Monday, January 25, 2010

Derailing the Collusion Express

In the run up to the city council land use vote on Willets Point one thing is crystal clear: no one bothered to even read the fictional narrative prepared by AKRF in lieu of an actual environmental review. If they had, a great deal of negotiated modification would have occurred-spurred by local council members concerned about just how to mitigate the 80,000 cars a day that the project will generate (and that's according to the low ball figures provided by the city's favorite consulting lap dog).

And in addition, there might have been more safeguards negotiated to insure that the final environmental review for the one actual mitigating factor-proposed ramps off of the Van Wyck-was done by an independent team of consultants, with a proviso that the entire review process be re-submitted to the council for approval. All of this might have happened if there was any genuine concern for environmental impacts at either the city council or the city planning commission.

The reality is, however, that the entire ULURP process has degenerated into a Kabuki theater performance-with the AKRF's and URS's of the world getting paid huge coin for an expensive pantomime act that is never really examined by any of the decision makers in the legislative play acting. In fact, as we told our consultant Ketcham-a true Diogenes in a world of liars for hire-the only time these traffic studies actually get read is when the Alliance hires him to review them.

So, while a reform of the ULURP fraud is way over due, we come back to the sleight-of-hand exercise on the Willets Point traffic stop. The original EIS-and its accompanying traffic study-was handled by the folks at AKRF, the same candid cameras who gave us the duel representation effort on the Columbia expansion scheme; representing the city for a blight study, and Columbia for the environmental review.

Now AKRF doesn't do the traffic work-and in the case of Willets Point the work was farmed out to an outfit called Eng-Wong Taub. Still, as we pointed out, E-WT's analysis, although alarming and severe, was still de minimis, underestimating just what the overall traffic volume would do to the contiguous communities. But what is truly alarming, is that the second subcontractor for the AMR (ramps) report-URS-has managed to submit traffic data that totally contradicts what is contained in the original traffic study done under ULURP for the original zoning application.

As Brian Ketcham's letter has told NYSDOT-the review agency for the ramps-the AMR report fails to account for the original documentation provided the city under CEQR: "However, I will show you that the draft AMR does not appear to fully account for the Willets Point Development Plan and other approved development in close proximity to the ramps that will generate approximately 100,000 trips per day in 2017 (including 80,000 from the Willets Point project) and will continue to do so in 2035."

Which means that AKRF-yes, once again-as the general contractor for both the FGEIS and the AMR report (or at least the consultant that was most familiar with both documents) has managed to keep quiet about what it should know intimately: that the two reports are contradictory, with the AMR document a clear attempt to both minimize and mislead the NYSDOT and the FHWA authority so that the ramps can be approved-even though they will apparently do little to mitigate the severe traffic impacts that the Willets Point development will foist on its neighboring communities.

All of which should provide ample fodder for a State Senate Transportation Committee hearing-and the fact that Senator Perkins, the official who has lead the fight against agency/consultant collusion, also sits on the committee is fortuitous for those who want to put an end to fixed development games sponsored by quasi-independent state or city agencies. In the case of Willets Point, sunlight will be the best disinfectant.