Community groups and residents are calling on the state to reverse part of its plan to reconfigure the Sheridan Expressway, saying that the new on-ramps will ruin local waterfront parks and thwart access to the Bronx River.
The plan, they say, was finalized without their input and will only heighten the environmental hazards in the neighborhood and risk pedestrian safety. The state’s plan would use Edgewater Road as the main access to the Hunts Point food markets for trucks. The community plan would use Oak Point and Leggett avenues instead, with ramps constructed over the railyards.
Activists are also asking residents to attend hearings in late June to demand that the state shift its plans. And teens can also get involved by joining a May 12 organizing event and party at Fannie Lou Hamer High School.
“NYSDOT’s refusal to study alternative plans and focus solely on installing ramps on Edgewater is disrespectful to this community and all that we’ve fought for,” said Maria Torres, the president and CEO of The Point at a press conference at Hunts Point Riverside Park in March. “Not long ago this city built this beautiful park and finally gave residents access to a cleaner Bronx River. Now DOT plans to create a barrier by sending more trucks to this area. Children and families would have to cross a major truck route and breathe in all that pollution just to enjoy open space on the waterfront.”
In March 2017, Gov. Cuomo announced a $1.8 billion project that promised to transform the South Bronx’s traffic infrastructure. As part of the project, the Sheridan Expressway would be converted from a highway into a tree-lined boulevard. For the community, it was a long-awaited change that aimed to improve pedestrian safety and give residents better access to the riverfront parks. In an effort to provide direct access for trucks to the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center, the largest food distribution facility in the nation, the state proposed the exit ramps from the Bruckner onto Edgewater Road – in conflict with the group’s own plan crafted with the city several years ago.
But residents and community activists have suggested that the plan will increase traffic too close to parks that residents worked for decades to secure: Concrete Plant Park and Hunts Point Riverside Park. The Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance, a coalition of several community organizations including Mothers on the Move and The Point, say they will continue to lobby for a better solution.
“We’re not adversaries. We want the same things,” said Angela Tovar, the director of community development for The Point, about the community’s relationship with the state Department of Transportation. “We want to make sure that they do it right. We’re in danger of doing it the wrong way and this is our chance to correct them before it goes any further. We’re on their team. We’re hoping that they’re on our team.”
In 2013, the city released a study that analyzed proposals for reconnecting the neighborhoods surrounding the Sheridan while improving direct access to the peninsula. The city’s preferred transportation recommendations included construction of ramps at Oak Point and Leggett avenues. This study was coordinated with the involvement of local elected officials and community organizations, including the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance.
The ramps at Oak Point are farther away from residential areas and fall in line with existing industrial business routes, says Torres. But the state claims that plan would be more expensive and would cause conflicts with rail routes for Amtrak and CSX, a rail freight company.
“NYSDOT’s refusal to just study the alternatives because it may inconvenience CSX or for political gains is disgraceful,” said Torres. “After 20 years of advocacy, we demand a fair and transparent process.”
According to the state’s final report, construction is set to begin next year. And at this point, the state will not consider studying other options, including the community’s endorsed scenario.
For nearly 20 years, since 1999, the alliance has been advocating for environmental justice in the South Bronx. A 2015 city health profile on Hunts Point and Longwood reports the neighborhood has one of the highest asthma rates in the city, and advocates have long argued that truck traffic from the highways and the food market are the root cause. Two decades later, the environmental challenges remain the same, so the fight continues on with the next generation.
“It’s been mostly a pull on our end. We’ve been pushing them and pulling them along and finally they responded,” said Tovar. “We have a really wonderful assemblyman, Marcos Crespo, that helped champion this and get this in front of the governor.”
At the March press conference, activists and local residents lamented the environmental hazards that exist on the peninsula, which sees 15,000 truck visits a day.
“After you pass Whitlock, it’s almost like a different type of taste in the air,” said Sharianna Davis, 22, referring to Soundview and points north. “I don’t feel like people who have never stepped foot to my community should have the last and final say on what happens to it. That’s not fair for us.”
Representatives from New Yorkers For Parks, an independent non-profit organization, also spoke in favor of the community plan.
“The State is studying a plan that will put three nearby parks, a community center, and elementary school at risk,” said Lucy Robson, director of research and planning for New Yorkers for Parks. “This community has come up with another plan. The Oak Point ramps are legitimate, then they should be studied.”
In January, the state’s Department of Transportation Project Scoring Report claimed that the Oak Point/Leggett options “have been dismissed from further consideration,” citing that those “would impact areas outside of the existing highway boundaries, specifically the Oak Point Rail Yard and the Oak Point Avenue access road for local businesses.”
In addition, the state Department of Transportation claimed the estimated cost of this scenario to be $1.93 billion, approximately $230 million more than the state’s proposal of $1.7 billion, and would add three more years to the expected construction end date, from 2025 to 2028.
If the community’s vision fails to garner the governor’s support, the advocates’ resistance will continue, they said.
“We’re not going to rest easy if there is additional infrastructure that is in the neighborhood that could be potentially be harmful,” said Tovar. “That’s never something that we’re going to get behind.”
On Saturday, May 12, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the alliance will host the 4th Annual Sheridan Teen Summit at Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School, 101 Jennings St. This event invites the youth to learn about the challenges the community is facing and get involved in finding solutions, and also includes food, music, an open mic and prizes.
Next, the state Department of Transportation will hold two hearings on the environmental impact report for the Sheridan plan:
Wednesday, June 20, 5 to 8 p.m. at PS 75, 985 Faile St.;
Wednesday, June 27, 1 to 4 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m. at the Bronx Academy for Multi Media, 730 Bryant Ave.
The alliance is calling on residents to contact the governor in advance or attend the hearings and sign up to testify. See www.sbrwa.org for more information.