Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ramp Cramp

Crain's has more on the revamping of the Willets Point ramp report-and our only question is how does URS, the team that fumbled the original report, get to take a mulligan on it? Are they going to get paid time and a half as well to absorb Brian Ketcham's critique into a new report that is so contorted that it promises to look like a Picasso painting?

Here's what Crain's tells us: "The original environmental impact statement, or EIS, showed the massive Willets Point project would generate heavy traffic, but a recent report on the proposed ramps showed a much sunnier picture. The ramp study—an “access modification report,” or AMR, which is technical documentation to support federal and state decisions on whether to approve the ramps—is being redone after Mr. Ketcham used traffic data from the environmental impact statement to demonstrate that the ramps would make a bad situation worse. The entire redevelopment, with 9 million buildable square feet, is projected to generate 80,000 vehicle trips daily."

And that's after Ketcham plugged URS' own data into a traffic simulation model-data that no one can figure out any paternity for; and the AMR resembles nothing like the original traffic report for the ULURP application that unfortunately passed the city council in the fall of 2008: "“Our problem is that [the ramp study] is so incredibly different from the environmental impact statement,” Mr. Ketcham wrote in an e-mail message. “The EIS reports Willets Point will create gridlock throughout community; AMR reports free-flow traffic. An incredible contrast.”

So, can NYSDOT rely on the faulty folks from URS to remodel the condemned house? Or, is new construction more than warranted in the case of the gifted factotums of fudge? Certainly, when a URS engineer tells Ketcham that his model is different than the one that was used in the original report, we recognize an attempt at three card monte: "Mr. Ketcham is being paid by project opponents, but his assessment that the access modification report underestimates the traffic impact stems from common modeling software that the state Department of Transportation trusts. The opponents see the department as a potential ally because the agency cannot afford to build all the new road capacity demanded of it."

And, for its part, DOT has only one responsibility-the state of the Van Wyck, and whether the ramps degrade or improve traffic flow. Think about it, two ramps are being proposed to facilitate a local mega-project that will potentially retard traffic on the expressway. If the ramps slow things down, on what grounds does the state agency give them the green light?

In the Crain's article what really stands out is the following statement from our BFF Dave Lombino: "We will be submitting a revised draft in the upcoming weeks that is responsive to the comments and issues raised by state DOT and the Federal Highway Administration, as well as those from Willets Point opponents,” said David Lombino, a spokesman for the Bloomberg administration’s Economic Development Corp., the lead agency on Willets Point."

As the late Phil Rizzuto would have said, "Holy Cow!" Lombino gives the Alliance an "A" for its sharp critique of the work of the EDC hired gun. But is this a fifth grade spelling pre-test we're seeing enacted here? Maybe EDC should retain Ketcham-but we doubt they'd be thrilled with his withering honesty. It seems to us, however, that NYSDOT sent EDC back to the woodshed, err, we mean drawing board.

This gets us back to the original question of whether the state traffic agency should buy a used AMR report from these URS salesmen. Which brings us to the Crain's Westway analogy-a project that a young Brian Ketcham sank into the Hudson River: "The controversial Westway project would have turned much of New York’s West Side Highway into an underground roadway, and added landfill along the Hudson River, allowing park expansions and nearby real estate development. It was abandoned in 1985 after years of litigation. Mr. Ketcham and a colleague filed the initial suit against the project and continued the battle for years until Mayor Edward Koch and Gov. Mario Cuomo gave up. Eventually a more modest, at-grade boulevard was built, along with a biking and walking path between the road and the Hudson River."

Can the Flushing River be far behind? And, you know what? Bike paths along 126th Street abutting the newly constructed industrial park would look very nice to us. The Bloomberg Automotive Center and Industrial Development Area has a resonant ring to us.