Harlem’s Espaillat And Others Hail INVEST In America Provision To Create Community Outreach Committee At Amtrak

June 23, 2020

Representatives Adriano Espaillat, joined by Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer and uptown Council Member Mark Levine, hailed the inclusion of a provision in the House’s major transportation infrastructure bill.

The Investing a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation (INVEST) in America Act, that requires the creation of a Community Outreach Committee at Amtrak. The provision will force the national passenger railroad to undertake more exhaustive community engagement with its neighbors, particularly when making decisions over land-use that impact nearby communities.

Last year, after it constructed an aesthetically unpleasing billboard at West 155th Street between Riverside Drive and the West Side Highway without consulting the community, Amtrak dismissed the overwhelming outcry from the community about the billboard and showed little appetite to find common ground with local lawmakers and organizers who sought its removal or relocation.

Rep. Espaillat introduced the amendment as a response to Amtrak’s reticence to conduct meaningful community engagement.

“Washington Heights is now intimately familiar with Amtrak’s unilateralism and the organization’s disregard for local input, aesthetics, and equities while constructing the billboard on the West Side Highway. The billboard is not only an unsavory relic of a process that prioritized temporary financial concerns over local preference but also the federal government’s propensity to steamroll minority communities,” said Rep. Espaillat. “While I personally find the billboard to be distasteful and damaging to the beautiful panorama of the West Side Highway, the provision I championed in the INVEST in America Act was inspired by passionate local organizers in our community who continually shared their discontent for the structure since its installment, as well as the stonewalling even I received from Amtrak’s top brass. I am pleased that Amtrak must now engage communities before initiating such projects and appreciate the partnership of my colleagues in Congress and local government for aiding in this effort.”

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“Amtrak did not consult local residents, community groups, or a single elected official when they unilaterally decided to drastically change the landscape of our neighborhood by installing the illuminated billboard on Riverside Drive,” said New York City Council Member Mark Levine. “While we still insist that Amtrak act as a good neighbor and honor the development standards set by our community by removing the billboard, it is good to know that no other community will have to endure the same injustice. Our community applauds Representative Espaillat for his work on this important legislation and look forward to our continued work in removing the billboard.”

“As a publicly-controlled institution, it’s important that Amtrak create a public review process and act in coordination with local community partners and neighbors so that we can avoid future eyesores like the billboard at 155th Street and Riverside Drive, which disturbed the scenic views of the Hudson River,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “Congressmember Adriano Espaillat’s amendment creates a Community Outreach Committee at Amtrak that will help ensure that the service will conduct local community engagement before undertaking similar actions in the future. I commend Congressmember Espaillat, my colleagues in government, and local community organizers for these efforts, and look forward to the successful passage of this amendment.”

First elected to Congress in 2016, Rep. Adriano Espaillat is serving his second term in Congress where he serves as a member of the influential U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and the House Small Business Committee. He serves as a Senior Whip of the House Democratic Caucus and is a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) where he also serves in a leadership role as CHC Whip. He is also chairman of the CHC Task Force for Transportation, Infrastructure and Housing. Rep. Espaillat’s Congressional District includes Harlem, East Harlem, northern Manhattan and the north-west Bronx. To find out more about Rep. Espaillat, visit online at https://espaillat.house.gov/.

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