A notoriously dangerous corridor of intersections in the West Farms neighborhood of The Bronx is also the site of one of the city’s longest delayed improvement projects.
In 2008, the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Department of Design and Construction (DDC) introduced a plan for improving safety in the corridor where there have been 197 car crashes, 277 injuries and four deaths since August 2011, according to NYC Crashmappers.
Fifteen years after introducing that plan, DDC told THE CITY it’s hoping to start what it anticipates will be a three-year construction project to improve the streets around where East 177th Street, East Tremont Avenue and Devoe Avenue all intersect — in late 2024.
Many accidents in the corridor are caused by drivers going north on Devoe Avenue trying to make a green light or else running a red one; and by drivers going west on East Tremont, usually to get on the Sheridan Boulevard and Cross Bronx Expressway, or trying to turn onto 177th Street from the middle lane instead of the clogged left lane designated for turning.
The work would also include safety-oriented improvements to the intersection of Boston Road and West Farms Road just to the north, the site of 120 crashes and three deaths since 2011, according to NYC Crashmapper, as drivers regularly speed around buses and double parked cars.
Making the corridor safer is supposed to be the centerpiece of a multi-street redesign that would also connect two parks and fill a gap in the Bronx Greenway, a pathway for pedestrians and cyclists that will eventually run continuously through the borough alongside the Bronx River.
The clogged corridor where that work would happen also houses four bus stops, a bus depot, trucks parked outside a post office, and a carwash with a line that often claims a lane of traffic, especially in the summer. All of that forces pedestrians, including school kids and parents walking to and from the building on West Farms Road that houses P.S. 214 and M.S. 135, to navigate long and traffic-clogged crosswalks on countdown clocks that feel much too brief.
“I think it’s a travesty that nothing’s been done,” said longtime Bronx Community Board 6 member Magdamary Marcamo as she walked through the area with a reporter. Several drivers, including one behind the wheel of a school bus, ran red lights. “See what I’m talking about,” Marcamo, a 55-year resident of the area, said each time.
One bus driver, parked at a red light, told pedestrians to be careful while standing in the painted yellow area in the middle of East Tremont Avenue’s five lanes of traffic, noting that an ambulance driver had crashed into a traffic light there two weeks prior.
‘Not The Final Design’
The project has now run through three different mayoral administrations without breaking ground.
Marcamo recalled representatives from Michael Bloomberg’s administration working with the community board back in 2009, the year that DOT says the design process kicked off. But after Bill de Blasio took office in 2014, she said, new people came in with new ideas and it took years before the board heard anything new about the project. Department officials met with CB6 about the plan in 2016, according to meeting notes available on its website.
That was it, until DDC officials met with the board’s transportation committee five years later, in September of 2021. DDC says that they also met with local stakeholders last December to discuss the plan, which still hasn’t been finalized after 15 years.
Concepts for improvement shared by the DDC and DOT officials in a October 2021 meeting with the Bronx River Alliance included shortening pedestrian crossings, completing the Bronx River Greenway connection between Starlight Park and Bronx River Park, and upgrading infrastructure like street lights, signals, signage, water mains and sewers.
That work would require coordination with at least five other city and state agencies, as construction would encroach on a playground operated by the Department of Education, the Sheridan Expressway owned by the state Department of Transportation, and the water and sewer mains run by the city’s Department of Environmental Protection.
“The concept we’re showing you is not the final design,” Bronx DOT Interim Commissioner Keith Kalb said in that October 2021 meeting, in which officials from his agency and DDC also said the pandemic had delayed their work between March 2020 and July 2021.
Restarting the project after that pause required backtracking for additional review by agencies that had seen staff turnovers, and for design revisions to match updated standards, DDC officials said at that meeting without detailing the revisions or the new standards. They said the goal was to have designs completed by the summer of 2022 and construction underway by the fall of 2023—a deadline they’ve since moved back.
In that meeting, the Bronx River Alliance noted $12.3 million in funding had been allocated for the project in 2017, but questioned if that would be enough in 2023. Kalb told them that the redesign was a top DOT priority, and funding would not be an issue.
Transportation Department spokesperson Scott Gastel told THE CITY on Thursday evening that the DOT portion of the project is now funded for $34 million. “There has been over $2 million in design related work thus far,” he said in an email. “The remaining will follow during the construction phase.”
Not Beneficial for Bronxites
Asked about the 15-year delay, officials at DOT and DCC this week said pointed to the need to accommodate unspecified community input, and to get sign-off from several other city and state agencies with assets that would be affected by construction on a complex project.
“Due to complicated design and jurisdictional issues, this multi-agency work has been delayed for too long, and the West Farms community deserves a completed project,” DOT spokesperson Scott Gastel told THE CITY on Wednesday. “The City’s inter-agency team acknowledges that this process took too long, and we intend to start construction next year. We’ve also implemented changes to ensure these kinds of delays do not occur in the future.”
Prompted by the years of delays, Bronx Community Board 6 sent a letter to DDC this month requesting the project be expedited in light of the many accidents in the area, along with a request that City Comptroller Brad Lander audit the spending for the redesign.
“The Community Board suggested this audit to our office and was told that there is an audit related to project overruns underway. The audit was started in September 2022 and while in progress, we cannot divulge details until the review is complete,” Chloe Chik, a spokesperson for New York City Comptroller, told THE CITY in an email.
Marcamo, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1968, is tired of The Bronx getting left behind when it comes to capital improvements that would improve the lives of the borough’s residents.
“They tend to delay projects that are beneficial to lives in The Bronx. They try not to give us information that benefits our health,” she said. “I think that’s the reason why projects take a long time, especially when they benefit life. I think it’s a social economic oppression.”