City calls for changes to the Sheridan

NYC Department of Transportation

The illustration shows the city’s newly designed, narrower Sheridan, with increased access to the Bronx River. The second shows the area around Oak Point Avenue, where the city says it will recommend ramps that would run directly to the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center.

Plans call for narrower highway, easier waterfront access

After two years of federally funded studies, five city agencies presented preliminary recommendations for what they say is the best way to revamp the Sheridan Expressway and the blue-collar Bronx neighborhoods it runs through.

City planners told about 100 advocates, residents and business representatives at an evening meeting in Soundview on May 21 that they had considered three options before deciding on one that would narrow a portion of the Sheridan and create more open space along the waterfront. North of Jennings Avenue, the Sheridan would become a ground-level boulevard; the elevated Hunts Point portion would not change.

In addition, the plan calls for pedestrian crossings at 172nd, 173rd, 174th and Jennings streets, and—most contentiously—two ramps that would connect the highway and the Hunts Point food markets, allowing trucks to bypass congested local streets. Trucks would have to continue south to the Bruckner before getting on the market-bound ramps, rather than getting off at Westchester Avenue, as they do now.

The city’s recommendations are a small step in the right direction, said members of the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance, a coalition of community groups and residents that for years has pushed the state Department of Transportation to transform the exhaust-choked maze of highways into a livable strip of land whose riverfront location would benefit residents.

At a press conference at the intersection of Westchester and Sheridan avenues the morning after the city’s presentation, they offered both praise and criticism of the city task force that came up with the new plan.

“It’s very difficult for people to even cross this intersection” to Starlight and Concrete Plant parks and Fannie Lou Hamer High School, said Anthony Thomas, environmental justice coordinator at Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice in Soundview.

“I have 18-wheelers coming down my block,” shouted Cerita Parker over the roar of traffic. Parker, whose apartment on 173rd Street and Longfellow Avenue looks out onto the Sheridan, echoed the sentiments of other advocates, saying, “There are some positive things” in the city’s recommendations. But she said she is skeptical of the city’s commitment to waterfront access, pedestrian improvements, affordable housing and new jobs the task force says the projects would help create.

Although she has participated in advocacy efforts to upgrade the area since discussions began 14 years ago, Parker said, “I still couldn’t tell anybody in my neighborhood what really is happening” despite the city’s May 21 pitch to the public. She urged the city’s “feet be held to the fire” after it submits final recommendations to the state.

The city estimates its plan would cost $120 million to implement, about $70 million of which would be spent on building the two ramps to serve the food markets. Advocates acknowledge that the ramps would help get some trucks off local streets, but said bolder steps were needed.

Angela Tovar of environmental group Sustainable South Bronx said two ramps “would alleviate some of the congestion on local streets, but we believe that four-way direct access to the Hunts Point peninsula should have been studied.”

When a city transportation official presented the plan for two ramps during the May 21 evening meeting, City Councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo responded, “If nothing else happens, we want those ramps off the Bruckner into the Hunts Point market,” and asked why the city had settled on just two.

“Although we asked for two ramps, we want four,” answered Linda Bailey of the city’s Department of Transportation, insisting the city wants to avoid discouraging the state with an overly expensive set of recommendations–at first. Last June the state transportation department dropped its plan to build new ramps leading to the market, saying the money needed to be spent on urgently-needed repairs to the Bruckner instead.

Bailey said that, despite budget woes, the state is “very excited” about the project’s possibilities.

But in an email response to questions from The Express, State DOT spokesman Adam Levine said questions about funding were “premature,” because “more detailed environmental analysis would likely be a part of advancing one or more alternatives,” and “We’re not aware of such a study currently being undertaken by the city.”

Advocates were encouraged by the city’s proposal to close the Sheridan on-ramp at Hunts Point Avenue, saying the move would protect pedestrians. The crossing, which connects the peninsula with the Longwood side of the Bruckner, is regularly regarded as one of the city’s worst. The city has recommended building a new on-ramp a few blocks west.

The city incorporated many of the advocates suggestions–especially concerning pedestrian safety and access to the warterfront, “and we really want to see that happen,” said Elena Conte of the Pratt Center for Sustainable Development.

Members of the watershed alliance also want closure of the northbound exit on Westchester Avenue, a recommendation the city did not make.

“The three Sheridan ramps that draw traffic into the treacherous intersections at Whitlock, Westchester and Hunts Point avenues can and must be closed, finally making them safe for thousands of pedestrians,” said Conte.

The city’s planning department says it will submit final recommendations to the state at the end of June, after which the state would conduct an environmental review.

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