The Bloomberg administration has abruptly ruled out the possibility of tearing down the lightly-trafficked Sheridan Expressway and replacing it with mixed-use development, jobs, and parks. Neighborhood advocates and electeds are vowing to fight the decision, which they say fails to follow through on the comprehensive analysis the city promised to conduct as part of a $1.5 million federal grant.
At a meeting with South Bronx community groups on May 10, city officials unexpectedly announced that they would no longer consider the teardown option, according to advocates who attended. Led by the Department of City Planning, the Sheridan study promised to produce a comprehensive analysis of how replacing the Sheridan with development, jobs, and parks stacks up against rehabbing the aging highway and letting it stay in place. Instead, say advocates, officials simply showed community members a cursory traffic analysis to justify the rejection of the teardown option.
Earlier meetings between the city’s Sheridan team and neighborhood advocates had been promising, indicating that the city would evaluate not just the traffic impacts of tearing down the highway, but also the economic, environmental and social benefits of replacing the highway with other uses. “We thought they would do a more comprehensive, thorough review, and they didn’t,” said Veronica Vanterpool, associate director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.
The sudden shift came as the city was in the midst of a 90-day negotiating window with the Hunts Point Terminal Produce Market Cooperative — wholesale food distributors operating out of the South Bronx — over a long-term contract. While lightly used compared to other highways (its route basically duplicates that of the Major Deegan, four miles west), the Sheridan is a primary route for trucks bound for the market, and the city’s Economic Development Corporation is keen to prevent the market from decamping to New Jersey.
The teardown was expected to marginally lengthen truck trips to Hunts Point, but would also include a number of measures to relieve bottlenecks in the local highway system, as well as new ramps providing direct truck access to the market from the Bruckner Expressway. Whether the market distributors would actually follow through on threats to move to the much more inconvenient side of the Hudson River is also highly questionable.
Advocates today demanded that the city put the teardown option back on the table. “The city’s study so far falls extremely short of the purpose of this grant and it cannot prematurely remove options from the table before completing the comprehensive analysis,” said Jessica Clemente, executive director of We Stay/Nos Quedamos. “Reconsidering the option to remove the Sheridan Expressway will help the city ensure that the Hunts Point market — and local economy — continues to thrive and South Bronx residents can enjoy a safer, more vibrant community.”
South Bronx community groups have been calling for years to tear down the Sheridan — a Robert Moses-era, 1.25-mile highway segment connecting the Bruckner and the Cross-Bronx Expressway. Under the umbrella of the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance, their vision of reclaiming the waterfront by replacing highway infrastructure with housing and parks gradually gained momentum until it was rejected by the state DOT in 2010.
At the time, advocates pointed out that the state DOT’s analysis was woefully incomplete: It approached the teardown as though nothing of value would replace the highway — the Sheridan would just sit there, fenced-off and unused.
The teardown option was revived later that year when the U.S. DOT awarded New York City a $1.5 million TIGER grant to assess what could be done with the Sheridan and the land it occupies. The project application from the city was titled “Revitalizing the Sheridan Corridor, Hunts Point and the Bronx River.”
In the early phases of the TIGER project, the city seemed to be on track to conduct the kind of multi-faceted analysis the state DOT had failed to provide. Geographically, it promised to look at a much broader area than the Sheridan itself. And thematically, the project was about more than traffic counts. Two of the four major components of the study, still listed on the DCP website, are:
- Land use analysis of the surrounding area and the options identified during the community visioning process
- A comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of different options incorporating traditional and sustainable measures.
In other words, this project is supposed to look at many different ways the Sheridan teardown might affect the neighborhoods near the highway: The potential benefits of housing, jobs, park access, and street safety should all have factored into the ultimate decision.
Instead, in a virtual repeat of the state DOT’s 2010 fiasco, the city seems to have ruled out the teardown prematurely, based on little more than a highly simplified traffic analysis.
At the May 10 meeting between the city and the community groups working on the Sheridan project, officials gave a brief presentation outlining the effects of a highway teardown on traffic and truck routing, focusing on a few specific intersections. They then concluded that truck traffic on residential streets was a “fatal flaw” in the removal scenario, and announced the teardown would no longer be considered, according to advocates in attendance. And that was that. No mention of housing, parks, or economic development.
Community groups who support the teardown called the city’s analysis shallow, flawed, and opaque, lacking a clear explanation of its underlying assumptions. “The fatal flaw here is how we’re being forced to live, and the least we deserve from the city is a full and honest analysis of all the options in front of us, including the community plan, in order to truly correct these long term issues, not only for us but for future generations to come,” said Kellie Terry-Sepulveda, executive director of The POINT CDC.
Local elected officials including U.S. Representative José Serrano and City Council Member Maria Del Carmen Arroyo are also castigating the city for dropping the teardown option on such a threadbare pretext.
“I stand with the community in saying that taking any option off the table at this time is premature,” Serrano said in a statement. “When we helped secure the grant for this study, we envisioned a full study of all the options, not one where a challenging option like the removal is quickly discounted. We know that there are difficulties with removing the Sheridan, but we are interested in knowing how that could be accomplished, not hearing that it is too difficult to even continue studying. I urge the city to reconsider and resume studying all options for the Sheridan Expressway.”
“When the study began, we had high hopes that the South Bronx would finally be getting the attention it has long been deprived from the city with a thorough analysis and inclusive process that was fairly done and appropriately communicated,” Arroyo said in a statement. “Instead, with no discussion and no notice, the city announces it wants to remove the linchpin of the study from consideration. This is grossly premature and unjustified, and I’m calling on the city to continue studying the Sheridan removal options.”
The Department of City Planning has not responded to Streetsblog’s inquiries about the reasons behind its decision, why other factors besides traffic were apparently not considered, and whether the Hunts Point market negotiations influenced the city’s rejection of the teardown.