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Students travel through tough tunnel

by Benjamin Ames, Staff Reporter

Michelle Arce walks her two children to school every day in Mount Hope because she thinks the route is too dangerous for them to manage alone.

She says the worst part is the block between Selwyn and Walton Aves. where 174th Street passes through a tunnel beneath the Grand Concourse. Residents call the block Prostitution City because prostitutes have sex with their customers in cars parked at the curb.

"The kids have to see those cars," Arce said. "It ain't right."

Arce decided to join a team of 22 other concerned women and two men in a group called the Mt. Eden/Mt. Hope Neighborhood Advisory Council, founded in 1992. One of their first projects is to improve the streets around the 174th Street tunnel. But the council has had trouble working with city agencies because of confusion about jurisdiction -- the community is split into three precincts and two community districts and is served by overlapping city agencies.

While the agencies bicker, the tunnel deteriorates. Water seeps through the walls, short-circuiting the outdoor lights. Chunks of concrete fall from the ceiling and vandals spray graffiti on every surface.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority cares for a portion of the wall on one side of 174th Street since the D-train has an entrance inside the tunnel. The transportation department is supposed to care for the other side because it's a city road.

"Underneath the tunnel is not our responsibility," said David Sierra, station manager for the C and D lines at 174th Street. "But 174th Street is one of the highest graffiti areas in the system, and I don't think it's right for people to have to step over garbage to get into the station."

Sierra keeps the tunnel wall clean around his station entrance by painting over the graffiti every two or three days. Sierra's patch of graffiti-free concrete looks like a small band-aid on a large wound.

One local business also helps to keep the area clean. Andy Mercedes works with a broom and a Dumpster to pick up some of the trash that drifts along 174th Street. He works for the Excellent Car Service, a limousine company a block away from the tunnel. Excellent loses business to a rival company on 165th Street because customers are afraid of the area, Mercedes says.

"If you go after 9 p.m., forget about it," he said. "You can't walk, you run. You gotta buy a gun."

Although many other local businesses claim to support the council, they don't do anything to help the cleanup effort, according to Carmino Bencosme, who owns Excellent Car Service.

Paula Coaxsum, a council member, thinks she has the answer: the council women have just completed a leadership training course to learn better methods for effective community work.

"They're going to have to listen to us," she said. "Because we're a bunch of rowdy women when we get together, and we can make some noise!"

The Bronx Beat, April 10, 1995