Monday, August 31, 2009

Trafficing in Deceit

We have had the opportunity to review the city's traffic study on the Willets Point development-and the able rebuttal from Bernard Adler. If the surrounding communities-not to mention the city's tax payers-knew the real story on what kind of traffic mess this development will create, all hell would break loose. Put simply, there is virtually no way to mitigate the expected traffic flood that the additional 1,000,000 square feet of development will generate.

Some of this was covered in the local papers last year. As the Queens Chronicle wrote: "Currently, the opposition group is focusing on traffic congestion that the project would create. According to the EIS, the plan would generate increased traffic on the Van Wyck and Whitestone Expressways as well as the Grand Central Parkway..." But, as the Willets Point United's attorney Mike Gerrard told the Chronicle, that's not the half of it: "He also pointed to the EIS, calling it striking. “The plan will destroy traffic on the Van Wyck. It would lead to appalling traffic every day.” Gerrard noted that a Willets Point interchange would have to be added, which requires federal approval. “This is far from a slam dunk.”

The city is actually aware of the potential for a traffic nightmare, but it is in its interest to downplay the possibility-and, of course, the cost of remediation. What we do know, is that even the city believes that two ramps on and off the Van Wyck will be needed; but no one knows if NYSDOT or the Feds will agree to approve them.

What we do know-and know for certain, since it is in the city's own EIS-is that at least twenty intersections in and around the proposed WP development will be at "F" level of service; meaning severe delays with all of the attendant air pollution and environmental damage. And this unmitigated mess isn't even on the days when there's a Met game or a tennis match!

As usual, the city's idea of mitigation is a traffic signal here, and a new parking restriction there-a wholly inadequate response to the more than 6,000 new car trips that the development will generate. In addition, the city's EIS completely ignores the impact that the newly generated traffic-not to mention the problems that off ramps will create-will have on the Van Wyck and Grand Central. The city, for its part, even makes the risible statement that its addition of, "acceleration and decelleration lanes," will, "likely improve traffic conditions on the highway network." (Pet., Ex. 1, FGEIS at 29-60)

Of course, this is exactly opposite to what the NYSDOT has assumed about the impact of off ramps-particularly those that exit on the left, as the city is planning to do. As the Adler report underscores; "NYSDOT communications contain multiple comments and concerns that the proposed ramp will not have adequate sight distance...The Department is also concerned that the ramp will not have sufficient capacity to accommodate the potential traffic volumes which will lead to a significant queue spillback of traffic onto the northbound mainline of the Van Wyck Expressway, leading to more and severe accidents."

And, as WPU has also outlined in its Article 78 challenge to the FEIS, "the local roads and Northbound Van Wyck Expressway will all but grind to a halt at key hours." And, by the way, we're still unsure if these not so great mitigation ramps will even be approved. But we did get a kick to discover that the city has set aside $50 million to be used for additional measures to mitigate.

Please! The amount of post development mitigation that will be necessary here, will run into the hundreds of millions of dollars-and thew city tells us, that it will review what's necessary after the project is built. What this means is that, while the developer and his tenants get fat on the receipts from the project, the tax payers-but not the developer-will be presented with a huge post project bill-similar to what happened over at the Garden State Mall after its developer seriously underestimated traffic volumes; and after customers and local municipalities cried out because of impassibility on Route 17 and the adjacent local roads.

But even more seriously, what the city is doing here is purposefully hiding the eventual costs-both financial as well as environmental-so as not to frighten the locals and the tax payers of NYC. What is responsible here, is to outline the necessary mitigation-which will include the building of additional roads and lanes-before the project is built-when costs are more reasonable. After the development is constructed, however, this additional transportation infrastructure will become prohibitively expensive, and might even entail additional condemnation.

So what we have is an environmental scam on the citizens of Flushing, Corona and Jackson Heights-the communities in the line of fire from the after shocks of the Willets Point project; and the entire borough of Queens, for that matter. It will be a traffic and environmental nightmare foisted on these communities by the very same Kermit the Mayor who has been ridiculously posturing as an environmental activist. But traffic-free roadways are apparently only desirable in the limousine alleys of Manhattan-and the shlubs in the local nabes can just go choke on Bloomberg's development fumes.

All of these issues will be hammered out in court, but our friends at the Queens Civic Congress should be aware of what lies ahead if WPU fails in its legal battle. It is their members that will bear the brunt of an ill conceived over developmet that fails in its basic planning requirement to insure that local communities are not made to pay an inordinate price for this so-called progress.