Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Willets Point Off Ramps

Crain's Insider is reporting (subs.) on the meeting between Willets Point United and NYSDOT-and raising the specter that the ramp approvals won't be a slam dunk: "Striped bass and a dogged traffic engineer helped kill Westway, a massive West Side highway project during the Koch administration. Could two highway ramps and the same engineer doom Mayor Bloomberg's vaunted Willets Point redevelopment?"

It could, unless the EDC consultants all of a sudden become contortionists-something that the agency is all too famous for: "Local property owners fighting it have been making that case for months—it's a key element of their Article 78 lawsuit challenging the project's environmental impact statement—and appear to have some momentum. Their traffic engineer, Westway nemesis Brian Ketcham, determined that the two proposed ramps would worsen traffic on the Van Wyck Expressway. The Bloomberg administration has argued that the ramps are necessary to prevent a traffic nightmare at the site."

Sunlight being the best disinfectant, WPU has been pushing for state senate hearings on the overall traffic in general that the project will generate, as well as whether the ramps mitigate or exacerbate the gridlock: "The original 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 report is being redone after Ketcham used traffic data from the EIS to gauge the impact of the ramps."

WPU now moves on to meet with the Federal Highway Administration this week, since that agency must approve the ramps in the final disposition of the issue: "Ketcham is being paid by project opponents, but his traffic projection comes from common modeling software that the state DOT trusts. The opponents see DOT as a potential ally because the agency cannot afford to build all the new road capacity demanded of it. The ramps require state and federal approval, and it is possible that the project could not proceed without the nod. The opponents are meeting Thursday with the Federal Highway Administration and will ask for an independent review."

Clearly, the smooth sailing along with concocted traffic data is at an end: “At the very least, we have put this off by six months,” claims Richard Lipsky, the lobbyist for the property owners group, Willets Point United." If this is decided on the merits, well, the entire project may turn out to be a ramp to nowhere.