New York - Plan to Remove Bronx Expressway Gains Traction
New York - For more than a decade, a plan pushed by some South Bronx residents and transportation advocates has sat on the fringes of the State Transportation Department’s to-do list, in part because it would be a radical undoing: tearing down the Sheridan Expressway.
Although the plan has no real precedent in New York, advocates recite the benefits. They say it would ease traffic, improve neighborhood life and right a decades-old wrong committed by the master planner Robert Moses of building an unnecessary highway.
As other proposals for the Sheridan have been tossed aside, the idea to tear it down has improbably progressed to the center of the state’s rethinking of the highway, which runs only a mile and a quarter long between the Cross Bronx and Bruckner Expressways.
In the process, the Sheridan, a reliable thoroughfare for truckers and an eyesore for Hunts Point residents, has become something else: a battleground in a national fight to take urban spaces back from the automobile.
“We’re rolling back the freeway system,” said John Norquist, president and chief executive of the Congress for a New Urbanism, a group based in Chicago that promotes walkable cities. He pointed to Portland, Ore.; San Francisco; and Milwaukee, where he was mayor, as cities that have removed highways running through urban areas.
Mr. Norquist said the Sheridan was “a big important example because it’s in New York and it’s very visible; it would inspire other people that are trying to do the same thing.”
State transportation officials have been studying the Sheridan for years. They have narrowed the field of proposals to three, including a plan to “demap” the roadway, which would probably lead to its removal.
On Tuesday, officials will release long-awaited results of a study of the traffic implications for keeping and removing the Sheridan. While no final decision is expected, the report could presage the road’s fate.
“We realize that we can’t just look at the highway facility itself; we need to look at the impact of a highway through the community it runs through,” said Phillip Eng, the city’s regional director of the State Transportation Department. “It needs to focus on not just moving traffic.”
The Sheridan carries roughly 50,000 vehicles a day, according to state officials. It provides a route for truckers to reach the major food distribution center in Hunts Point but also acts as a physical barrier between local residents and the Bronx River.
Removing the Sheridan would open up 13 acres of open space along the river, land that advocates want to connect with some 15 other acres of service roads and riverfront property to create 1,200 affordable housing units, commercial and industrial space, and amenities like playgrounds, swimming pools and soccer fields.
“This proposal is really rooted in the environmental justice battles that low-income communities have been fighting for decades,” said Joan Byron of the Pratt Center for Community Development, a member of the campaign to remove the Sheridan. “If you look at globally competitive cities, they’re all looking at the spaces they gave over to highways decades ago, and they’re rethinking those decisions.”
In contemplating Mr. Moses’ legacy, the Sheridan stands as more an asterisk than a triumph. It was conceived as cutting across the northeastern Bronx, but local opposition foiled the plan because the road would have gone through part of the Bronx Zoo.
Still, removing the Sheridan would be a bold decision; after all, it received a $27 million upgrade in 2004.
“The Sheridan, physically, is really a new highway,” said Sonia Pichardo, a State Transportation Department official.
The last major removal of a New York City highway was of elevated portions of the West Side Highway, most of which were removed in stages from 1976 to 1989. (In 1973, a truck fell through the highway at Gansevoort Street.)
The Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance, a coalition of Bronx and citywide environmental, housing and transportation groups, say the Sheridan, no matter its condition, is unnecessary. It links two highways, the group points out, that already intersect to the east.
The plan to remove the highway proposes new ramps from the Bruckner that would improve access to the Hunts Point market. A plan to keep the Sheridan also calls for new ramps from the Bruckner to the market but seeks to preserve the Sheridan as an alternative to other traffic-clogged highways. A third plan essentially keeps the highway as it now stands. The state has been evaluating the traffic implications of all three plans since 2008.
For the thousands of truckers who pass through Hunts Point every night, improving the highway is seen as far more essential than a desire for open space.
“Eliminating the Sheridan would bring things backwards a bit and make it worse,” said Matthew D’Arrigo, a third-generation produce distributor and co-president of the Hunts Point Terminal Produce Cooperative Association. “The job is to try and fix the situation, not to make a park. This is about highway stuff and traffic.”
Mr. D’Arrigo said that even if the new route added just a few minutes of time to truckers’ trips to and from the market, “a few minutes of truckers’ time on a bad day will stifle the entire community.”