SOUNDVIEW — It took two years, five city agencies, 50 stakeholder meetings and a $1.5 million federal grant, but finally the city is set to unveil a sweeping plan to reshape a flawed highway network in the heart of The Bronx.
The crux of the plan, which was previewed at a public meeting Tuesday and due for publication next month, is the transformation of the much-maligned Sheridan Expressway from a highway into a narrower, pedestrian-friendly boulevard.
Other plan components include new ramps to provide direct routes into Hunts Point, a road realignment to fix a notorious traffic bottleneck and new paths to and along the Bronx River waterfront.
Taken together, the changes could clear the way for new development, cut down on truck traffic along local streets and improve access to pristine but hard-to-reach parks.
“These recommendations will make our city’s streets safer and our transportation network work better for all those who live and work along the Sheridan,” Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said in a statement.
But to the coalition of community groups that for more than a decade has pushed for these and more radical reforms, including the full removal of the Sheridan, a plan alone is not enough — it still must be approved by the state, funded and implemented.
“It’s really critical that this move forward,” said Elena Conte, a coalition member. “And, as of yet, that’s not a guarantee.”
The city won the grant in 2010 to study the Sheridan, a 1.25-mile highway that connects the Cross Bronx and Bruckner expressways, as well as the surrounding roads and neighborhoods.
Many of the report’s proposals originated with the community coalition, called the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance, which formed in 1999.
The group has long slammed the Sheridan as an underused and unnecessary road that cuts through the community, gobbling up real estate and blocking the waterfront.
The study recommends narrowing part of the highway, which would free up waterfront land for redevelopment, and adding traffic lights and crosswalks to it to help residents reach the Bronx River and the parks along its bank.
It also suggests creating a waterfront walkway to link those parks and replacing vacant lots with mixed-use buildings.
Another local concern is the Bruckner Expressway just south of the Sheridan.
Presently, because there are no direct routes from the elevated Bruckner Expressway into Hunts Point, trucks bound for the neighborhood’s massive food distribution center must detour through local streets, threatening residents’ safety and air quality.
To fix this, the study proposes closing some Sheridan exits to keep trucks off local roads, and building at least two new ramps to connect the Bruckner with Hunts Point.
Also, because the interchange where those two expressways meet has long created traffic bottlenecks, the study calls for realigning it.
It also suggests dozens of other ideas to improve neighborhoods around the Sheridan, such as new plazas and retail strips, safer intersections and better lighting.
“We need the unfettered access to the new parks and green spaces along the Bronx River, the traffic improvements, the pedestrian safety and the air quality improvements that this plan would give us,” said Rep. José Serrano, who helped get funding for the study.
Parts of the plan must now pass through an environmental review and receive approval from the state DOT, which owns the Sheridan.
And funding must be secured — the cost just to narrow the Sheridan and build the ramps would be about $120 million, officials have said.
The community coalition this week urged elected officials — including the next mayoral administration — to make implementation of the plan a priority.
Otherwise, all the studying and suggesting will be for naught, said coalition member Carl Van Putten.
“I’ve seen the most beautiful designs and illustrations — but I still haven’t seen anything happen,” said Van Putten, 80. “My aim in life now is to stay alive long enough to see something happen.”