Friday, February 19, 2010

Ramping Up Willets Point Opposition

Representatives of Willets Point United-joined by traffic expert Brian Ketcham-will be meeting with the regional staff of NYSDOT today to discuss just why the group believes that the agency shouldn't approve the city's (actually EDC's) application to build ramps off of the Van Wyck Expressway. This should be quite an interesting get together.

Initially, NYSDOT had cancelled the originally scheduled meeting when it found out that representatives of state elected officials planned to attend in order to learn more about why WPU felt that the ramps were not feasible. The implication for the cancellation was that the meeting was becoming, "too political."

This is a situation that genuinely puzzled us. In close to thirty years of lobbying city and state agencies, we have never seen such skittishness about who's coming to a meeting-and the need to micromanage who should or shouldn't be there. Subsequent to the original cancellation, NYSDOT has tried to further restrict attendance-claiming that we shouldn't be there because the meeting is purely, "technical." Yet EDC, the lead political agency for the development, will be represented.

So what's motivating this need to restrict? In our view, it appears that EDC is playing an overbearing role-and if what we suspect is true, than the above board nature of the approval process is thrown into doubt. Now we know that NYSDOT doesn't have the in-house capacity to evaluate the work of URS, EDC's traffic consultants. And in the absence of that capacity, the agency is normally inclined to (relatively) uncritically accept the proffered work.

WPU has thrown the proverbial monkey wrench into the normal review process by submitting-with today's power point presentation by forty year veteran Ketcham-a detailed rebuttal to the URS assertions. And the flawed nature of the submission will be revealed in an extremely harsh light. Put simply, the traffic ramp report (AMR) so thoroughly contradicts the original traffic study done for the ULURP EIS, that the good intentions of EDC must be called into question.

As Ketcham will argue, the ramps cannot be approved because:

(1)There are simply too many discrepancies between the AMR and the FGEIS for the AMR to be reliable assessment of ramps;

(2)The FGEIS reports severe traffic impacts even with ramp; the AMR reports no problems;

(3)Field observations confirms the FGEIS;

(4)AMR greatly under reports future traffic growth;

(5) AMR does not account for all Willets Point trips;

(6)AMR shows that ramps make no difference;

(7)Modeling demonstrates the Van Wyck Ramps are counter-productive for the highway system, violating federal guidelines.

(8) In the face of all of this what other choice is there? NYSDOT must disapprove the AMR!

A damning rebuttal that underscores why the state traffic agency is nervous-perhaps feeling caught between a Bloomberg rock and a Ketcham hard place. But it gets worse, in our view.

What makes this worse, is that the proposal before the NYSDOT is a chimera-a creature that lacks genuine form or substance. The fact remains that there is no Willets Point plan, and the NYSDOT is being asked to approve ramps for a project that is simply not of any real substance-and could, from a traffic standpoint be much worse if, let's say, the Islanders are re-located to the area.

One thing we know for sure. The glossy depiction of Willets Point's future is a figment of EDC's imagination-and if there eventually is development there. it will bear little resemblance to the plans that made up the original ULURP application. Even now, the hotel and convention center-the linchpin for much of the political support-is rumored to be off of the table; and local pols are peeved as hell.

So NYDOT is being asked to buy a pig in a poke; and we don't believe that the agency can approve ramps for a project whose traffic projections might turn out to be starkly different than they are today-even assuming the accuracy of URS's data!

But, with that accuracy being called into question by a seasoned professional, NYSDOT-and the federal highway officials as well-need to go back to the drawing board and obtain independent data before it can render a proper judgment on the feasibility-and propriety-of building ramps off of the Van Wyck. Any attempt to rubber stamp the EDC application can be seen as nothing but an arbitrary and capricious act.