Traffic on the Major Deegan Expressway backs up at Exterior Street. DOT engineers want to change that, but residents say their plan clashes with plans for the Harlem River waterfront.Photo by Stephanie Rabins

Longer highway ramps could scuttle city’s plan for the waterfront

Plans to rehabilitate the Major Deegan Expressway would destroy Mott Haven’s hopes for a brighter future, residents and public officials told a hearing on Nov. 9 to consider the state Department of Transportation’s proposal.

Community voices rang out in opposition to the plan to lengthen exit ramps, saying the new ramps would torpedo the city’s ambitious plan to build housing, parks, office buildings and a hotel on the waterfront, completed last summer when the City Council and the Mayor signed off on rezoning the Lower Grand Concourse.

In an hour of spirited discussion after state officials presented the proposal, every speaker denounced the plan.

“Blocking waterfront access would create a domino effect” that would “severely hamper, if not outright preclude” development on the affected plots of waterfront property, said Carol Samol, head of the Bronx office of the Department of City Planning.

She said the DOT had rejected alternative plans and charged that they had focused so narrowly on traffic issues that they had failed to consider the “public good.”

According to Syed Rahman, an engineer who presented the DOT plan, the short exit ramps cause extensive back-ups on the elevated highway. He said revamping the ramps from 138th Street to 149th Street northbound and from the Macombs Dam Bridge to 138th Street southbound would relieve traffic jams.

In addition, he said, a longer exit ramp would keep cars exiting onto Exterior Street from backing up traffic on the Deegan.

Arline Parks, chair of the land use committee of Community Board 1, noted that the planning department had worked diligently with her committee to come to an agreed-upon rezoning plan through “countless meetings.” In contrast, the DOT had emerged only recently, presenting a completed plan to the board.

“All our work will be lost if the DOT moves forward with the plan,” said Alice Simmons, a member of Community Board 1.

Speakers after speaker evoked the neighborhood’s history, recalling how Robert Moses slashed through whole sections of the Bronx to make room for expressways like the Deegan, which Moses began building in 1950 and completed in 1956.

Members of the audience were also incensed to learn that the state planned to use its power of eminent domain to buy out and eliminate businesses in the path of the new ramps.

Other speakers cited Mott Haven’s high asthma rates, and expressed concern that a rehabilitated highway would attract still more traffic, increasing air pollution.

In an interview, the DOT’s director of public affairs, Adam Levine, insisted that the community’s concerns were being taken seriously. While repairs to crumbling cement and support beams are essential, he said, the department wouldn’t go ahead with its plan to lengthen the exit ramps if it faced strong opposition.

“We won’t do it if we hear from the community and elected officials” that the expansion isn’t wanted, he said. “We’ll take the money elsewhere.”

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7 thoughts on “Mott Haven residents denounce plan for Deegan”
  1. The residents of this neighborhood understand something the writer of this article and the DOT don’t- wider roads simply encourage more traffic. There will be backups on the new ramps the day after they are completed. The solution to backups and congestion is to make Major Deegan narrower, not wider.

    People at the DOT like Syed Rahman are like German Communist Party members after the Berlin Wall fell- they don’t understand that the world changed around them and their old beliefs and principles just don’t apply anymore. Highways should not be expanded anywhere in the country, and removed altogether from big cities, where they don’t belong.

    Indeed, DOT should take its money elsewhere- expand service on Metro-North, which is a direct competitor of the Major Deegan.

  2. “Highways should not be expanded anywhere in the country, and removed altogether from big cities, where they don’t belong. ”

    Expaning highways allows greater economic activity within a given footprint; incredibly this is altogther disregarded by ideologugies as “Boris” who regurgitates such anti progressive slop thoughtlessly as do many impressionable young college students

  3. As an “impressionable young college student,” I resent that, Mr. Willinger. In college, we are taught critical thinking skills that enable us to parse a sentence such as “Expanding highways allows greater economic activity within a given footprint.” This statement entirely depends on the size of your footprint. For the residents of Mott Haven, the statement is not true; longer ramps will reduce the space available for economic activity (see the eminent domain threats). On the other hand, more trucks will be able to traverse the Major Deegan, leading to more economic activity elsewhere. The question is, when do we stop asking residents to give something up for regional or national interests, and frankly, given the externalities associated with truck traffic, I think that time is now.

  4. I use the phrase owing to my observation of the prevailing lack of critical thinking. To speak of footprint, note the type of land immediately alongside the highway (industrial that planning wants cleared), and think more multi-dimensionally, aka multi-leveled, yet hidden (buried).

    Please see the example of Manhattan’s Riverside South Boulevard:

    Why should not the South Bronx have I-87 redone more righteously, especially with the adjacent industrial lands making a box tunnel way more practical? Such a configuration would make more space on the surface by burying that segment of I-87, mitigating the ramp issue, allowing more development and more economic activity.

    Given how jammed the western portion of the CBE is, why have not they even studied diverting some of that traffic — paticularly the thousands of Hunts Point bound trucks along an expanded I-87 that would be largely buried in such box tunnels where the traffic emissions would be trapped and filtrated, as done overseas to reduce local air pollution (but somehow never even mentioned by within the U.S. critics of urban highways).

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