By Madina Toure
The Willets Point ramp project may have to undergo a re-evaluation in light of changes made to the $3 billion Willets Point Development plan.
Doug Hecox, a spokesman for the Federal Highway Administration, said the city Economic Development Corporation is currently preparing a new proposal for the agency to review given that the site plans have changed. But he said the FHWA could not yet speak on what its review would entail.
“They’re providing us with a new proposal,” Hecox said. “The site plans have changed and so it’s not clear what the extent of our review would be. But once they send that to us, our review would begin.”
In March 2011, the city Economic Development Corporation put together a draft environmental assessment that included plans to build ramps onto the Van Wyck Expressway to handle the added traffic that the project — 62 acres at the time — would bring to the area. The FHWA and the state DOT approved the assessment.
At the time, opposition groups and a city estimate anticipated that the project would bring as many as 80,000 additional car trips daily.
Since then the plan has expanded to include a mega-mall to be built on parkland, expanding the development to 108.9 acres.
In 2009, the state DOT decided not to approve the ramps, but the FHWA sent the agency a letter on March 22, 2012 saying that the project “would have no significant effect on the human environment” and that as far as tackling traffic, the ramp project “would function better with the proposed project in place as compared to the No Build Alternative.”
The re-evaluation will consist of a new traffic analysis, which will examine the potential effects of the additional space, both with and without the new ramps, according to Diane Park, a state Department of Transportation spokeswoman. The city will conduct the new traffic analy-sis and the state DOT and the Federal Highway Administration will review.
“Based on the review, FHWA will either allow work on the new ramps to move forward or will require a federal environmental impact statement,” Park wrote in an email.
Willets Point United, along with other civic groups, had previously called for an independent assessment of the ramps to be used in the agencies’ assessments instead of the contractor hired by EDC.
Gerald Antonacci, president of Willets Point United, a group representing business and land owners in the area, praised the FHWA and the state DOT for putting pressure on the EDC.
“Now that the plan is double the size and it’s got a mall and a stadium parking lot plus the original plan, they should have to go and do this thing all over again with the DOT and the Federal Highway,” Antonacci said. “And all the numbers that they put into it the first time have no meaning now.”
The city Economic Development Corporation said it plans to comply with any requests from federal and state agencies concerning the proposed ramps.
“As we move forward with implementation of the ramp design, we will continue to actively work with our federal and state partners and look forward to providing all the information that they require,” an EDC spokesman wrote in an email.
Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (718) 260–4566.