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South Bronx to Cuomo: Don’t Cut Off Hunts Point From the Bronx River With Another Highway

9:25 AM EDT on March 29, 2018

The state DOT plan calls for a highway ramp abutting the Bronx River and flying over part of Concrete Plant Park.

New York State DOT wants to jam an elevated highway ramp between Hunts Point and the Bronx River waterfront. It's exactly what South Bronx neighborhood advocates have been trying to avoid, and they're calling on Governor Cuomo to intervene.

The new highway ramp is, confusingly enough, part of the state DOT's plans to transform the Sheridan Expressway into a surface street, which neighborhood residents campaigned for long and hard.

After Cuomo announced plans to tear down the Sheridan last March, state DOT said that the project would include new ramps connecting to the Bruckner Expressway. The intent of the ramps is to give trucks direct access to the Hunts Point Market food distribution center, keeping them off residential streets.

But the state DOT's preference is to build a ramp from the Bruckner-Sheridan interchange via Edgewater Road. That would put an elevated highway segment over Concrete Plant Park, with truck traffic running between the residential heart of Hunts Point and the waterfront, including Hunts Point Riverside Park.

Neighborhood residents want a different, less intrusive option, with ramps at Leggett Avenue and Oak Point Avenue. State DOT studied that scenario [PDF] but rejected it in its "project scoping document" [PDF]. Now, advocates are calling on Governor Cuomo to put the neighborhood-friendly option back on the table.

The state's plan to reroute trucks to the Hunts Point market puts them closer to residential areas.

Neighborhood leaders say the state DOT rejected the Oak Point ramps too hastily. "It’s hard for us to take [the scoping document] at face value," said Angela Tovar, director of community development at The Point. "The DOT has been very hesitant to share information with us, even information about the methodology. We just want to make sure that this decision is studied, and studied thoroughly, before the project commences."

The main thrust of the DOT's argument is that a ramp at Oak Point Avenue would reduce the capacity of the Oak Point rail yard, triggering opposition from CSX and Amtrak.

Without citing any data or traffic studies, NYS DOT also claims that the Oak Point ramp would lead to more truck traffic on local streets, while a new highway on-off ramp along Edgewater Road "would improve pedestrian safety" at the busy Lafayette Avenue intersection. The agency also says the Oak Point ramp would require an end to illegal double-parking along Oak Point Avenue, and that angled parking would have to be replaced with parallel parking, which "could reduce employee and customer parking and negatively affect commercial businesses along these roadways."

Advocates contacted state DOT to obtain the research used to justify those conclusions, and they have not received a response.

On Monday, 50 neighborhood residents gathered to protest the state DOT's rush to move forward with the Edgewater ramp, which community groups have opposed since 2003. At the intersection of Edgewater and Lafayette, they called on Governor Cuomo to step in.

SBRWA members rallying on Monday against state DOT's decision to scrap their preferred plan for rerouting truck traffic away from residential streets. Photo: The Point CDC

Neighborhood residents are particularly concerned about the presence of large, polluting trucks along the waterfront. In addition to impeding access to Hunts Point Riverside Park, the Edgewater ramp would be an obstacle to other neighborhoods businesses and organizations along the waterfront, including the non-profit Rocking the Boat, which runs environmental science programs for young people.

"As it stands, the constant truck traffic whizzing in front of our building on Edgewater Road -- leading to reduced air quality and never ending noise pollution -- creates a major safety issue for our students," Rocking the Boat Executive Director Adam Green said in a statement. "The prospect of an even larger thoroughfare, designed specifically to funnel truck traffic onto Edgewater Road, is devastating.”

Tovar stressed that residents don't want to scuttle the larger project for the Sheridan area. "The important thing for us, and what we’ve tried to communicate is, we’re not a group of people trying to be difficult and stand in the way of progress," Tovar said. "We’re happy about this transformation, but we have to consider all the options. This isn’t something that can be fast tracked."

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