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City backs off Sheridan removal

Photo by Kimberly Milner

This model detailing the city's proposed options for the Sheridan Expressway has been on display at The Point CDC. It included a plan for tearing down the highway, a plan the city is now turning away from.

Advocates, residents say they've been blindsided by city's about-face

The city no longer believes tearing down the Sheridan Expressway is a viable option, officials told a meeting of the working group devoted to planning the highway’s future.The announcement at the May 10 meeting stunned advocates and residents who had expected planners to produce alternative uses for the land under the highway.

With the help of a $1.5 million federal grant, the planners and transportation engineers have been studying the impact modifications or removal of the Sheridan would have on Hunts Point and South Bronx traffic. The study was seen as a sign that the Department of City Planning would back tearing down the highway and replacing it with parks, housing and commercial buildings.

Backers of the long battle over the highway’s future contend that the mile-long Sheridan is underused and the community badly needs the land for other purposes.

The highway’s fate has become an issue in the tug-of-war between New York and New Jersey over the future of the the Hunts Point Terminal Coop Market that supplies fruits and vegetables to restaurants and groceries across the region. The owners of the wholesale firms in the coop who are negotiating to renew their long-term lease with the city have threatened to move across the Hudson if the Sheridan is torn down. They say their trucking fleets need the Sheridan to move food to and from the massive market, which employs 7,000 workers.

At the meeting of the Sheridan Community Working Group at the BankNote Building, city planners said without the Sheridan many trucks from the Market would be forced onto local streets, adding to an already colossal congestion problem, calling that a “fatal flaw” in the proposal to abandon the highway.

While advocates of tearing down the highway have contended that instead of going north from the George Washington Bridge to the Sheridan, trucks could turn south and take the Major Deegan Expressway to the Bruckner Expressway, the planners said the Port Authority had scuttled any hope for that to work. Trucks are not allowed on the lower level of the bridge, and Port Authority officials have insisted the policy will not change, they said.

Those who back tearing the highway down were livid at being left out of the process.

“There’s a whole alternative that hasn’t been considered in spite of all this analysis,” Hunts Point resident Julian Lamb said.

“I can say that it has been considered,” responded Mike Marsico, assistant commissioner of modeling and data analysis for the city’s transportation agency.

Kellie Terry-Sepulveda, executive director of The Point CDC, said the federal grant that supplied the funds the city is using to conduct its study stipulates “a process of engagement was necessary in order to reach the best solution, and I don’t know whether or not that is what we’re seeing here with the Community Working Group. I feel reported to, not engaged.

“The city is not in this alone,” she continued, and added officials should “provide the community an opportunity to look at where they’re heading with your analysis so there can be an exchange.”

The evening before, Produce Market president Matthew D’Arrigo met with Community Board 2 to update residents about negotiations between the Market and the city. D’Arrigo warned owners would be more likely to bolt to New Jersey if the Sheridan were torn down. More than 90 percent of the trucks that serve the Market use the Sheridan, he said.

“I’ll risk angering some people, but I think the de-mapping of the Sheridan is not a highway move, it is a Parks Department [and] housing move under the guise of DOT,” he said.

D’Arrigo said truckers would lose the variety of routes they currently have if the Sheridan is demolished, and that a key backup route would be eliminated.

“I don’t think you’re going to be alleviating traffic by removing the Sheridan, I think you’re going to be exacerbating it,” he said.

But neighborhood advocates said traffic engineers should listen to residents, then go back to the drawing board and reconsider.

“This is why we organize, because of stuff like this,” said Julien Terrell of the Soundview group Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, which wants housing and parks to replace the Sheridan.

“I went through the paperwork—well, there’s three analyses, and there’s one missing,” Terrell said, and added, “We keep talking about trucks, but there are real people who live in these neighborhoods.”

The mayor’s office announced last week it would not announce a final decision on the Sheridan until next year, and did not respond to a request for comment on the delay.

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