Community urges state to change Sheridan plan

Concerned citizens gathered at Hunts Point Riverside park on Monday, urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo not to build off-ramps between the Sheridan and Edgewater Road.

Protesters rallied at Hunts Point Riverside Park on March 26.

Ramps onto Edgewater Road on Hunts Point waterfront would be ‘devastating’

Surrounded by green trees, bright blue boat houses and the Bronx River, Hunts Point Riverside Park is a slice of serenity in a neighborhood shrouded in air pollution from trucks that serve the food distribution markets, and traffic on the nearby Bruckner and Sheridan expressways.

Dozens of concerned citizens gathered at the park on Monday to pressure Gov. Andrew Cuomo not to build off-ramps between the Sheridan and Edgewater Road in front of the park. Putting the ramps there is part of the state’s ambitious project to revitalize the area. Last year, Cuomo announced the state would build a pedestrian boulevard adjacent to the Sheridan, redirect highway traffic off local streets and create walkways to the Bronx river waterfront, as part of an $1.8 billion investment to breathe new life into the neighborhood.

Protesters at the March 26 rally argued that building access ramps near the parks and residential areas off Edgewater Road would not only make the existing pollution problem worse, but would also make the roads even more dangerous for pedestrians.

Instead, residents and advocates have concluded after several local meetings that the ramps should be built in a more industrial part of the peninsula, off Oak Point Avenue.

“Not long ago, the city built this beautiful park and finally gave residents access to a cleaner Bronx River,” said Maria Torres, president of The Point CDC, which operates a campus and urban farm next to Hunts Points Riverside Park.

“Now the transportation department plans to create a barrier by sending more trucks to this area,” she said. “Children and families will have to cross a major truck route and breathe in all that pollution just to enjoy open space on the waterfront.”

Adam Green, executive director of Rocking the Boat, an award-winning organization on Edgewater Road where young people learn boatbuilding, sailing and river restoration, said he worries that ramps near the campus would put pedestrians in danger, including the thousands of high school students who attend those programs.

“The prospect of an even larger thoroughfare designed specifically to funnel truck traffic onto Edgewater Road is devastating,” said Green in a statement. “Every one of these people must cross Edgewater Road to get to us. 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.”

But the state’s transportation department has rejected the community’s plan, arguing that it would cost more, take years longer to finish, and would negatively affect business in areas outside the existing highway boundaries, such as the Oak Point railyard.

“We have gone above and beyond to engage the community throughout this process,” the transportation department said in a statement. “The Federal Highway Administration is in agreement with our plans to progress the Edgewater alternative into the draft environment impact statement. Our plans also call for increased access for the community to the Bronx River, which was raised as a major concern by [the advocates].”

Jessica Clemente, executive director of Melrose-based community development organization We Stay/Nos Quedamos, countered that putting the ramps on Oak Point Avenue instead would allow commercial vehicles direct access to the food distribution center just like the state’s plan does, and is better for residents.

“It took a lot for our community to clean the river and re-establish these parks,” said Clemente. “Finally we’ve reconnected a neighborhood that has been fragmented for so many years. Now we have to battle this — it takes us further back when we should be progressing.”

Lucy Robson, director of research and planning at New Yorkers for Parks, also said that the Oak Point alternative would have less of an impact on parks and residential areas.

“We’ve looked at the numbers, and we know the state is studying a plan that will put three nearby parks, a community center, this fantastic space and an elementary school at risk,” Robson said. “The Oak Point ramps are legitimate, and they should be studied.”

Vehicles speeding off the Sheridan onto local streets are already a concern for residents like Lucia Hernandez, who uses a walker to get around. Hernandez said she’s worried about the proposed ramps at Edgewater, which would be built only two blocks from her house.

“You already have to be careful not to get hit crossing the street, and now we’re going to have more cars and trucks passing by,” she said, adding that the pollution problem will also worsen. “I already have to clean my windowsills all the time because of the black soot that comes into my home.”

The Bronx has the city’s highest asthma rates. Port Morris has the third highest rates, followed by Hunts Point, Longwood and Morrisania ranking among the borough’s most affected neighborhoods, according to a New York State report.

Sherianna Davis, 22, grew up in Hunts Point, and loved playing basketball, softball and flag football. Although she is still active in sports, Davis said while attending the rally, she suffers from asthma and has to use a puffer.

“I can barely breathe right now; I can feel the phlegm building up into my chest,” she said. “How do you even treat phlegm? I was an active child who has now grown into an adult gasping for air due to the pollution the expressway has exposed me to.”

Angela Tovar, The Point CDC’s director of community development, said she isn’t discounting the state’s commitment to improve local infrastructure, but added that it should consider alternatives that the community proposes, before reaching a final decision.

“We support the allocation of funding for this project, but this is not something that can just happen on the fast track,” she said. “Given the existing conditions on the ground, potentially getting it wrong could cause a lot of harm.”