Tuesday, March 30, 2010

EDC's Confidence Man

The NY Daily News spotlights the efforts of Willets Point United to challenge-and stop-the building of ramps off of the Van Wyck Expressway-ramps, without which, the entire development would be relegated to the dustbin of history: "A group of Willets Point business owners fired another shot last week at the $3 billion plan to redevelop the Iron Triangle, but city officials don't expect to fall behind schedule. The business owners - facing potential eviction when construction begins - charged that the traffic report from the city's Economic Development Corp. is flawed and is reason enough to bring the megadevelopment plan to a halt."

Eh, just what schedule are they referring to? And, by the way, the WP challenge, despite the graveyard passing whistling of EDC, will greatly retard the plans that the city has for the area-if it can even find the money to proceed.

That's because the Ketcham critique will cause the regulatory agencies to pause-and to carefully do their due diligence: "A traffic engineer hired by Willets Point United argued that the city misrepresented congestion on the Van Wyck Expressway created by other nearby projects in its proposal to build on-ramps and off-ramps near the gritty industrial area in the vicinity of Citi Field. "There does not seem to be any area-wide planning going on for this community," said engineer Brian Ketcham. "They haven't done their analysis correctly." The EDC's Access Modification Report, which outlines potential congestion on the Van Wyck, did not properly account for the added traffic from other developments, such as Flushing Commons and Sky View Parc, Ketcham said. "They're trying to whitewash the impact of these projects," he said."

The local council member Julissa Ferreras also sees some issues here-and calls for an open review process that echoes the letter that was sent to NYSDOT by the Natural Resources Defense Council: "There are legitimate questions concerning construction at Willets Point and its impact on local traffic patterns," said City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras, adding that the review process must be open to public input. "The involvement of the [state] Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration in the Willets Point project assures me that adequate oversight exists," said Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst)."

Insuring that the review authorities do all that is required is why WPU is looking for public hearings on the ramp construction-something that Council member Ferreras has endorsed as well. None of this skepticism, however, erodes the optimism of the EDC's primary confidence man Dave Lombino: "The state Department of Transportation kicked the report back to the EDC a few weeks ago, but agency officials said they are confident it will pass soon. "We received a range of comments from opposition that we're reviewing," said EDC spokesman David Lombino. "We'll be submitting a revised draft to regulators in the upcoming weeks that is responsive to their comments and issues." The EDC does not expect any significant delay in getting the approval from the state and the Federal Highway Administration, Lombino said."

Can't wait to see how EDC consultant URS is gonna find all of the traffic it had disappeared from the original EIS when it submitted its woefully inadequate ramp report-not to mention the cumulative impact of contiguous projects that URS ignored in its original report. And let's not forget that the WP development plans includes the largest-1.2 million sq. ft.-auto dependent mall in NYC; and the traffic problems at the new Rego Center Mall should chill even Lombino's false cheer.

As the Daily News reports, that mall has ground traffic to a halt: "The road to building a retail mecca in Queens is paved with backed-up one-way streets. Rego Center opened its doors a few weeks ago, hoping to lure shoppers with Kohl's, T.J. Maxx and Century 21 department stores. And bargain hunters are coming. But traffic in the already congested area, which includes the Long Island Expressway, Queens Blvd. and Junction Blvd., is also starting to jam up."

And a local civic group is screaming: "There is a bottleneck at all hours," said Robert Holden, of the Juniper Park Civic Association, who lives in nearby Middle Village. "They are going to have to double-deck the Long Island Expressway or the exit." Local officials have been working with the city Transportation Department and developer Vornado Realty Trust to hash out traffic congestion issues."

Now they are? After the fact? What's a matter, didn't they get an accurate traffic analysis before the mall was built. What a shock! But Rego Center is small potatoes compared to what's planned at the Iron Triangle-and no ramp construction will alter this traffic nightmare. We'll give the able Ketcham the last word: "I don't think the ramps work," Ketcham said. "It is fatally flawed. They've got a real problem."