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State preps $1.7B contract to move forward with Hunts Point highway project

The project includes adding several entrance and exit ramps to the Bruckner Expressway and to the Sheridan that intersects it.

The highway redesign in Hunts Point is going forward after receiving federal approval, but local community groups such as "Rocking the Boat" are concerned about the effects of truck traffic the redesign may cause. (Credit: Marcus Santos)

After receiving federal approval, the state is moving forward with an interstate improvement project aimed at driving Hunts Point truck traffic off local streets.

The state Department of Transportation intends to award a contract by August for $1.7 billion in work on a southern portion of the Bruckner Expressway, which spans the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge and the New England Thruway's intersection with Pelham Parkway.

The stated goal of the project — which includes adding several entrance and exit ramps to the Bruckner Expressway and to the Sheridan that intersects it — is to provide a more direct route for the 78,000 vehicles traveling daily to and from peninsula. Many of them come to visit the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center, the largest such facility in the world, according to state planning documents. 

Supporters say the project, which is meant to reduce reliance on side streets, will cut down on pollution in an area long suffering from some of the highest asthma hospitalization rates in the country. They also tout community benefits slated to be written into the contract, such as pedestrian paths to parks bordering the Bronx River and upgrades to these open spaces. 

Citing concerns about accessing the waterfront, local groups had pushed the government to reconsider its plan to add ramps on Edgewater Road, which runs parallel to the river. But the state decided alternative locations would have been too costly and cumbersome, according to local elected officials.

"That would have made this project either too expensive, too delayed or potentially never actually come to fruition, given some easements that would have had to be negotiated with Amtrak, who has been incredibly difficult to deal with," Assemblyman Marcos Crespo said.

Hunts Point has a history with highways. In the late 1990s, several local groups formed the South Bronx River Watershed Alliance to fight the state's plans to extend the Sheridan Expressway into the neighborhood. The alliance succeeded, but failed to persuade officials to turn the Sheridan, a 1.25-mile remnant of former city planner Robert Moses' vision for a longer interstate, into a surface-level street and reconnect neighborhoods to the waterfront. 

The state resumed its review of local highways when Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced funding in 2017 to decommission the Sheridan as an interstate and transform it into a boulevard. That $75 million endeavor is currently underway.

The project the state is preparing to award a contract for focuses more broadly on fixing up the Bruckner-Sheridan connection, replacing the Bruckner's truss bridge over Amtrak rails, upgrading its aging decking and expanding its entry and exitways. 

Fewer vehicles are expected to travel on local streets after the project, according to state planning documents. But Edgewater Road is likely to see as many as 1,400 more vehicles per hour during peak periods. 

The revamp should help ease congestion and improve safety, drivers said.

"The traffic there is ridiculous no matter what time of day," said Alain Pierre, 23, from Castle Hill. "It can be quite congested ... the downside I see is the length of the construction to make this happen and how much traffic it may cause."

A roughly 12,261 square-foot, currently inaccessible portion of Concrete Plant Park will be needed to build a support structure for entryways, planning documents show. To compensate for using that space, the state will enhance Garrison Park, a 1.1-acre space south of Concrete Plant Park. Crews will create a signalized rail crossing leading to the park, a formal entrance, viewing platforms as well as a shared-use path underneath the Bruckner Expressway connecting the two areas, according to planning documents. 

Emissions are expected to decrease on many local streets, but planning documents state they will rise on the Sheridan Boulevard and the Bruckner Expressway. The state determined a more detailed review of anticipated carbon monoxide changes was not needed, despite fielding concerns about Edgewater Road ramps increasing pollution near the waterfront. 

"It’s almost laughable," said Maria Torres, president of The Point Community Development Corporation, which is part of the South Bronx River Watershed Alliance. "One of the amenities you’re giving the community for building this ramp is a park that’s on the other side of the ramp, that you have to go through a tunnel to get to."

Megan Hernández, a student, said the community worked to establish green spaces. Concrete Plant Park formally opened in 2009; Hunts Point Riverside Park, in 2007, along the once severely-polluted Bronx River.

"We built our own parks in the South Bronx. The government didn't care about us," said Hernández, 25, while in Hunts Point Riverside Park this weekend. "They [are] 30 to 40 years late. They should leave the South Bronx how it is."

Joseph Morrissey, a Department of Transportation spokesman, said using a section of Concrete Plant Park did not require authorization since "no mapped parkland is involved."

With Oumou Fofana

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