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Bronx Beep Ruben Diaz Calls on State DOT to Transform Sheridan Expressway

1:48 PM EST on February 19, 2015

The effort to transform the Sheridan Expressway got a boost this morning from Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who in his State of the Borough address called on the Cuomo administration to take action.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. says the Cuomo administration has to stop dragging its feet and transform the Sheridan Expressway. Photo: rubendiazjr/Twitter
Bronx Borough President

The 2013 proposal from the Department of City Planning would turn the little-used stub highway in the South Bronx into a boulevard, opening up land for mixed-use development and removing a barrier to the growing park network along the Bronx River.

A coalition of community groups fighting to remove the Sheridan has butted heads with the state DOT over the project for years. This morning, Sustainable South Bronx spotted this paragraph in Diaz's prepared remarks [PDF]:

We must finally act on the redevelopment of the Sheridan Expressway. We have seen the success of converting highways into boulevards with pedestrian crossings, such as those found on the West Side of Manhattan. It will not only provide for new housing development opportunities, but will improve pedestrian safety and access to parkland along the Bronx River, without compromising access to the Hunts Point Market. The State can no longer drag its feet on the future of the Sheridan.

Back in 2011, Diaz told the Hunts Point Express that he opposed tearing down the Sheridan because he feared truck traffic would overwhelm local streets, but he came around and supported the city's plan in 2013. His remarks today are a sign that the Sheridan project is still a priority for Bronx leaders.

“The language used by the Bronx borough president shows an urgency and really instructs the state to act to advance this project,” said Veronica Vanterpool, executive director of Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “There’s not been much movement since 2013 on this project, and a lot of elected officials have spoken up in support... It’s great for the Bronx BP to speak up for this project."

The obstacle that Tri-State and South Bronx community groups have been trying to overcome is the state DOT, which engineered a study that rejected a complete teardown of the Sheridan Expressway in 2010. The idea got a fresh lease on life later that year, when U.S. DOT (where current NYC Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg was a top exec) awarded the city a grant to study reconfiguring the Sheridan. The city recommended the boulevard configuration in 2013.

The city's plan would turn the Sheridan Expressway into a boulevard with pedestrian crossings and room for new housing. Photo: Stephen Miller

The area near the Sheridan was rezoned in 2011 and is on track for thousands of new housing units. Removing the highway could open more land for affordable housing. On the other side of the expressway, parks and greenway connections have been sprouting along the Bronx River. The city has been building safer streets to connect residents to the parks, but the highway remains a forbidding obstacle.

Last year, the City Council passed a resolution urging the Cuomo administration to act on the boulevard proposal. The de Blasio City Hall, however, has made no visible effort to advance the plan.

Advocates and city politicos have to convince the state government to take action because the Sheridan is a state highway. So far, the Cuomo administration has not offered any commitments to the project.

Update 3:30 p.m.: The coalition advocating for the Sheridan's transformation, the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance, welcomed Diaz's remarks. The group also pointed out that the state DOT is already conducting a study of a boulevard proposal for I-81 through downtown Syracuse and should do the same for the Bronx.

"While highway to boulevard conversion concepts and projects advance in upstate New York and the economic benefits of those projects are embraced by the New York State Department of Transportation," the group said in a statement, "there is no better time than now for Governor Cuomo to acknowledge the value of this project as an economic development model for New York State.”

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