Environment / Transportation

Public gets last chance to denounce State’s Sheridan plan

Bronx resident Sierra Straker urges the state’s transportation department not to build ramps at Edgewater Road at a June 27 public hearing in Hunts Point.

Ramps on Edgewater Road are a disaster-in-waiting, say residents and advocates

State transportation officials got an earful from Bronx residents and advocates who oppose a key detail in the State’s plan to revitalize the Sheridan Expressway, at a public hearing in Hunts Point on June 27. It was the last hearing for testimony to be given in response to the State’s proposal to build three ramps between the Sheridan and Edgewater Road, as part of a $1.7 billion investment to upgrade and beautify the expressway and surrounding area.

Transportation officials say that their proposal would provide improved access between the Hunts Point peninsula and the Sheridan for cars and trucks, but opponents say ramps at Edgewater would increase truck traffic and make existing air pollution worse, while creating even more unsafe conditions for pedestrians. In addition, advocates say the State’s plan to take precious open space and park land away from Concrete Plant Park to make their plan work is unacceptable.

The hearing took place inside the Bronx Academy for Multi Media on Bryant Avenue, where several dozen opponents denounced the plan.

“It is essential that our participants are able to safely access Rocking the Boat and Hunts Point Riverside Park without having to weave through truck traffic and breathe in the increased diesel fumes that will be the certain result of this proposed project,” said Adam Green, executive director of the acclaimed nonprofit Rocking the Boat, where teens are taught boat building, rowing, sailing, and restoring the Bronx River.

“Every one of those 4,000 people (who visit or study) has to cross Edgewater to get to us,” Green continued. He and other advocates and residents are angered that months of meetings between public officials and community members have resulted in a plan that is the opposite of what locals said they wanted—-building the ramps in a more remote location, on Oak Point and Leggett avenues.

“What happened to the plan that we all agreed to for access at Oak Point? That would have kept the trucks away from the river and away from our kids,” Green said.

No Edgewater ramps, say protesters

By Vanessa Colón Almenas

Young people helped spearhead a rally in front of the Bronx Academy for Multimedia at the June 27 hearing. They demanded that the state extend the 45-day period to review and comment on a draft environmental impact statement that the State released on June 1.

Several dozen protesters chanted “edge off Edgewater,” while state transportation officials were holding a public hearing inside the Bryant Avenue schoolhouse.

Local resident Cecilia Arias, 19, said that seeing residents breathe polluted air while struggling to cross streets congested with trucks is upsetting enough. The state’s current plan will make matters much worse, she said. Studies show that noise from truck traffic would increase in an area that has 19 multi-family buildings and 14 schools.

Young people deserve better, said Dariella Rodríguez, director of community organizing and outreach for Soundview-based Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice.

“They’re not demanding unicorns,” Rodríguez said. “Study other options that we have suggested.”

“Most people from the community are not fully aware of the document,” said Elena Conte, director of policy at the Pratt Center for Community Development, a member group of the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance. “When this comment period closes on July 16, there will not be more opportunities for formal public comments on this project and the decision will be made for at least $1.7 billion of public funds.”

Angela Tovar, The Point CDC’s director of community development, read a statement from Sal’s Scrap Metal, a business that has operated at 900 Edgewater Road for over 30 years and has more than a dozen employees.“The construction of ramps will destroy sales business by permanently blocking access to South,” the statement read.

Ray Klein, a trucker and representative for Teamsters Union Local 282, said that the current proposal would make it difficult for trucks to turn, endangering drivers and pedestrians alike.

“I don’t expect trucks will be able to make that turn safely. Whoever is standing at the drawbridge over there might get hit,” said Klein. He added that the increase in emissions that would result from the Edgewater proposal would hurt not just residents but workers in the markets as well.

Community groups have advocated unsuccessfully over the years for the state to tear down the Sheridan to reduce truck traffic, then eventually settled instead on a compromise that would allow the Sheridan to remain standing, with ramps at Oak Point.

But earlier this year, the State released the results of an Environmental Impact Study in which officials removed all non-Edgewater ramps from review, including the Oak Point and Leggett ramps.

The State argues that building ramps at Oak Point Avenue would limit access to the Oak Point Rail Yard, hurting railroad operators CSX and Amtrak, as well as local businesses along the route. In addition, they argue that the community’s proposal would be too expensive, costing about $200 million more than the Edgewater ramps.

Albert Wahid, an engineer for the transportation department, defended the Edgewater option, saying it would lead to “removing 13,000 daily trucks from the neighborhood,” and “taking the pollution that comes with the trucks from the local streets and giving direct access from the interstate, right into Hunts Point.”

However, the advocacy coalition pushing for the Edgewater ramps, The Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance, countered that the State’s research is faulty and fails to take key factors into account.

New York State Senator Jeffrey D. Klein, whose district includes part of the Hunts Point peninsula, said in an email to the Express that the transportation department should listen to residents and “work with all of the community to address their concerns and engage in a plan that is beneficial to both the businesses and people that call Hunts Point their home.”

“This investment into the Hunts Point community was welcome news when it was secured,” said Klein. “We cannot lose sight of the benefits this type of investment in the Hunts Point community can bring. However, we must listen to the voices of the community who advocated so long and hard for a plan to better this community.”

New York State Assemblyman Marcos A. Crespo, whose 85th Assembly District takes in Hunts Point, said in a phone interview that he sympathizes with residents for whom pollution from the expressways has been a scourge for decades, but that wherever the ramps go, they will benefit the neighborhood.

“It’s much more complicated. It’s not as clear cut as to say one proposal is detrimental to the neighborhood and the other one isn’t. That is a misrepresentation of what the proposals do,” said Crespo. Residents, he said, should not “go another three decades without improving conditions that are right now hurting the community. We have an asthma problem and we had it for years because this issue didn’t get resolved.”

A week after the hearing, Gov. Andrew Cuomo appeared at a July 3 event at Boricua College in Melrose to ballyhoo $10 million in state spending for community-driven beautification projects in the area, and referred to the Sheridan as an urban planning mistake that “should never have been built in the first place.” But asked after the event if he would weigh local community groups’ anger about the plan for ramps at Edgewater into a final decision, the governor downplayed the rift.

“I don’t think there’s ever been a transportation project where one group or another wasn’t unhappy,” said Cuomo. “I’m sure that the DOT will take it into consideration. If it’s feasible from an engineering and an economic standpoint, I’m sure they’ll consider it.”

The public has until July 16 to submit written comments to the State. To learn more and find out where to write, click on the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance’s website at www.sbrwa.org.

If the plan for Edgewater ramps is approved, construction would start in 2019 and  and not be completed until 2025 or later, officials project.

Additional reporting by Joe Hirsch.

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