Transportation

Sheridan area plan attracts little attention

New York State Department of Transportation

A rendering of the state’s plan to convert the Sheridan expressway into a boulevard, with four pedestrian crossings.

Few show up for environmental scoping meeting

As the state gears up for a $1.8 billion project to develop the area around the Sheridan Expressway, residents are showing little interest. Only a trickling of residents came to a June meeting at Casita Maria to discuss the impact a plan could have on the neighborhood’s traffic and its notorious gridlock.

Last November Governor Andrew Cuomo paid a surprise visit to Casita Maria to announce vague plans for development along the narrow strip just west of the Bronx River. Though activists and residents have for years urged the state to tear down the Sheridan and replace it with riverfront recreational areas for a neighborhood starved for green space, that is not part of the new plan. Instead, the state has said it will construct walkways on the expressway between the waterfront and residential streets.

“Most of the community members don’t even know that this event is taking place,” said Steven Toledo, 35, one of just a handful of Longwood residents who attended. “I’m going to do my best to inform the community, but this is not what community engagement looks like. I’ve only met one other person who lived in Hunts Point in the hour and a half that I’ve been in this space.”

“If you look around and see the ties and the blazers, you can see the discrepancy among the attendees of this meeting,” said Hatuey Ramos, 39, an avid biker who lives in Mott Haven, distinguishing Bronxites from the state representatives who arranged the meeting. “This is something that people have been working on for decades. If it’s a matter of being able to capture and understand what people are interested in; well, the people are not here.”

Twahira Khan, 39, also bikes and walks regularly in the area. She said she found out about the event a few days before it happened via an email from a local activist, and said it was so poorly advertised that it’s not surprising next to no one knew about it.

“The event that I did find wasn’t affiliated with the Department [of Transportation],” she said. “That’s worrying.” She added that when she arrived at 7 p.m. she was “the only non-DOT or non-affiliate in the room and probably the sole community representative.”

The National Environmental Policy Act mandates that agencies meet with communities during the lead up to major projects involving highways. The DOT’s deputy chief engineer Harold Fink said that the agency publicized the event.

“We saturated the neighborhood with flyers the last couple of weeks,” countered Fink, adding that the governor’s visit last year to announce the project was heavily publicized. “We went to community boards, district offices, the libraries, etcetera, to get everybody out and we’ve had a fairly decent turnout for something like this. You’re not going to get tens of thousands of people to come to a [Environmental Impact Statement] scoping meeting.”

Taking trucks headed for the peninsula off local streets and reducing gridlock, are key DOT objectives, said Fink, as are updating infrastructure and reducing bottlenecks at the Bruckner-Sheridan Interchange.

State officials are considering two options for alleviating truck traffic on local streets. One calls for constructing two new ramps at Edgewater Road, and two at Leggett Avenue. The DOT says that could take up to six years. The second option proposes three new ramps at Oak Point Avenue over the CSX rail yard and one at Leggett Avenue, along with reconstruction and widening of the Bruckner Expressway. Estimated completion time: nine years.

Vincent Pellecchia, associate director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, said the group was surprised to see that Edgewater Road ramps are still under consideration because they have failed to gain traction in the past. The non-profit, which works to decrease car dependency and is a member group of the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance, has advocated instead for the Oak Point Avenue ramps.

Tri-State is eager for the state’s environmental impact statement to come out so they can determine potential impacts on the area, Pelecchia said. Despite the meager turnout at the June meeting, the group wants the state to host more such forums so it can build momentum, and so that residents can consider alternative ways to reduce local traffic jams and the air pollution they  cause. Solutions would include narrower boulevards and alternate links between the highway and the peninsula’s food distribution and waste management industries.

“It’s incredibly vital for the community to be involved from the beginning to the end,” he said.

The public can submit comments to the New York State Department of Transportation at HuntsPoint@dot.ny.gov through July 27. More information about the project can be found at www.dot.ny.gov/southbronx.

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