Vol. 11, No. 14 July 23 - August 12, 1998


Federal Transportation Law to Benefit Bronx


The borough's transportation infrastructure will undergo a substantial facelift during the years 1998-2003, thanks to federal funding contained in the new Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), signed into law by President Clinton on June 9.

A $203 billion election-year treat, the law is allowing members of Congress from all over the country to bring home the bacon in the form of new roads, bridges and bike paths.

Tucked into the excruciatingly detailed package (a "summary" provided by Congress is 22 pages long) are a number of local projects, including Fordham University's Regional Transportation Facility, a redesign of the Grand Concourse from East 161st Street to Fordham Road, and $250,000 for bike paths along the Bronx River in Bronx Park.

Other Bronx-related items are rehabilitation of the Broadway and Third Avenue bridges, a study on improvements to the Hutchinson River Parkway and New England Thruway in the northeast Bronx, a bridge deck over the Park Avenue Metro North station between East 188th and 189th streets, and repairs to transportation facilities in Co-op City.

Altogether, Bronx County surfaceways and bridges received $21.5 million of the over $590 million earmarked for New York State.

The primary goals of the bill were to improve air quality and relieve congestion intermodally, which means creating new links between the single-occupant automobile and other, more environmentally sound means of transportation.

"From our perspective, a purpose of the bill is to decrease our dependence on the automobile, especially in New York City," said Mike Waterman, a spokesman for U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY).

"There's a tremendous amount of projects that are not merely pouring concrete and building roads," Waterman said. "We're trying to think outside the box as far as transportation is concerned."

The Regional Transportation Facility at Fordham -- essentially a parking
garage -- aims to be a prime intermodal site.

"I think the minute it's built it's going to have a positive impact on the surrounding community," said John Calvelli, a Fordham alumnus and administrative assistant to Congressman Eliot Engel (D-Bronx, Westchester). Parking is also a primary concern of the Fordham Road Business Improvement District (BID), which is expected to start this fall.

Calvelli said Fordham University approached Engel last year about a garage to alleviate both the university's burgeoning demand for parking and the crunch on Fordham and Belmont streets.

"This project was tailored to the bill," Calvelli said.A lot on Fordham Road seemed a natural, since commuters will be able to leave their cars and proceed on their trips using two subway lines, numerous city buses, Metro North trains, and even the university's in-house Ram Van, which connects to Fordham's Manhattan campus.

Although representatives of both Fordham University and Engel's office cited a new Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office and traffic court at Fordham Road and Crotona Avenue as a major user for the new lot, state DMV spokesman Joe Picchi said negotiations for the site recently fell through, and the agency has had to start again to scout for a new Bronx location.

Some transportation activists say the plan is not altogether environmentally sound.

"I don't want to throw cold water on the project, but creating parking lots is not generally an environmental benefit," said John Orcutt, associate director of Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

"This is true of park-and-ride schemes in the Bronx as well as the large Metro North stations in Westchester with an ocean of parking around them."

For Orcutt, shorter car trips, like those to a future Fordham lot, are not necessarily better.

"Most of the pollution is done once you start your car. Engines are far less efficient before they warm up," Orcutt said. "So it's contingent on how many car trips are being made -- not so much the length of the trip."

Fordham will add its own contribution to the $5.75 million allocated by Congress. The university estimates the total cost of the project at between $17 and $22 million.

Just south of Fordham Road, safety needs and beautification goals for the Grand Concourse moved Congressman Josť E. Serrano (D-South Bronx) to push for $9.75 million for traffic calming on the boulevard, where the 30 mph speed limit is routinely flouted. (Traffic calming involves slowing traffic through speed bumps or the narrowing of roadways.)

New trees in the median will further improve the travel experience on the Concourse, which, Serrano said in a statement, he wanted safer for pedestrians and cyclists, as well as cars.

"This money really allows us to do work on the project, which estimates put at approximately $70 million, while leveraging the money from the TEA-21 dollars," said Borough President Fernando Ferrer in a statement.

Restoration and landmarking of the Concourse has been a longtime goal for Ferrer, who presented preliminary sketches of a boulevard lined with new trees and park benches in his State of the Borough address last March.

If the Department of Transportation (DOT) gets final assurance of secure funding for the renovation, it will conduct an in-house study of the broad requirements of such a project, said Maria Garcia, a spokeswoman for the city agency.

Under recently enacted reforms, DOT would then direct the city Department of Design and Construction to bid out the contract for changes in the roadway. Garcia estimated the entire process would take three to four years from start to finish.

Stefania Sigurdsson contributed to this story.

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