Tuesday, July 20, 2010

NYSDOT Stonewalls

The chronicles of the Willets Point ramps continue, with the state transportation agency apparently operating in bad faith-and against the interest of independent and transparent review. As we have commented previously, NYSDOT has replied negatively to the letter from the Natural Resources Defense Council requesting that the agency conduct an independent review of the data pertaining to the feasibility of the aforementioned ramps.

The genesis of the request devolved from NRDC's concern that the lead agency, in this case EDC, simply couldn't be trusted to provide accurate and reliable traffic information-a supposition that itself devolved from EDC's two separate and contradictory traffic reports pertaining to Willets Point traffic generation. As we have said before: "But the blatant contradictions in the two discrepant Willets Point traffic studies had caught the attention of the Natural Resources Defense Council-arguably New York's leading environmental group. In March, NRDC wrote to both NYSDOT and the FHWA calling for an independent review of the traffic going from Willets Point to the Van Wyck: "NRDC is not taking a position on advancing the Willets Point project or on constructing the ramps. But based on our preliminary review, we are concerned over the discrepancies in the study results, and also by the prospect that a project could impair regional mobility..."

NYSDOT's indefensible response came a few months later: "That was last March-fast forward to July, and NYSDOT has finally responded to the NRDC request in a letter dated July, 2, 2010-but is claiming that there is no need for an independent review: "The NEPA documents that are being developed are an Environmental Assessment and a revised Access Modification Report....We understand the request for an independent review but believe that working closely with NYCEDC, we can assure that the data will be based on sound data."

But, at the same time that NYSDOT is doing the macarena with EDC, it is stonewalling Willets Point United's effort to get access to the data being submitted-as well as the cozy conversations between the state and EDC. As WPU's Jerry Antonacci writes in his FOIA letter to the state agency: "You indicated during our telephone conversation that a revised version of the AMR is expected to be submitted by NYCEDC to NYSDOT on or about October 1, 2010. However, the present process of revising the AMR necessarily generates revised draft AMR content and materials which are all records that are responsive to the above-referenced FOIL Request, and which NYSDOT is either obligated to disclose, or entitled to exercise its discretion to disclose, consistent with the promises of an open, transparent and cooperative process that were made by NYSDOT at the two meetings held during February and March, 2010. Finally, we point out that NYSDOT and NYCEDC each fully disclosed the entire August, 2009 Draft AMR, with no redaction whatsoever, in response to previous Records Access Requests made months ago." (emphasis added)
So, let's get this straight. The revision of this original-and fraudulent-AMR only came about because of the intervention of WPU and its traffic consultant Brian Ketcham, who flagged the contradictions in the two studies done by EDC and forced NYSDOT's hand in all this. At the time, as we highlight above, all concerned promised that Ketcham would be included in the discussion and WPU would be privy to the ongoing data collection and analysis. However, instead of following through on its promise of cooperation  and transparency, NYSDOT has gone the opposite route-stonewalling the data requests and shutting the only righteous analyst out of the revision process.
NYSDOT has, in effect, embraced the fraudsters saying that (we), "believe that working closely with NYCEDC, we can assure that the data will be based on sound data."  Can there be any clearer demonstration of the agency's collusion than this breathtaking assertion made to the state's lead environmental group?

So, the two agencies have decided to partner together without the benefit of any independent review-and without, at least as far as we know, any planned public review process. WPU has gathered the support of a dozen local community groups and civics that have all requested NYSDOT to provide an independent review. All these groups believe, as Council member Dan Halloran expressed at last week's council land use hearing, that they don't believe a word that EDC says.

NYSDOT is walking on thin ice here-and the agency better be prepared to answer the questions that will be peppered at it by legislators at the upcoming state senate hearing on the ramps. Like Lucy, NYSDOT has a lot of "splaining to do." The open question that remains is, will the FHWA buy into this tainted review process?