Monday, February 22, 2010

Backing Up on the Willets Point Ramps

So, we met with the NYSDOT on Friday-and some of the good folks from URS and EDC joined us as well-the topic of the meeting was to discuss the alleged flaws in the AMR report (ramp traffic evaluation) that was submitted by URS to DOT on behalf if the city's economic development agency. The allegations were contained in about 70 pages of documentation provided by Willets Point United traffic consultant Brian Ketcham, who also prepared and gave a power point presentation on his findings.

Now there wasn't really a whole lot of pushback from the URS folks but Gill Mosseri, the architect of the AMR, did have some areas of expressed disagreements with the Ketcham presentation-but mostly on the margins since EDC and URS determined that the Ketcham analysis needed a more deliberate analysis, and not any immediate knee jerk reaction. So the meeting lacked any real contentiousness.

What NYSDOT seemed to want from the gathering was the opening of a dialogue-and it appeared that the agency was truly disturbed by some of Ketcham's evaluations and is looking to get this ramp approval process right. And a follow up meeting of the technical folks on both sides is being planned-a further indication that Ketcham's extensive critique of the original AMR is not being dismissed out of hand.

But the one truly revealing aspect of the meeting-more of a shock to us-was the information that the original AMR report was being re-drafted; and the process apparently may have begun soon after the NYSDOT received Ketcham's preliminary critique in a three page letter sent on January 4th. Our question about when the revamping (pun intended) of the AMR was begun-i.e., before or after the receipt of the Ketcham letter-was left unanswered.

Clearly, it is our view, the the Ketcham involvement in this approval process has led to a more deliberative, and less speedy review procedure. Whether-sans Ketcham-this review would have been all but completed by now, and an approval shortly coming soon thereafter, we may never know. But there's little doubt that from this point on, NYSDOT is going to proceed in this matter in a very scrupulous manner-and that's a tribute to Ketcham's professionalism.

But the issue of the stark discrepancy between the original FGEIS and the first AMR, cannot be easily wished away-and the ability of Mosseri to continue to act like the Master of the House ("...rooking the guests, and cooking the books.") should be in the past. And we still have the Federal Highway Administration yet to weigh in on all of this, with a preliminary meeting scheduled for next week.

But, if the redrafted AMR differs starkly from its original iteration, than the rancid nature of the entire EDC/URS relationship needs to be emphasized-and NYSDOT and the FHWA must be pressed to get at least a third opinion. In that case, the URS data presentation must be seen as thoroughly suspect.

Therefore, given what has gone on up until this point-and the now acknowledged deficiencies of the first AMR-pressure will be building to initiate an independent traffic and environmental review under the aegis of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). The data that Ketcham has put forward-particularly in regards to how the ramps will deteriorate, and not alleviate, the highway traffic flow-needs to be given the kind of scrutiny that was lacking in the original URS submission.

But it appears to us, that all of the technical reviews done for this project have been substandard-and consciously designed to minimize the extremely severe traffic impacts on both the arterials surrounding the proposed development, and the local roads that will be inundated by the 80,000 vehicle trips per day generated by 1.9 million new square feet of the Willets Point project.

So, while the NYSDOT tries to resolve the discrepancies, and fairly determine whether these ramps will do more harm than good, it is incumbent on federal, state and local elected leaders to weigh in here to insure that-as the Appellate Court found in the Columbia expansion case-the fix isn't in; and that a fair and thorough evaluation of the real impacts of the Willets Point development is done on behalf of the people of NYC.