City claims highway can coexist with neighborhood needs
Fifty area residents and advocates from local community groups marched across Southern Blvd. to tell representatives of several government agencies that tearing down the Sheridan Expressway is key to improving the quality of life in the South Bronx.
Dissatisfied with the response, they walked out on a public meeting on June 28 near Crotona Park.
The city officials said a $1.5 million federal grant that allowed city planners to study removing the Sheridan has also permitted them to devise more wide-ranging plans to revive local neighborhoods.
“We’re here to discuss improvements to all parts of the study area,” said Tawkiyah Jordan of the city’s Dept. of Planning. She added that planners are considering increased public access to the waterfront in eight areas.
“What we were planning for the Bruckner was not insignificant, but it really is a different animal,” Jordan said. “There are other issues to take up.”
The city announced in May that it would no longer consider removing the highway. That decision will cost Hunts Point new housing, parks and businesses, said the protesters and their allies in government. For a decade, they have sought to reclaim the 30 acres on which the highway sits for other purposes.
Outside the Intervale Ave. building where the meeting was about to begin, Congressman Jose E. Serrano’s community liaison, Anna Vincenty, told the protesters Serrano is “extremely disappointed. He says taking options off the table at this time is premature.”
At the meeting, Jordan said residents have told planners at community meetings that their most pressing needs include building bigger apartments to accommodate large families, making street improvements for pedestrians and adding job centers to help hard-up residents find work.
The protesters tried repeatedly to bring the discussion back to the Sheridan.
When the marchers asked if any of the representatives present had been involved in the decision to keep the Sheridan standing, they were told no one there had been.
“We’d like to hear from the decision-makers,” said Kellie Terry-Sepulveda, executive director of The Point Community Development Corp., and to “get the removal option back on the table.”
“We hear you about your concerns,” Nnenna Lynch, a senior policy adviser to the mayor told them. “This is not the first or last opportunity” to discuss the Sheridan, she said.
The protesters then burst into a chant of “Our communities are under attack, what do we do? Fight back,” before walking out, leaving the officials to discuss their plans among themselves.
“There are people who believe the only way to achieve access to the waterfront is by removing the Sheridan,” Jordan told the planners. But, she said, the continuing study aimed to explore how waterfront access “can occur under multiple scenarios.”
Jordan added that despite the state’s recent announcement it would no longer build ramps from the Bruckner Expressway to Oak Point Ave. to ease traffic in Hunts Point, “the state is actually really interested in what’s happening here, interested in supporting what we come out with.”
An official from the city’s Department of Transportation, Charles C.N. Ukegbu, agreed the Sheridan was just one issue among many. He said the need to improve connections for residents on either side of the Bronx River was one such topic requiring action.
Sam Goodman, a planner from the Bronx Borough President’s office, asked the city Dept. of Planning presenters, if the Sheridan is not removed, “does that mean it’s going to remain as is,” or would modifications be made, such as pedestrian crossings, to make the highway less forbidding to residents.
“If people had understood that, maybe it would have been easier,” to convince naysayers of the highway’s possibilities, he said.
The protesters say they will continue to fight for the removal option.
“Does Mayor Bloomberg live here? Do any of them live here?” said Hunts Point resident Elizabeth Ortega, adding she fears for her life when crossing Bruckner Blvd. “They should be the last people who should tell us what to do.”