Wednesday, May 5, 2010

It all comes down to the ramps...

From the Queens Courier:

At issue is whether the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and State Department of Transportation (DOT) will approve two new highway ramps on the Van Wyck Expressway in order to help alleviate some of the additional traffic that is expected in the area. So, it’s not surprising that advocates from each side have very different views on the issue.

“We think that the highways cannot physically handle the massive amount of traffic that the Willets Point project would dump on it,” said Michael Gerrard, a lawyer representing WPU. “Merely adding ramps doesn’t increase the mainline capacity of the Van Wyck that will remain a chokepoint.”

Dave Lombino, a spokesperson for the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC), which is the lead agency working on the Willets Point project, said that the approval for the ramps is all part of the redevelopment process and that lobbyists for the WPU are trying to create a false impression of uncertainty around a critical project that will generate thousands of jobs and economic development for the city.

“But we’re hopeful there will not be any significant delay in the approvals, and we’re confident we will remain on target to complete the project on the timetable we’ve set forth,” Lombino said.

In February, the city submitted its preliminary draft environmental assessment to representatives from the two agencies, and Brian Ketcham, a traffic engineer hired by the WPU, said the report was fraught with errors. He believes that EDC is under-estimating the additional traffic that will result from the development of Willets Point and the nearby Flushing Commons development at downtown Municipal Lot 1.

Ketcham said that the Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) for both projects conceded that in 2017 there would be gridlock traffic conditions on the highway, but the initial AMR projections for 2035 showed significantly less traffic.

“I cannot imagine what goes through the minds of EDC when they have two projects that are reporting gridlock conditions, and then they turn around and they say there will be free-flowing traffic,” Ketcham said.

Jake Bono, a third generation owner of Bono Sawdust that has called Willets Point home for nearly 80 years, said that the city’s initial presentation to the FHWA and DOT was not surprising because they have been employing the same tactics from the beginning.

“They are committed to doing whatever it takes to get the project done. If it’s illegal, if it’s immoral, it doesn’t matter,” Bono said. “At the end of the day they can never produce a report that will work.”