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Residents stop Deegan plan

South Bronx residents furious at a plan to widen the Major Deegan Expressway by two lanes between E. 138th Street and the Macombs Dam Bridge had a happy Thanksgiving. On Wednesday, November 25, the state Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) announced that it would abandon the plan.

Rather than spend $275 million on new northbound and southbound exits and lanes, NYSDOT will rehab the Deegan only. NYSDOT expects its pared-down plan to cost $170 to $200 million. The rehab is set to start in 2012.

At a pair of public hearings at Hostos Community College on Monday, November 9, residents argued that the widened lanes would increase air pollution and infringe on Harlem River waterfront development. NYSDOT planned to relocate several businesses through eminent domain.

Some resident think NYSDOT’s subsequent surrender represents a sea change: disenfranchised for decades, the south Bronx is no longer a pushover.

“I think it’s wonderful that [NYSDOT] listened to the community,” Mott Haven resident Corrine Kohut said. “The community was strong and united in opposition to the [Deegan] plan.”

NYSDOT Commissioner Stanley Gee attributed the change to feedback from residents and elected officials. The original Deegan plan called for a new and longer two-lane exit from the Major Deegan to E. 138th Street, a fourth southbound lane between the Macombs Dam Bridge and the E. 138th Street exit, a fourth northbound lane between the E. 138th Street northbound on-ramp and a new two-lane exit from the Major Deegan to E. 149th Street.

NYSDOT argued that the additional lanes would ease traffic flow. Back-ups at the southbound off-ramp from the Major Deegan to E. 138th Street cause vehicles to idle and release exhaust into the air, William Crowell of NYSDOT told residents on November 9. But additional lanes would result in more vehicles and therefore more pollution, Kohut contended.

At the November 9 hearing, Community Board 1 member Mychal Johnson voiced concerns about waterfront development. In June, the City Council okayed a rezone of the industrial Lower Concourse: 30 square blocks south of E. 149th Street, west of Morris Avenue and north of the Harlem River.

The goal of the rezone is to spur residential and retail development and to open up the Harlem River waterfront. If developers invest in the neighborhood, residents will gain a new public park between E. 144th and E. 146th streets. CB1 spent three years on the rezone and passed the plan in February, Johnson said.

NYSDOT admitted that its proposed exit to E. 138th Street would have infringed on seven parcels of rezoned waterfront land between E. 140th and E. 149th streets. The plan to widen the Deegan targeted traffic problems between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. It would have benefited commuters headed from Westchester County to Manhattan, not residents of the Bronx, Johnson explained.

“We need more green space and more housing, not more highway,” he said. “I’m glad [NYSDOT] listened to us and will repair rather than expand [the Deegan].”

Residents worked together to defeat the plan, CB1 member Linda Duke said. On Thanksgiving, residents like Duke and Johnson had each other to thank.

“We won and gained momentum,” Johnson said. “There will be other battles before the waterfront is developed. But we plan to fight.”

Reach reporter Daniel Beekman at 718 742-3383 or dbeekman@cnglocal.com

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