Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ketcham: City's Willets Point EIS and ramp study don't jibe

From Crains:

The traffic engineer who helped kill Westway, the massive West Side highway project proposed during the Koch administration, now has his sights set on derailing the city’s redevelopment of Willets Point.

Local property owners fighting the project are banking on traffic engineer Brian Ketcham’s study that shows two proposed ramps would increase traffic on the Van Wyck Expressway and have made it a key element of their lawsuit challenging the project’s environmental impact statement.

The Bloomberg administration has argued that the ramps are necessary to prevent a traffic nightmare at the site.

The original environmental impact statement, or EIS, showed the massive Willets Point project would generate heavy traffic, but a recent report on the proposed ramps showed a much sunnier picture. The ramp study—an “access modification report,” or AMR, which is technical documentation to support federal and state decisions on whether to approve the ramps—is being redone after Mr. Ketcham used traffic data from the environmental impact statement to demonstrate that the ramps would make a bad situation worse. The entire redevelopment, with 9 million buildable square feet, is projected to generate 80,000 vehicle trips daily.

“Our problem is that [the ramp study] is so incredibly different from the environmental impact statement,” Mr. Ketcham wrote in an e-mail message. “The EIS reports Willets Point will create gridlock throughout community; AMR reports free-flow traffic. An incredible contrast.”

The access modification report was submitted last summer; Mr. Ketcham noted his objections in a letter last month.

Mr. Ketcham is being paid by project opponents, but his assessment that the access modification report underestimates the traffic impact stems from common modeling software that the state Department of Transportation trusts. The opponents see the department as a potential ally because the agency cannot afford to build all the new road capacity demanded of it.

The ramps require state and federal approval, and it is possible that without the ramps, the project would not proceed. Project opponents are meeting Thursday with the Federal Highway Administration and will ask for an independent review of the ramp report that is now being revised by a private consultant on behalf of the Bloomberg administration.

“We will be submitting a revised draft in the upcoming weeks that is responsive to the comments and issues raised by state DOT and the Federal Highway Administration, as well as those from Willets Point opponents,” said David Lombino, a spokesman for the Bloomberg administration’s Economic Development Corp., the lead agency on Willets Point.

“At the very least, we have put this off by six months,” claimed Richard Lipsky, the lobbyist for the property owners’ group Willets Point United.