Advocates demand better route to food market
Business owners and advocates rallied in Hunts Point to urge Governor Andrew Cuomo to build new ramps between the Bruckner Expressway and the peninsula’s food markets, saying the long-stalled plan would cut down on the neighborhood’s nightmarish traffic and reduce air pollution.
The group gathered at Monsignor del Valle Square by the Hunts Point Avenue subway station on Dec. 10 as city planners were preparing to release their final recommendations to the state on revitalizing the area around the Sheridan Expressway in some of the city’s most congested and polluted neighborhoods.
“This is a critical issue that deserves further investment so all the work and money that’s gone into it doesn’t go to waste,” said Kellie Terry-Sepulveda, executive director of The Point CDC, a member organization of the grassroots Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance, which organized the rally.
After pressing unsuccessfully for the Sheridan to be torn down, the alliance has pushed the city and state to revitalize the area around the expressway and make it more pedestrian-friendly. Now that the city has drawn its conclusions following a decade of data analysis and neighborhood meetings, advocates and area businesses want the state’s transportation department to follow through before momentum is lost.
The advocates say the state should save time and money by using the city’s studies on the environmental benefits new ramps would bring.
Following a two-year, federally-funded study, the city’s planning department concluded last spring that residents of Longwood, Hunts Point and Soundview need access to the Bronx River, more and safer walkways and cleaner air. They found that construction of ramps that would connect Oak Point Avenue directly to the markets would benefit residents and businesses alike by getting trucks off local streets and reducing emissions.
“Backed by years of extraordinary community participation, we now have an historic opportunity to reimagine this four-lane eyesore as a neighborhood street that serves the community and the local economy,” said Janette Sadik-Khan, the commissioner of the city’s Department of Transportation in a press release issued on the day of the rally.
In the press release, City Planning Commissioner Amanda M. Burden added her strong support to “the recommendation for a narrower boulevard and creating new off ramps into the Hunts Point Peninsula.”
The city’s conclusion about the ramps echoed those of the state Department of Transportation. But a year and a half ago, the state scrapped its plan to build the ramps, saying it needed the funds for more urgent repairs along the Bruckner.
For the first time, businesses in the industrial zone joined forces with neighborhood-based organizations to press the state. The manager of Baldor Specialty Foods’ fleet of 200 trucks, said companies like his need to save time going to and from Food Center Drive.
“Baldor makes over 400 trips a day, driving past residences and clogging the streets,” said Steven Tufo. “We need a direct route from the Bruckner Expressway to get back home quicker. We need the ramps.”
Trucks traveling south are forced to sit in snail-paced traffic, waiting to make left turns onto Tiffany and Leggett streets to get to the peninsula, Tufo said.
“Many trucks have the same two options,” he complained. “There are no others.”
Angela Tovar of the environmental group Sustainable South Bronx pointed to the smog-choked corner of Hunts Point Avenue and Bruckner Boulevard just behind the site of the rally as one of the city’s deadliest, where motorists face accidents and residents lung disease because of the heavy traffic. Her organization is a member of the Southern Bronx Watershed Alliance, along with Mothers on the Move, Nos Quedamos, The Pratt Center for Community Development, The Point, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign and Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice.
Representatives of several other area businesses also came to help pressure the governor to act, including Jetro Cash and Carry, Il Forno Bakery and Down East Sea Food.
“The area’s been growing and we need some infrastructure,” said Ed Taylor, owner of Down East Sea Food, whose staff of 65 and fleet of 15 vehicles often idle in traffic jams. “The ramps will expedite trucks and ease traffic.”
Assemblyman Marcos Crespo pointed to the area’s “health disparities and safety concerns” in calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo to commission an environmental study that could lead to construction of the new ramps.
“The governor talks about how he wants results, and we have a progressive mayor coming into office,” Crespo said, adding “We need a better infrastructure.”