Thursday, March 11, 2010

Could the FHWA be going our way?

From the Neighborhood Retail Alliance:

The team from Willets Point United met with the Federal Highway Administration in order to brief the agency about the complexity of the traffic impacts generated by the development at the site of the Iron Triangle-and the ramps that are supposed to mitigate said traffic. The FHWA, along with NYSDOT, need to approve these ramps if the the Willets Point project is to be able to go forward.

Now it is our contention that the entire review process should be subject to an independent evaluation under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Our rationale derives from the faulty and self serving traffic data submissions from the Economic Development Corporation and its hired guns from URS-something that we have already pointed out here, and here. EDC and its minions have proven to be-either through mendacity or inadequacy-simply not up to the task of providing quality data.

Now the glaring nature of this insufficiency is underscored by the discrepancies between the original EIS done for the ULURP application; and the subsequent report done exclusively for the ramp approval process (called an AMR report). Here's how consultant Brian Ketcham summarizes these inadequacies:

"1. Too many discrepancies between AMR and FGEIS for the AMR to be reliable assessment of ramps.

2. FGEIS reports severe traffic impacts even w/ramps; the AMR reports no problems.

3. Field observation confirms the FGEIS.

4. AMR greatly misrepresents future traffic growth.

5. AMR does not account for all Willets Point trips.

6. AMR shows that ramps make no difference.

7.Modeling shows the ramps are counter-productive for highway system, violating FHWA key criteria.

In the face of all of this, what choice is there? NYSDOT must disapprove the AMR."

These problems are also fatal when you examine what the federal highway guidelines are for the approval of ramps-as item 7 above highlights. Ketcham's work for WPU-and remember that Brian, as well as WPU attorney Mike Gerrard, were the young turks who brought down Westway-was damning enough to prompt the NYSDOT to spit back the first AMR to EDC for serious revision.

In fact, the glaring, and problematic nature of the city's work product, has prompted the following from the National Resources Defense Council-in a letter to NYSDOT and the FHWA "NRDC is not taking a position on advancing the Willets Point project or on constructing the ramps. But based on our preliminary review, we are concerned over the discrepancies in the study results, and also by the prospect that a project could impair regional mobility by disrupting a key highway like the Van Wyck."

And NRDC goes on to say that because of these discrepancies, "...we believe that the best course of action is for the FHWA and NYS DOT to undertake a full NEPA review of the access ramps and their impacts on traffic-including the Van Wyck-without undue reliance on the analysis performed by the City, the project's proponents."

Nothing less should be required here, because as we have seen with Columbia, there is alot of incestuous activity going on between the City and its hired guns-and the first victim in all of this is the truth. But the good news emanating from today's meeting is that the folks at FHWA believe that our (really Brian's) critique has serious merit-and it will be undertaking a comprehensive environmental assessment to determine what the appropriate course of action should be in the case of these ramps-taking the process out of the hands of biased, parochial interests.

The next step for WPU is to bring the message to the Queens civic groups so that they can see for themselves the traffic nightmare in their future if this Willets Point project is allowed to go forward. In the process, the self serving dealings of the city's lead economic development agency will be thoroughly hung out to dry for everyone to plainly see-from illegal lobbying and false city council testimony, to cooked traffic books; sunlight will be the best disinfectant.