NYC to Recommend Sheridan Expressway Become Less Express, More Local

A model of what will likely be the city's 'preferred alternative' for the Sheridan Expressway

As the city winds down its two-year, $1.5 million study of how to improve the Sheridan Expressway, it's preparing to recommend that part of the roadway be transformed into a boulevard, similar to Manhattan's Route 9A -- with pedestrian crossings, traffic lights and a developed, green waterfront.

Currently, the Sheridan cuts through the Soundview/Longwood/Hunts Point neighborhoods of the Bronx.

"We've done a lot of learning and thinking," said Tawkiyah Jordan, a project manager for the NYC Department of City Planning. "And my hope is that the outcome of all the hard work and tough conversations is something that we can all move forward with."

Neighborhood groups had long fought for the mile-long roadway to be removed entirely, but in 2012 the city killed that option -- to the ire of local activists.

Speaking at a meeting Tuesday night in a school in the Soundview neighborhood of the Bronx, a city team laid out the three remaining options on the table. All options would provide two ramps allowing traffic direct access to the Hunts Point Market. (Currently, hundreds of trucks must navigate on local streets to reach the massive produce market.)

The three options for the Sheridan Expressway. The text on the right describes the city's preferred option -- the 'modify/combined' scenario (graphic courtesy NYC Department of Planning)

The first option would retain the Sheridan as-is with some minor modifications. The second -- called the 'modified/separated roadway,' would shrink the roadway slightly while adding a little more green along the waterfront. And the third option -- the 'modified/combined' -- eliminates express lanes, would significantly shrink the Sheridan, expand the land along the waterfront, and add two to three at-grade level pedestrian crossings to give pedestrians and cyclists better access to the redeveloping Bronx River waterfront.

The winner is behind door number three.

"The modified/combined really provides us the most benefit," said Jordan, who cited the additional waterfront land and the more pedestrian-friendly aspects of the modified/combined plan. In addition, she said traffic lights would reduce speeding -- a big concern for planners, who say that region of the Bronx is known as a high crash corridor.

Under this plan, the section of the Sheridan that's at grade-level (see the green in the below image) would be turned into a boulevard. The Sheridan would not be changed south of Westchester Avenue and the connection to the Bruckner would remain. (New Yorkers: think of the section of Manhattan's West Side Highway as it transitions from at-grade to elevated north of 59th Street.)

The Sheridan Expressway. The section the city is planning to modify is in green. (Graphic courtesy NYC Department of Planning)

"One of the things we do know is you can change a place by changing its design," said Jordan. "We've talked quite a bit about making sure we have shorter blocks here, not the long blocks that you would see somewhere like Queens Boulevard."

The response from advocates can largely be summed up this way: the process wasn't perfect, but some good could come out of it.

"While the City's study missed an opportunity to look at the most comprehensive way to improve the area, we are encouraged to see so many pieces of our vision incorporated into the recommendations," said Kellie Terry Sepulveda, the head of a local community development organization and a member of the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance. Angela Tovar of Sustainable South Bronx said "this substantial two-year effort by the city, while flawed, makes major strides toward realizing long-term community priorities." And Congressman José Serrano -- who last year was frustrated by the city's rejection of the teardown -- said "some positive aspects have come out of this re-visioning process."

Under the city's proposal, modifications to the Sheridan Expressway would likely run about $120 million. The big ticket item -- weighing in at $72 million -- is the cost of constructing ramps to Hunts Point.

The city's study will be finalized by the end of next month, at which point the draft recommendation becomes formalized. After that process, an environmental review would be conducted and the state would need to sign off -- not to mention figure out how to pay for it.

But whether or not the next mayor will have the political will to push this issue forward was a concern on everyone's mind on Tuesday.

"It's absolutely our plan, it's our intention for this not to just be a plan that sits on a shelf and is handed over," said Nnenna Lynch, a senior policy advisor to Mayor Bloomberg. "We have to do some thinking about how to all work together to make sure - to lay the groundwork for actual implementation."

Later this month, the city's model for the Sheridan will go on display at the Bronx River Art Center. For community input, go here.