The state’s proposal to build access ramps between the Sheridan Expressway and Hunts Point through Edgewater Road drew sharp criticism from young activists, who say that the state remains tone deaf to the needs of South Bronx communities despite decades of outcry from residents.
Young activists moderated the Youth Climate Justice Panel, a public forum organized by Soundview-based nonprofit Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, at Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School on June 5. They and other advocates contend that putting ramps on Edgewater Road, which the state plans as part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $1.7 billion project to upgrade neighborhoods around the Sheridan, will endanger pedestrians and contribute to air pollution by bringing even more truck traffic. The ramps should instead be built on relatively isolated Oak Point Avenue, they say.
Conversations ranged from the negative effects of the Sheridan’s traffic on the health and safety of South Bronx residents to tenant displacement, which many fear will result from the project. But their criticism was tempered with excitement about improved access residents will have to the Bronx River waterfront.
The plan to create a pedestrian boulevard around the Sheridan will cost $75 million. But residents for decades have urged the state to tear the Sheridan down, arguing that the mile-long highway is underused, but that the trucks that do drive on it are key contributors to the area’s notorious asthma problems.
“They still are not listening to us,” said Shanjida Choudhury, 20, a 2017 graduate of Fannie Lou Hamer. “We’re going to keep fighting until we get what we want. Building the ramp on Edgewater is not good; it’s going to affect a lot of local businesses, a lot of mom and pop shops that they’ve invested their whole life into.”
Hamer student Dalyla Santiago, who suffers from asthma, said the state is ignoring the community’s health concerns.
“I shouldn’t have to go to school and worry about struggling to breathe or having an asthma attack,” said Santiago, who lives across from the Sheridan. Parks near the school offer no relief because truck exhaust is overwhelming there as well, she said.
The state transportation department did not respond to questions from the Express about whether it is considering putting the ramps on Oak Point Avenue as residents have urged them to. In the past, the DOT has contended that putting ramps at Oak Point would be too expensive.In an email, a DOT spokesman said that “Hunts Point construction is set to begin in fall 2019, with completion in 2025,” dodging the question about the Edgewater ramps.
Panelist Dalaeja Foreman helped facilitate a discussion about encroaching gentrification, and said she is delighted that young people are forming the frontline in that debate.
“When these development projects happen, they end up displacing community members,” said Foreman. “I’m just excited to see these young people part of that conversation and pushing back against that displacement.”
One attendee, Ileia Burgos, has been organizing against the Sheridan since she was 16. Now 38, Burgos, the outreach coordinator for the Green Worker Cooperatives group, lamented that one detail has not changed in her twenty-two years of organizing: public officials still ignore the community’s needs and demands.
“People who stayed here when they’ve been getting sick…now as things are improving in the Bronx, should get what they (are asking for),” said Burgos. “If it’s a park, if it’s whatever space, whatever resources the actual residents want.”
So far the young people’s plea for state officials to be more transparent with the community about its Sheridan plans has gone unheeded. Several days after the young people’s forum, state DOT officials appeared at a June 12 meeting of Community Board 2’s Economic Development Committee, but said they were not prepared to answer questions about the Sheridan ramps.