Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Concerns at NYS DOT

As many of you are aware, we have been commenting for a while about the tortured review process over permission to build ramps off of the Van Wyck to accommodate the Willets Point development. When last we looked, there was friction between NYC DOT Commissioner Sadik-Khan, and the local regional head of the state agency who felt that the commissioner was threatening him if he failed to act expeditiously (read: hastily and without real oversight). As he said in an email: "JSK noted that she will be sending me a letter holding me personally responsible for holding the Willets Pt project hostage. I'm okay with that as we need to ensure that we have thoroughly reviewed the issues and that they are resolved satisfactorily."

It is now about 14 months since Willets Point United upended the deceptive work of EDC's traffic consultants on the Access Modification Report (AMR) for the Van Wyck ramps. Since then, EDC's crack consulting team has been laboring-mostly in secret-over the revision to their originally defective AMR. We say secretly, because EDC has stonewalled all of WPU's efforts to foil the relevant traffic data.

What concerns us at this time is Joan McDonald, the newly appointed commissioner over at SDOT. Liz Benjamin has the details: "
McDonald does have deep New York ties though. She served as Senior Vice President for Transportation at the New York City Economic Development Corporation. She is also the former Deputy Commissioner for Planning and Traffic Operations for New York City DOT."

Now it might not be fair to prejudge the new commissioner, but given what has transpired, and our view that EDC has acted in a less than candid manner in regards to the ramps at Willets Point, we have cause for concern. This concern isn't allayed by the group that was first out of the box in support of McDonald: "The administration has yet to announce the pick, but the General Contractors Association of New York has already voiced their support for McDonald.
Governor Cuomo’s selection of Joan McDonald to be commissioner of the state Department of Transportation will serve the taxpayers of New York State well,” said Denise Richardson, the Managing Director of the General Contractors Association of New York.
“ It is our hope that swift approval by the legislature will ensure that New York can get back on the road again in creating an infrastructure that moves us beyond the recession by creating jobs, energizing the economy and investing in our future."
Or, damn the torpedoes, and full speed ahead-and no delays for unnecessary oversight by any means. But perhaps there is a glimmer of hope-as this comment from the Tri-State Transportation Campaign indicates: "The Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a transit-advocacy group that also focuses on “smart growth,”  was also pretty happy.“Since 2008, NYSDOT has lacked a commitment to progressive transportation policy and this choice marks a new era for the stagnant agency, ” the group said in a statement.  “Ms. McDonald showed a clear commitment to promoting an economic investment strategy focused on transit oriented and smart growth development while Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development. We expect Ms. McDonald’s solid experience to guide the way towards a more progressive transportation agenda and to further promote Governor Cuomo’s sustainability goals.”

Still, concerns we have aplenty-and we have asked all of the relevant stakeholders to weigh in with McDonald and insist that a full, open and independent review process be established for these Van Wyck ramps. In re Tri-State, there is nothing sustainable about these ramps and the project they abet. So let's take a step back and truly evaluate whether the building of these ramps is in the long term interests of a smart growth policy.