Area businesses tell city officials to leave the Sheridan Expressway alone .
While city officials ask Hunts Point residents and businesses for their input over the next nine months to help envision the future of the neighborhood without the Sheridan Expressway, some local business owners think they already know what that future will look like.
They don’t like what they see.
City planners and transportation officials spoke to two dozen unhappy Hunts Point business owners at the Terminal Produce Cooperative Market on March 22 to acquaint them with the city’s new federally-funded $1.5 million project to study development options in and around Hunts Point. The study is intended to help officials decide whether the 1.2- mile-long Sheridan should be torn down or left standing.
Community groups and environmental organizations say the highway should be knocked down and replaced with parks and housing, while businesses contend the Sheridan is the only sensible way for trucks to get to and from the neighborhood. The city team says it hopes to find a consensus.
City planners say they will hold community meetings through December to help them make recommendations to state officials about ways to improve traffic flow and quality of life.
But several area business owners say they suspect city officials and Hunts Point residents are doing their best to push them out, and renewed studies of the Sheridan are just window dressing.
“I’ve been hearing about this for 20 years, and it’s only gotten worse,” said Paul Rodrigues, owner of the trucking company SL Benfica on Tiffany Street. “Is somebody going to do something about this, or are we wasting our time with these meetings?”
“I’ve been here for 23 years, and I’ve seen every study,” said Josephine Infante of the Hunts Point Economic Development Corporation, who questioned the value of yet another study.
“I really think what we’re doing is not repetitive,” responded city planner Kate Van Tussel.
Rodrigues says a dizzying array of city laws and regulations have been drawn up over the last several years, which have bled Hunts Point businesses—like his own—dry.
“I have 100 trucks coming in and out of my driveway–and now there’s a bike lane,” Rodrigues said, “Who the heck is using the bike lane?”
He and other business owners contend the recent addition of bike lanes on a street heavily used by trucks raises “the chances of getting someone killed. It’s going to happen.” It is one example among many, they said, of the disregard residents and city officials have for their livelihoods.
City engineers will conduct surveys of truckers to get a better idea of what routes trucks are using to access the peninsula, the planners said.
Several business representatives said removing the Sheridan would take away the only reasonable route for trucks into Hunts Point. Most truckers bring produce across the George Washington Bridge from the south and west, and meat from the midwest, then use the Sheridan, they said.
“You’re given one good option, one bad option,” said Evan Kazan of Target Insterstate, who like the others thinks the Sheridan is a far more reliable highway than the congested Major Deegan Expressway. “So if you get rid of the good one, how is that going to be better?”
Rodrigues scoffed at the idea that surveys are needed to understand that the Sheridan is quicker than the Deegan for moving merchandise. He offered to take the traffic engineers for a drive.
“It’ll take 15 minutes on that Deegan. They’ll figure it out,” he said.
“If things are worse than they already are, then you’re talking about driving the market out,” said Brandan Bolton of Krasdale Foods on Food Center Drive, who noted that New Jersey is luring the produce market.
“Governor Christie would like nothing better,” Bolton said.
“If that expressway gets de-mapped, you’re just putting another nail in the coffin,” said Myra Gordon, executive administrative director of the Produce Market, adding that well over half the employees in the three Hunts Point food markets are Bronx residents.
Bolton and others are skeptical that nine months of meetings with residents will help their businesses.
“We’re too busy fighting our traffic tickets in court,” he scoffed.
But city officials tried to persuade the business owners to have faith in the process, saying many residents are on their side. They emphasized the importance of the produce, meat and fish markets to the city’s economy.
“We care very deeply about access to Hunts Point,” said Van Tussel, adding, “we want to hear from the horse’s mouth how trucks are reaching Hunts Point.”
“There’s not a consensus for what should happen in this space,” she said.
“You’re never going to have consensus,” Paul Rodrigues said. “Residents want us all out of here.”