New truck route to the markets fuel argument
By Joseph Gallagher
The battle over the future of the Sheridan Expressway has grown increasingly heated as traffic engineers continue to refine their proposals for improving access to the Hunts Point markets.
Plans call for building a new interchange at Oak Point Avenue that would lead from the Bruckner Expressway to the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center. One version, designated by the state Department of Transportation, 1E, calls for tearing down the 1.3 mile long Sheridan, which runs between the Cross Bronx Expressway to the north and the Bruckner. The other, 2E, calls for retaining the Sheridan.
Residents, advocates and business leaders have been lining up behind one proposal or the other and rallying others to their position.
Joan Byron, Director of the Sustainability and Environmental Justice Initiative at the Pratt Center for Community Development, feels that most of the business leaders opposed to tearing down the Sheridan have their priorities in the wrong place.
“Some wholesalers in the market have relationships with suppliers,” Byron said during a press conference with The Hunts Point Express. “They have a tender concern for the convenience of the suppliers.”
Byron, one of the architects of the plan to demolish the Sheridan, which was first put forward in 1997, is worried about the money and sway opponents of decommissioning the Sheridan hold. They are able to gain access to political leaders through campaign contributions, she said, while people living in the community must rely only on the power of their votes to express their support for tearing the Sheridan down.
But the proprietors of the area’s food businesses say not only their livelihoods, but the safety of New Yorkers would be jeopardized if the Sheridan were torn down.
“For people who live in the neighborhood it’s a good thing,” said Vincent Pacifico, of Vista Food Exchange, a meat wholesaler, in a phone interview. “But it may not be good for businesses.”
While proponents of the tear-down believe that trucks entering the city via the George Washington Bridge should approach the Bruckner from the south using the Major Deegan Expressway, Pacifico and other opponents call that idea dangerous and time-consuming.
“I feel making thousands of trucks drive down the Major Deegan towards Manhattan and then double backing and making their commute longer, going towards the population mass, doesn’t make any sense at all,” Matthew D’Arrigo, co-president of the Hunts Point Terminal Produce Cooperative Association Inc., who also runs a produce distribution business there, said.
“Are we going to make these 80-foot vehicles drive longer in a higher traffic area and make a more dangerous turn?” he asked.
Julio Medina, a New Rochelle resident, has been driving a truck for Fancy Foods for the past nine years and uses the Sheridan Expressway at least once a day.
“The Sheridan should be kept open,” Medina said. “Using the other highways would mean more traffic, more idling and longer waits.”
Mark Solasz, of Master Purveyors, a large meat distributor in the market, agrees with Medina.
“We should be focusing on more arteries in and out of the markets, not less,” Solasz contends. “Removing the Sheridan would put a lot of stress on the other alternatives which would increase the amount of traffic and pollution.”
On the contrary, argues the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance, the coalition that includes Mothers on the Move, Nos Quedamos, Sustainable South Bronx, The Point Community Development Corporation and Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice.
To buttress their contention that the Sheridan is unnecessary, six members of the alliance posed for photographs standing in the middle of the expressway during rush hour, at 5:30 p.m. on July 15.
Kate Slevin, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a citywide organization that belongs to the alliance, believes that removing the Sheridan would actually relieve some traffic problems.
“The connection between the Cross Bronx and the Sheridan was rated one of the worst bottlenecks,” Slevin said. “If you remove the Sheridan then you remove that bottleneck and actually improve traffic flow.”
And Byron points out that while long-haul trucks enter the market from the north, most of the smaller trucks leaving the market are headed for Manhattan.
The idea of improving truck access to the markets provides common ground for opponents and proponents of tearing down the Sheridan. Keeping trucks off the local streets is “what unites the residential and business communities,” says Josephine Infante, president and CEO of the Hunts Point Economic Development Corporation, who wants to see the highway remain.
“Alternative 2E is a significant improvement over the current condition,” Infante wrote in the May issue of The Express. “This alternative is a win-win for the residential and business communities of Hunts Point and the Bronx.”
The Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance plan calls for building housing, stores and parks on the acreage now occupied by the highway. Byron says the resulting redevelopment would be “spectacular.”
Preserving the highway, she said, is “selfishness.” It’s “pure, personal convenience. They can’t imagine what they haven’t experienced.”
Pacifico can see the reasoning behind both sides, but in the end is against the teardown proposal.
“Everything makes sense in our own niche,” Pacifico said. “We have to look at the big picture. I don’t think closing the Sheridan is necessarily the right decision.”
A version of this article appeared in the August edition of the Hunts Point Express.