Gov. Andrew Cuomo came to Hunts Point in December to tout early progress on New York State’s plan to invest $1.8 billion to revive the Sheridan Expressway and surrounding neighborhoods.
But reaction was mixed from residents and advocates who are excited about parts of the project, yet angry that the State has ignored input by local groups and residents who demand a crucial part of the upcoming traffic plan be changed.
At a hastily-arranged ribbon-cutting and press conference at Hunts Point Riverside Park on Dec. 11, Cuomo announced that three overpasses for pedestrians and bikers have been added on the Sheridan, providing access to the Bronx River and Starlight Park, at a cost of $75 million.
The governor first announced the ambitious plan at a press conference at Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education in March 2017.
Advocates are excited about new access to the waterfront, but say they are frustrated with the State’s tone deafness to residents’ concerns about the upcoming highway improvement plan, referred to as the Hunts Point project, which calls for new ramps between the Sheridan and Edgewater Road.
A coalition of local groups that comprise the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance has long argued that ramps at Edgewater will endanger residents in the congested area, including visitors to Hunts Point Riverside Park, students and staff at the educational nonprofit Rocking the Boat and pedestrians along Lafayette Avenue.
The coalition’s member groups, including The Point CDC, Nos Quedamos, Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice and Mothers on the Move have held rallies urging the State to instead build Sheridan ramps in a more heavily industrial section of the peninsula, at Oak Point and Leggett avenues. They noted that Cuomo congratulated elected officials and Hunts Point Market business owners during the Dec. 11 press conference but, tellingly, failed to recognize local groups for their participation in the decades-long process of re-envisioning the Sheridan.
“The governor’s statement didn’t speak to all of the community involvement,” said Maria Torres, president of The Point CDC. Although the coalition is “happy that the state listened to some of our concerns” regarding pedestrian access to the Bronx River over the Sheridan, “we still have concerns their process lacked transparency. We felt they never gave us real answers as to why (the Edgewater ramps) was the best solution.”
Over the years, federal and state government funded dozens of public hearings and publicity initiatives to encourage Hunts Point residents to provide input about how to deal with the controversial Sheridan. In turn, advocates and residents concluded that the 1.2 mile highway spur is underused, and should be demolished and replaced with affordable housing and public riverfront access.
“We had all these hearings,” said Torres. “People came and testified to explore options about the ramps but (the state DOT) never said anything. There was no mention of the 20 years that it took. They just moved forward.”
The Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance released a statement crediting residents and advocates for their participation over the years, saying that “Were it not for our efforts and those of community members over the past two decades, there would not be crosswalks across the Sheridan today.”
But the advocates say they had to scrape and claw to attain any concessions at all from the State, calling the “process by which community was engaged,” and “aspects of the remaining part” of the governor’s plan “problematic.”
“The State’s project steamrolls over the environmental justice concerns of the low-income, communities of color living along the Sheridan Expressway and in Hunts Point, who have previously rejected an Edgewater ramp,” the Alliance maintains, adding that “the location of the ramps raises serious concerns” due to “impacts on waterfront access, existing parks and community amenities, air quality, pedestrian safety, and local businesses.”
The State DOT systematically ignored the coalition’s requests for information and data detailing how officials arrived at a decision favoring ramps at Edgewater Road over other options, advocates argue.
Still the advocates pleaded with the governor to change course and “engage community in a transparent and inclusive process” when the State begins working on the highway plan.
Despite the frustration expressed by local groups, elected officials who attended the Dec. 11 press conference focused on the Sheridan, uniformly praising the transformation.
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said the Sheridan project “has transformed an outdated interstate highway into a boulevard giving residents and visitors a direct connection to the Bronx waterfront and parks.”
Councilman Rafael Salamanca said “this new pedestrian-friendly boulevard will connect the Bronx to other neighborhoods, parks and commercial opportunities that will allow the entire community to flourish.”
Assemblyman Marcos Crespo called it “the most impactful and transformational project we’ve seen in decades in The Bronx.”
As the focus now switches to the highway improvement plan, the local groups are calling on the State to:
● Collaborate with community to mitigate the construction and long-term impacts of the project.
● Designate a full-time community-liaison employee to liaise with the public. (The State has agreed to this request.)
● Fund an independently conducted Health Impact Analysis to examine ways community will be impacted.
● Collaborate with the Governor’s office to meet with local groups and commit to ongoing meetings/calls to disclose updates.
The governor said that the upcoming Hunts Point project will “build upon that success (of the Sheridan Boulevard project), further connecting the neighborhood to parks and the waterfront while reducing traffic on local streets and making it easier than ever to access the Hunts Point Market,” while easing congestion on local streets and reducing air pollution.
In addition to the two-way ramp from Edgewater Road to the Sheridan, a ramp from eastbound Bruckner Expressway to Edgewater Road is planned. Also in the works is the imminent removal of four bridges over Bronx River Avenue and Amtrak/CSX rail lines, and construction of a third lane to the Bruckner Expressway in each direction at the intersection of Bruckner Boulevard and Hunts Point Avenue, to unclog the Bruckner/Sheridan interchange.