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Willets Point ramp project spurs debate

Opponents and supporters of the city’s planned $3 billion overhaul of Willets Point butted heads last week over the impact the proposed development project would have on traffic.

Tracy Sayegh Gabriel, a vice president of the city Economic Development Corp., presented its draft environmental assessment at the Flushing branch of the Queens Library at 41-17 Main St. for the first time in a public forum on June 8.

The document was released in March and includes plans to build ramps onto the Van Wyck Expressway to handle the added traffic the project will bring to the area — as many as 80,000 extra car trips per day, according to opposition groups and one city estimate. The ramps recently received key state and federal approvals.

The feisty public comment period came next, with a succession of impassioned pleas on behalf of workers and other people who would be negatively affected by the project, and ringing endorsements of the plan by a number of business and political leaders.

Brian Ketcham, a transportation engineer who has long represented Willets Point United, a group of Willets Point property owners and business owners, said he has done his own analysis that indicates there will be a much greater impact on traffic than the city predicts in its environmental assessment and that he has determined the ramps will not be enough to handle added volumes.

“EDC continues to under-report project impacts by huge amounts,” he said. “As their own analysis shows, there is not´╗┐ capacity to handle the increase in vehicle traffic.”

Flushing resident Ben Haber seconded that view, saying the project will combine with other planned, large-scale developments to create major traffic woes for surrounding communities. He added that the city needs to clarify its process for projecting traffic impacts.

“[Transparency] can only be accomplished if an independent expert with no connection to the EDC or opponents of the project is retained to make a study of the kinds of impact a project of this size will have,” he said.

But the consensus from a number of business and union leaders as well as area politicians, including Borough President Helen Marshall, U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) and City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) — all three of whom submitted testimony that was read aloud by Gillian Connell, an EDC project manager, at the meeting — is support for the ramps.

“As the Council member who represents Willets Point, I am writing to express my support for the proposed ramp to be located off the Van Wyck Expressway,” Connell said, reading from a letter Ferreras wrote to EDC President Seth Pinsky. “This ramp is essential to mitigate the expected additional traffic as redevelopment of Willets Point moves forward.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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