Transit advocates slam New York state for planned larger highways

NEW YORK — Transit advocates are slamming New York state for putting an estimated $5 billion into wider highways in the five boroughs.

A report by advocates Riders Alliance with Vocal-NY said plans to widen portions of six city highways highways stand in opposition to the state’s climate goals — most notably the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act as well as the state’s effort to reduce traffic in New York City via congestion pricing.

“Expanding roads in New York City and northwest of the city as planned flagrantly violates our climate law, locking in more transportation emissions rather than cutting them,” the report reads.

The projects include state efforts to widen the Van Wyck, the Bruckner, and the Cross-Bronx Expressway, MTA plans on the Belt Parkway and the FDR drive, and the city’s plan for its’ portion of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway.

In Queens, the state is allocating $1.22 billion towards expanding the capacity of the Van Wyck Expressway, an effort to increase both passenger and freight capacity on the major road leading to Kennedy Airport.

Advocates said the plan amounted to “encouraging more travelers to drive or be driven to the airport.”

In the Bronx, a mile of the Bruckner Expressway is set to be widened along with a slew of exit ramps — a $1.7 billion project the advocates said will increase air pollution in the South Bronx.

Despite a stated goal of keeping trucks off surface streets on their way to the Hunts Point market, the report’s authors said the project would create more room for vehicular traffic overall, encouraging more automobile use in the borough.

Gov. Hochul’s office estimates the project will take some 13,000 trucks off of local streets.

The market and surrounding neighborhood is also the target of several of the MTA’s congestion pricing pollution mitigations.

The agency has earmarked $15 million to replace the thousand aging diesel refrigeration units at Hunts Point Produce Market with more efficient modern systems, and $20 million towards developing electric truck charging infrastructure.

“While electrifying the market itself and the thousands of trucks that travel to it each day will help improve air quality, the transition will take decades,” the Riders Alliance report reads. “Meanwhile, more highway lanes will bring more traffic congestion and air pollution to the South Bronx.”

A $150 million plan to build a new access road along the Cross-Bronx Expressway also drew ire. Though the state has said it plans on using the road — which initially will serve to circumvent major bridge construction on the interstate — for dedicated busways, no solid plan to run MTA buses on the road yet exists.

Two MTA projects also came under fire from the transit advocates.

One, a plan to widen about 2 miles of the eastbound Belt Parkway where it meets the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, is part of a $1.1 billion package of work to the crossing. The other — a project to revamp the FDR Drive’s connection to the Triborough Bridge — is expected to add a half-mile lane on the highway’s southbound section.

Both projects will add vehicular traffic and pollution to the surrounding communities, advocates said.

MTA officials disagreed.

“Both of these projects are operational improvements that will significantly enhance customer safety, reduce traffic congestion, pollution and benefit local communities including East Harlem, Bay Ridge and Fort Hamilton,” said Kayla Shults, a spokesperson for the agency.

Shults said the Verrazzano project also included the addition of 550 trees and 2,000 shrubs to nearby parks.

John Lindsay, a spokesman for Gov. Hochul, said the Van Wyck expansion would create new cycling and pedestrian paths while repairing several bridges along the route, and was not expected to increase the footprint of the highway.

Lindsay dismissed the notion that the widening projects would undercut the state’s emissions goals.

“Governor Hochul has rescued the MTA from the fiscal cliff, advanced congestion pricing, and invested significant resources to protect riders while rapidly expanding the network of EV charging infrastructure to ensure zero emissions vehicles are effectively using our state of the art highways,” he said in a statement. “Governor Hochul will continue New York’s nation-leading efforts to transition to clean transportation and build a cleaner future for the next generation.”

The advocates’ report comes a day before Riders Alliance and Vocal-NY are expected to lobby with transit and environmental advocacy groups in Albany Tuesday.

The groups are lobbying in support of legislation by state Sen. Andrew Gounardes (D-Brooklyn) to reduce the number of miles traveled by motor vehicles in New York State by 20% as of 2050.