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City Floats Plan to Transform Troubled Sheridan Expressway into a Boulevard

 City planners previewed their recommendations for the expressway on May 21, 2013, which community groups mostly backed.
A Plan for the Sheridan Expressway
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SOUNDVIEW — The drab concrete of the Sheridan Expressway stretches little more than a mile along the middle of The Bronx — yet clashes over how to reconfigure, or even remove, the expressway have spanned more than a decade.

This highway between the Cross Bronx and Bruckner expressways walls off the Bronx River, devours valuable land and sends fume-spewing trucks onto local streets, a community-group coalition has long complained — and so, it insists, the expressway should be torn down.

As it carried out a federally funded study of the highway, the city initially considered removing it, until suddenly last year officials decided to table that option.

This week, the city previews the options that it did consider, among them a plan to transform the expressway into a narrower boulevard with pedestrian-friendly crossings, which would free up land ideal for redevelopment.

 A map showing the 1.25-mile Sheridan Expressway, which intersects with the Bruckner Expressway.
A map showing the 1.25-mile Sheridan Expressway, which intersects with the Bruckner Expressway.
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Department of City Planning

“This substantial two-year effort by the city, while flawed, makes major strides toward realizing long-term community priorities,” said Angela Tovar of Sustainable South Bronx, one of several groups that belong to the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance, which is focused on addressing the Sheridan problem.

The study includes three Sheridan scenarios, which all focus on the northernmost, street-level section of the expressway.

The option favored by the alliance would shift the Sheridan west, merging its southbound land with the current West Farms Road, and adding traffic lights and three crossings that lead to the newly reopened Starlight Park.

Shifting and narrowing the expressway would expand the waterfront to its east by nearly 100 feet, allowing for new affordable housing, businesses or parks to be built along the Bronx River.

The study also addresses the Bruckner Expressway just south of the Sheridan.

Presently, because there are no direct routes from the elevated Bruckner Expressway into Hunts Point, southbound vehicles exit the Sheridan and barrel down local streets to get to Hunts Point.

To fix this, the study recommends closing a pair of Sheridan ramps to keep trucks off local roads, and building two new ramps that connect directly to the Bruckner.

If approved, the full cost to narrow the Sheridan and build the ramps would be about $120 million and could take from five to 10 years to complete, officials said.

The study also considered ways to improve neighborhoods around the Sheridan, including parts of Claremont Village, East Tremont, West Farms, Soundview, Longwood and Hunts Point.

Among some 70 recommendations are ideas for new parks and plazas, safer intersections, better lighting and new retail strips.

“There’s a lot of good stuff in there,” said Elena Conte of the Pratt Center for Community and Development, another alliance member. “It largely embraces much of what we put forth.”

The alliance backed many of the recommendations that the city revealed at a forum Tuesday, where it previewed the results of the study, which is set for completion next month.

But members raised a few objections, namely, that not enough Sheridan ramps would be closed or Bruckner ramps built.

And they underscored the importance of including the community in the planning of any future developments.

Designed by master planner Robert Moses and opened in 1963, the one-and-a-quarter mile Sheridan Expressway slices through a crowded corridor — more than 200,000 people live within a mile of it.

Locals have long condemned the Sheridan as a poorly planned and underused highway that manages to inflame residents and drivers alike.

Only about 34,000 vehicles travel along the Sheridan on a given day, compared to 111,000 along a nearby stretch of the Bruckner, state Department of Transportation data show.

The interchange where the two expressways meet creates notorious traffic bottlenecks.

In the neighborhoods around the Sheridan, locals bemoan the pollution, noise and perilous intersections that arise as trucks rumble off the expressway and onto surrounding streets.

“Eighteen-wheelers come through my neighborhood like gangbusters,” said Cerita “CP” Parker, an alliance member who lives a couple blocks from the highway.

The state DOT began studying ways to fix the bottlenecks and other problems with the Sheridan in 2001, but eventually ended its analysis.

Meanwhile, the city won a $1.5 million federal grant in 2010 to study the Sheridan and areas around it, including Hunts Point, whose major food distribution center demands easy truck access.

City planners met with community members more than 40 times during the course of the study, eventually incorporating many of the alliance’s ideas into its recommendations.

So, it came as a shock to many when officials abruptly announced last year that they would no longer consider completely removing the Sheridan.

While the alliance has continued to work with the city, it is holding onto its original vision.

“We still think a full removal is possible,” Conte said, calling the city’s proposed narrowing of the Sheridan a “partial removal.” “But we understand that changes happen in phases.”

After the city finishes the study next month, its recommendations must still pass an environmental review and find funding.

The city will present its final recommendations at a forum on June 20. In the meantime, the public can comment on the plan online or at the Bronx River Arts Center space at 305 E. 140th St.