Photo: David Westenhaver. This traffic agent, stationed at the intersection of Bruckner Boulevard and Leggett Avenue, was the lone agent present along construction sites on a busy Thursday afternoon.

Traffic agent shortage creates pedestrian safety concerns in South Bronx

A shortage of traffic enforcement agents on construction sites along Bruckner Boulevard has worsened gridlock and made some local officials claim the road is too dangerous for pedestrians and drivers.

The three-phase project to improve traffic flow requires regular lane closures during commuting hours, forcing the same amount of vehicles into a narrower space. The manager for the project from the state Department of Transportation said the traffic agent shortage had forced drivers to navigate that space on their own, sometimes resorting to aggressive maneuvers to merge into the narrowed lanes.

Ralph Acevedo, district manager for Bronx Community Board 2, said people complained that dangerous conditions and longer commutes occurred daily on a one-mile stretch of the boulevard.

“I get calls from businesses, from residents, from homeowners, that something that would normally take five minutes is taking almost an hour now, just to get in and out of Hunts Point,” Acevedo said in an interview.

City and state infrastructure projects rely on traffic agents from the NYPD to direct drivers around construction sites. Keith Kalb, the Bronx deputy commissioner for the city Department of Transportation, said at a Community Board 2 meeting on Oct. 13 that several city-run projects had contracted large portions of NYPD traffic agents. The city projects have priority, he said, because they began before the Hunts Point project.

Kalb said that “there is a human resource problem with the NYPD traffic enforcement agents,” but that they are looking to hire more.

The NYPD did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.

The state kicked off the $1.7 billion construction project along the ground-level Bruckner Boulevard and above-ground Bruckner Expressway in 2019. Snehal Shah, the state Department of Transportation’s project manager, says the project will improve traffic flow along one of the busiest roads in the South Bronx, a road that separates Hunts Point peninsula from the rest of the borough. The construction will also make it easier for trucks to get to and from Hunts Point’s food distribution centers.

Shah blamed poor driving around the construction sites for the lack of safety.

“We are competing for TEA (traffic enforcement agent) resources with other New York City projects going on,” Shah said at the same community board meeting on Oct. 13. He said the project had allocated $7 million to pay for officers when they became available.

State Assemblymember Kenny Burgos, representing a district that includes parts of Hunts Point and Longwood, said that he understood the frustrations of locals. But, he said, the project will make a world of difference.

“It’s the No. 1 largest investment ever in the history of the Bronx,” Burgos said. “I think it’s impactful, just in that manner. It is just signaling the investment we have in this borough.”

Burgos said a secondary benefit will be improving air quality in an area with above-average asthma rates.

The construction on the Bruckner is part of the project’s second phase, which Shah says will add an additional 760,000 square feet of road in the South Bronx. Almost 140,000 drivers speed through the South Bronx on the Bruckner Expressway each day, while more than 60,000 drive on Bruckner Boulevard, according to state transportation department data. The project’s main goal is to widen lanes on the roads, and the on and off ramps.

Kalb said people looking to cross the Bruckner should exclusively use a recently reopened pedestrian overpass along Bryant Avenue. The bridge was rebuilt to improve safety and accessibility.

But Maria Torres, the district’s economic development chair, pointed out that the crossing’s location discouraged people from using it.

“That Bryant Avenue Bridge, while very useful, is taking people almost a mile out of their way to get to the Banknote Building,” Torres said. “It’s not necessarily near the 6 train.”

Community Board 2 Chair Roberto Crespo warned that he would push to pause the project until more traffic enforcement agents were hired, though some officials said that was unlikely.

“All of these people walking back and forth, and they’ve got to play dodgeball with the cars because there’s no sidewalks,” Crespo said at the board meeting. “I would not want to be the one to tell a parent that a child got hit on Bruckner Boulevard trying to cross.”