South Bronx residents furious at the state Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) trumpeted concerns at a public hearing at Hostos Community College on Monday, November 9. NYSDOT wants to widen the Major Deegan Expressway by two lanes between E. 138th Street and the Macombs Dam Bridge through eminent domain but the city Department of City Planning (DCP) and some residents think the change would increase air pollution and infringe on Harlem River waterfront development.
The $250 million NYSDOT plan calls for a new and longer two-lane exit and southbound off-ramp from the Major Deegan to E. 138th Street. It also calls for a fourth southbound lane between the Macombs Dam Bridge and the E. 138th Street exit.
The plan calls for 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. Finally, the plan calls for a new roadway deck and additional rehabilitation. It would involve the use of eminent domain and would result in the relocation of several businesses.
NYSDOT formulated the plan to address deck and structural problems, and to address traffic jams, Tariq Bashir of NYSDOT explained at the November 9 hearing. The additional lanes would ease traffic flow and yield fewer back-ups, NYSDOT contends. Back-ups at the southbound off-ramp from the Major Deegan to E. 138th Street cause vehicles to idle and release more exhaust into the air, William Crowell of NYSDOT told residents at a question and answer session after the hearing. But residents weren’t completely persuaded. Studies show that additional lanes increase rather than decrease pollution, Mott Haven resident Corrine Kohut said. Additional lanes will result in more vehicles, Kohut argued.
“The south Bronx is known for its poor air quality,” she said. “To propose the expansion of a highway in the south Bronx is unconscionable. To add one more inch of highway would be unconscionable.”
Mychal Johnson, a member of Community Board 1, was on hand to voice concerns related to waterfront development. In June the City Council passed 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. It could result in 3,400 new residential units, as many as 600 affordable units. If developers invest in the neighborhood, it could win a new public park between E. 144th and E. 146th streets on the waterfront. CB1 spent three years on the rezone and passed the plan in February, Johnson said.
But NYSDOT admits that its proposed southbound exit and off-ramp to E. 138th Street will infringe on seven parcels of rezoned waterfront land between E. 140th and E. 149th streets. Much of the infringed-upon land under the exit and off-ramp could be converted into an amenity such as a public plaza, NYSDOT has stated. But CB1 contends that infringement on the parcels would discourage development and eliminate street access from Exterior Street. The NYSDOT plan targets traffic jams between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. It benefits commuters headed from Westchester County to Manhattan, not residents of the south Bronx, Johnson said. Leila Lopez, a Monroe College student, agreed.
“What’s the point of a better commute when we don’t have jobs?” Lopez asked. “What’s the point of a highway when we don’t have cars? We don’t need a highway. We need jobs. Spend [the $250 million] to create jobs.”
NYSDOT wants to sneak its plan past residents, CB1 member Linda Duke said. It advertised the November 9 hearing in two newspapers. But most residents are unaware of the plan, Duke added.