.

New stores and housing have helped the South Bronx recover somewhat from its reputation in the 1970s for crime and urban decay. In its annual "52 Places to Go" travel list last month, the New York Times listed the area at 51.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Peter Cooney)