Mayor agrees to move the M.T.S. ramp News

| 04 Aug 2015 | 11:12

Mayor Bill de Blasio said his administration would acquiesce to community demands that an access ramp leading to the East 91st Street marine transfer station be moved one block north to East 92nd Street, in accordance with a plan that was first pushed by Asphalt Green late last year.

The move comes after months of uncertainty, during which the Dept. of Sanitation said it was studying the proposal, and means that dump trucks en route to the trash facility will not run straight through Asphalt Green’s athletic fields once the new ramp is completed in 2020. Construction will begin in 2018 at a cost of approximately $30 million, according to a spokesperson with the mayor’s office.

The administration stressed that the additional construction would not delay the opening of the East 91st Street MTS in 2017, meaning that trucks will be running through Asphalt Green’s campus for at least two years while the new ramp is being built.

In December last year, faced with the reality that outright opposition to the MTS was futile, Asphalt Green turned its efforts to mitigating the facility’s impact on the neighborhood. To that end, they hired traffic consultant and former Dept. of Transportation official Sam Schwartz to study potential alternatives to the existing ramp at 91st Street.

Under the terms of his proposal, the entrance to FDR Drive on 92nd Street will be dedicated solely to dump trucks heading to the MTS. The acceleration lane, which runs directly behind Asphalt Green, would also be given over to the trucks, and would rise to link up with the overpass leading to the MTS at 91st Street.

Vehicle traffic that used to enter the FDR at 92nd Street would be routed two blocks north to 94th Street, where an entrance onto the FDR would be created.

Although the administration made no mention of Schwartz’s proposal in its announcement, the plan they put forth appears to adhere to his recommendations.

“I think it conforms,” said Schwartz. “It’s the same location. As far as I know, it’s the same plan.”

Schwartz credited the community’s support of the plan with its eventual approval by the de Blasio administration.

“The community deserves the credit, and there were a number of people in addition to Asphalt Green that were critical of the [current] ramp location, including a number of elected officials,” he said. “I’m very pleased, and I know Asphalt Green is very thrilled. I’m very happy that the city listened. The city did their own investigation and concluded that this indeed could be done.”

Elected officials who lent their support to the plan include Comptroller Scott Stringer, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and State Senator Liz Krueger. Asphalt Green followed its proposal with an ad buy in the New York Times targeting de Blasio as well as a 30-second TV spot.

In a statement, Dept. of Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia said the administration’s decision follows months of community outreach and analysis by her agency as well as the Dept. of Design and Construction and the Dept. of Transportation.

“This administration is committed to implementing a fair, five-borough plan to sustainably export the city’s waste for years to come,” said Garcia. “This decision reflects our commitment to working with the community to address concerns about air quality, traffic, and pedestrian safety.”

Maggy Siegel, executive director of Asphalt Green, said she’s grateful that the mayor agreed with the community to move the ramp, but hesitated to call the move a victory.

“No, I would not use that word,” said Siegel. “Nor would I say our work is done.”

Siegel said Asphalt Green will continue to work towards mitigating the facility’s impact on the community, including the monitoring of traffic patterns around Asphalt Green and the effect that truck traffic has on the nearby Stanley Isaacs Houses.

Siegel said Asphalt Green is already working on an early agreement with the city’s Dept. of Design and Construction - the agency that’s building the MTS - to suspend construction traffic to the trash facility during summer months.

“We look forward to that same arrangement with them next summer,” said Siegel, who took the city’s decision to move the ramp as a sign of good faith. “I do think they want to be good neighbors. And their decision to move the ramp proves that.”

Kelly Nimmo-Guenther, president of Pledge 2 Protect, the main community group opposing the East 91st Street MTS, said moving the ramp to East 92nd Street is a first step but not a final solution, and comes with its own set of problems.

“A lot of our community concerns deal with our NYCHA residents and their air quality,” said Nimmo-Guenther. “Moving that ramp one block closer to [the Stanley Isaacs Houses] creates problems.”

Nimmo-Guenther said her organization is focused on getting the de Blasio administration to agree to an air quality monitoring program around the houses and to require private garbage trucks using the MTS to adopt pollution controls and safety features. The administration has already agreed to equip city-owned garbage trucks with pollution-controlling air filters and safety sidebars that prevent pedestrians and cyclists from falling under the wheels.

In the meantime, a de Blasio spokesperson said the administration will move an outbound truck-weighing scale inside the MTS to prevent trucks from idling next to Asphalt Green’s entrance, and permanently install a Dept. of Sanitation agent at the foot of the existing ramp to manage pedestrian and vehicle traffic coming to and from the MTS. The city is also embarking on a safety upgrade at the foot of the ramp to expand pedestrian space and shorten crossing distances at 91st Street and York Avenue.