... if you are not interested in what it has to say?
That sums up the impression left from last night's Urban and Economic Development committee of the Utica Common Council with reference to its discussion of the North-South Arterial remake.
Certain members of the public were asked to attend the meeting which began at 5:30 PM, but were not permitted to speak until almost 8PM . . . only after the late hour was pointed out to the councilmen, the news media had long left, and the public members insisted on speaking... and only after everyone was already exhausted from listening to the councilmen nit-pick over trivial details.
This was not a serious effort to receive input from the public and invited guests, but, rather, the proverbial "dog and pony" show.
Councilman Bucciero is specifically called out for this. He ran the meeting when it got to the subject of the arterial and kept everyone waiting. In spite of his expressions of concern at the last Council meeting over what the arterial would do to the city, it was pretty obvious that his mind was already made up to favor the State's proposal, and that the project only needed "tweaking."
One slide from DOT's repertoire succinctly summed up the issues. It was an artistic rendering of the view of the arterial looking south from the new Court Street bridge. . . It was gorgeous . . . showing a beautiful new white highway passing through a lush green countryside. Only if you looked close could you see some recognizable buildings in the distance.
Essentially, Utica is gone!
Therein lies the problem. The Council is apparently prepared to allow huge swaths of properties to be removed from what should be in private hands and have them turned over to highway use. That guarantees that they will never be the site of economically productive activities . . . never create jobs or wealth . . . and never generate a dime of tax revenue for the financially-strapped City of Utica. Instead, they will create a "green gulf" (with a bisecting wall in some places), that will forever divide West Utica from itself and prevent it from ever functioning as a neighborhood.
Councilwoman Arcuri liked what she saw, particularly the features that enhanced safety by separating pedestrians from the traffic. But for the only person who voted against the Utica Master Plan simply because it did not address Utica's precarious financial situation, her lack of interest in the financial impact of this project to the residents of the City of Utica is inconsistent. Quite simply, no one has been presented with an estimate of the property/sales tax revenue to the City and to the School District that will be lost due to the proposed takings. That should not be too hard to figure out...properties will be removed from the tax rolls and businesses will be shut down ... but where is the estimate? In addition, no attempt is made to estimate the potential revenue loss that can be expected to result from the change in traffic patterns when Sunset Ave. and Warren St. are cut off. Businesses, such as Carl's Furniture, will lose customers when they become difficult to reach and the city will lose sales tax. How can Mrs. Arcuri . . . or any council member. . . allow the project to go through without at least first knowing how it will impact Utica's tax rate?
Yes we need to move traffic through Utica . . . and we need to do it safely for pedestrians . . . but the way to accomplish these tasks is not to erase a city neighborhood and build a mini-Thruway in its place.
The State needs to seriously reconsider its 60 year old policy of rerouting traffic in cities and sending it down one or two limited access highways at high speed. Instead, look at improving the street grid to provide a variety of alternate routes which can accommodate the traffic. Streets, such as Whitesboro St., which formerly handled a lot more traffic now have their capacity wasted due to arterial reroutings. Use them. Traffic will move, businesses will have places to do businesses, their customers will be able to reach them, and the economy will improve. The State, however, will not look at alternatives at this point because they are well along in their project and the Council is not going to insist on it.
The Council, again, fails to protect the interests of Utica residents.