Willets Point / Van Wyck Ramps Public Hearing

Date: June 8, 2011

Time: 4:30PM - 8:00PM

Location: Flushing Library; 41-17 Main Street

Below are suggested topics for testimony at the public hearing.

"EA" refers to the Environmental Assessment prepared by EDC for the proposed ramps "EDC" refers to the New York City Economic Development Corporation "FHWA" refers to the Federal Highway Administration.  "NYSDOT" refers to the New York State Department of Transportation.

(1.) NYSDOT and FHWA must reject the Environmental Assessment (EA) that is the subject of the hearing, because it does not compare the proper scenarios; under-reports traffic; and is therefore defective and unworthy.

Failure to compare proper scenarios: EDC has consistently stated that the full build-out of the proposed Willets Point development cannot occur without the proposed new Van Wyck ramps. However, now the EA attempts to justify the proposed ramps by comparing an invalid baseline condition – one in which Willets Point is fully built out, but without the ramps – with a condition in which Willets Point is fully built out, with the ramps. For the purpose of the EA, EDC is attempting to justify the proposed ramps by shrewdly using an invalid baseline condition which assumes that the entire Willets Point project will be built even if ramps are not involved, yet EDC has always said that the project cannot be built unless the ramps are approved. So, the comparison of conditions within the EA is both self-serving and false. (The proper comparison, which is absent from the EA, is between a baseline condition in which there is neither any ramp nor any development that depends upon any ramp, and a condition in which there are ramps plus the full development which the ramps are designed to enable.)

Under-reporting of traffic: The EA inaccurately assumes that a lower proportion of people who will reside in and around Willets Point will ever own or use an automobile, versus elsewhere throughout Queens. That results in under-reporting of traffic volumes within the EA. The EA further assumes that the people who do not travel via automobile will instead travel via mass transit. However, as the Straphangers Campaign has recognized, there is simply insufficient capacity on the 7 subway line and other public transit routes to handle such a massive influx of thousands of new riders; and there are no funds or plans to modify the mass transit system as would be necessary to accommodate such dramatic increases in ridership. Finally, although the Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement ("FGEIS") prepared for the proposed Willets Point development indicates that 47 percent of vehicles would use the proposed new Van Wyck ramps, a subsequent report indicates that just 16 percent of vehicles would use the proposed ramps, with the remainder instead using local area streets; and the EA now claims that 32 percent of vehicles will use the ramps, with the remainder instead using local streets. Compared with the original 47 percent figure within the FGEIS, the EA under-reports the volume of traffic that will use the proposed ramps and therefore impact travel on the Van Wyck.

(2.) NYSDOT and FHWA must find that the proposed ramps do have significant impacts, and therefore that a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is mandated. The ramps enable the full Willets Point development, which in turn generates traffic – 80,000 vehicle trips per day – having severe adverse impacts which are indirect impacts of the ramps and cannot be dis-associated from the ramps.

Based upon its EA document, EDC is attempting to obtain a "finding of no significant impact", and thereby avoid the full Environmental Impact Statement that would otherwise be necessary. The proposed Van Wyck ramps, with their far-reaching consequences and effects on residents and commuters – must not be permitted to evade the scrutiny of an EIS.

(3.) NYSDOT and FHWA must stop all action concerning the proposed Van Wyck ramps, and must institute a full, independent, objective review and analysis of the true impacts of the proposed ramps pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA") – a review that does not rely on any analysis performed by EDC, the project's applicant. Such a review must be performed by an engineering firm that is distant from New York and has no prior interest in any New York project or agency. The need for an independent review has been endorsed by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, State Senator Tony Avella, City Council member Dan Halloran and half a dozen civic associations. Such a review is obviously necessary under the circumstances of this proposed project, which include:

Gross discrepancy between the Willets Point FGEIS, which indicates that 47 percent of vehicles would use the proposed new Van Wyck ramps, and a subsequent report which indicates that just 16 percent of vehicles would use the proposed ramps; ongoing discrepancy between the 47 percent figure within the Willets Point FGEIS, and the EA which indicates that 32 percent of vehicles will use the proposed new ramps. The percentage of traffic allocated to the proposed ramps varies for each report for a different audience, although the identical project is being analyzed, and although the same consultant – AKRF – is responsible for supervising all of the reports. These discrepancies
have never been adequately addressed or resolved.

Failure of NYSDOT and FHWA to identify or recognize the above discrepancies, until the agencies were informed of them by the traffic engineer retained by Willets Point United Inc.

E-mails obtained under FOIL by Willets Point United Inc., which indicate that there was a potential collusion between NYSDOT and EDC to expedite the review of the proposed ramps, even after staff had pointed out what it believed were fatal flaws in EDC's draft Access Modification Report; and emails which indicate that City DOT Commissioner Sadik-Khan may have threatened the state to approve these ramps, telling NYSDOT that they are holding the Willets Point project ”hostage.”

The failure of the new NYSDOT Commissioner, Joan McDonald, to recuse herself from her role as supervisor of NYSDOT's review of the EA and the proposed ramps – although McDonald used to be a Vice President at EDC, which is the project's applicant at NYSDOT. Why hasn’t McDonald recused herself for a conflict of interest? Since McDonald took over as NYSDOT Commissioner, we have seen a complete sea change in attitude at NYSDOT and a willingness to go along with EDC’s deficient data – including authorizing the public hearing on June 8, 2011.

Invalid scenario used as a baseline within the EA. EDC is arguing that the ramps are essential in order to mitigate the traffic from their development, but it is doing so dishonestly by saying that the choice is between a Willets Point project that exists with, or without, the ramps. But since EDC has always said, “no ramps, no project”, the honest choice is between a project with the ramps, versus no project at all. This is the only proper baseline analysis, and EDC avoids it for the obvious reason that it would compel DOT to disapprove the ramp application since the massive traffic influx will seriously degrade the operation of the Van Wyck.

(4.) EDC's claim within its NEPA Checklist – that the proposed Van Wyck ramps are not controversial – is false.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, State Senator Tony Avella, City Council member Dan Halloran and half a dozen civic associations are opposed to approval of the proposed ramps under the current and inadequate review scheme, which excludes any full, independent, objective review and analysis of the true impacts of the proposed ramps pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act.

(5.) EDC routinely misrepresents the Downtown Flushing Development Framework ("DFDF") document, as proof that there is "community support" for each of the development projects imagined by the DFDF.

The DFDF cheerfully advocates extensive development in downtown Flushing; development of the eastern portion of the Flushing River waterfront that is located midway between downtown Flushing and Willets Point; and development of Willets Point. However, the DFDF contains no mention – let alone any actual analysis – of any environmental impact of any of the untested development ideas that are imagined within the DFDF.

Although the DFDF is a wish-list of potential future development projects, the mere existence of the DFDF does not permit any of the potential projects to evade appropriate scrutiny of the impacts that such a project will create; nor does the mere presence of an untested idea within the DFDF suggest that the community has granted EDC a license to create traffic gridlock, hinder business efficiency, and reduce the quality of life. To the contrary: each and every potential project that is contemplated by the DFDF – including the proposed Willets Point development, and especially the proposed new Van Wyck ramps which enable the full development – must undergo a rigorous environmental evaluation, which necessarily must include the possibility that the potential project cannot be approved due to its impacts. The proposed Van Wyck ramps are presently undergoing such a review, which they did not undergo at any time during the creation of the DFDF. Public support, if any, for any part of the DFDF has never taken into account any environmental impacts or the public’s concerns about them, and certainly does not constitute a willingness on the part of the public to tolerate any and all impacts that a potential project will create.

(6.) We need an independent review because EDC and the city can’t be trusted to mark its own tests. Whether it is the bike lanes, school test scores or now the Van Wyck ramps, the city must be held accountable to independent review.

(7.) Emails obtained by Willets Point United Inc. under FOIL indicate that City DOT Commissioner Sadik-Khan may have threatened the state to approve these ramps, telling NYSDOT that they are holding the Willets Point project ”hostage.” Here is another reason why the city can’t be trusted. Sadik-Khan is claiming to be reducing the city’s carbon foot print with all of her anti-car policies, but here she is shilling for a massively auto dependent development. We need an independent auditor for these ramps.

(8.) EDC claims that thousands of people traveling from Willets Point once it is developed will use mass transit. This is a ludicrous claim since our buses and the 7 line can’t accommodate this excess ridership. Just another reason for an independent review of all of this.

(9.) The EDC braintrust told the city council that it wouldn’t condemn any property before these ramps were approved. They have gone back on their word. Just another reason why they – and their manufactured data – can’t be trusted.

(10.) The city has gotten into serious trouble using outside consultants who have provided bad information at exorbitant costs. The Van Wyck ramp consultants fit right into this description and our communities are being railroaded by false claims. We need a truly independent review by consultants who won’t tailor the data to the city’s predetermined needs.

(11.) The city is in dire fiscal straights with firehouse closings and teacher layoffs on the agenda. EDC has never leveled with us about the real cost of this development. We need to put this project on the back burner until the fiscal conditions improve.

(12.) Our roads and highways are already jammed. The last thing we need is a massive auto dependent development that will further erode our community quality of life. The ramps should be turned down and the entire project re-thought.

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For further information please contact Willets Point United Inc: unitedtriangle@gmail.com


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