Cornell Provides Barging/Trucking Figures

by Sara Maher and Briana Warsing

Cornell has been listening. In a Cornell Community Task Force meeting last week, the University supplied the trucking and barging specifics that the Roosevelt Island Community Coalition (RICC) has been seeking. Cornell also expressed willingness to work with RICC on monitoring Island air quality.

On the education front, the Tech Hackathon required by the lease has been scheduled.

Trucking & Barging

Representatives from Cornell Tech and Tishman Construction gave demolition and construction updates at the March 2 session that dealt with one issue of special concern to Islanders: trucking.

Andrew Winters, Director of Capital Projects for Cornell Tech, characterized the presentation as a “better picture of what’s happening in the immediate future.” He reiterated the goals of the project’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). “We did make a commitment to reduce the number of construction vehicles along Main Street by approximately 40% from the numbers included in the EIS, so that’s the starting point,” he said before explaining the methodology behind achieving the reduction.

The EIS predicted a total of 34,258 truck trips over the four-year project, breaking down to an average of 37 per day with a peak of 67 per day during the third quarter of 2015. A 40% reduction would bring the total down to 20,554 with an average of about 22 trucks per day, and a peak of 40 per day. (These numbers are for the number of trucks per day; for trips to and from the construction site, double the number.)

Starting in October 2015, barges will be used in bringing trucks to the Island.

In line with the EIS, Cornell Tech made three other commitments regarding barging. Barges will be used to remove all building material not being reused by barge; nearly all bulk materials will be delivered and removed by barge; and the heavy materials, such as steel and large equipment, will be delivered by barge (although foundation materials will still be brought in by truck.) Barges are already being used to transport construction waste and equipment.

Demolition began in spring 2014, and now, about 15 months in, Winters reports that phase one of demolition “has been declared clean and complete.” He said most of the 16,250 tons of waste were removed by barge. Excavation at the site was scheduled to start March 3, with most of the equipment also being delivered by barge.

Cornell and Tishman are working to create a central barging plan that can be used by all contractors. Tishman will be working with each contractor to coordinate delivery schedules. The key, said Winters, is to “pull the peaks all down by aligning the peak barging period with the peak construction period... That’s the way we can achieve real impact in terms of reducing the numbers and the impact on Main Street.”

The plan starts with one barge per day, moving to two per day in 2016. As construction nears completion in 2017 the barging will again drop to one per day. Each barge can hold about 10 large trucks, which would lower traffic on Main Street by that amount.

“Not every truck is equal,” Winters said. “Getting the trucks that are the heaviest and most impactful off of Main Street would yield better results than taking the smaller trucks off.”

The current goal is to get peak truck traffic below the predicted average of 37, with a focus on heavy trucks like those carrying heavy machinery, steel, and façade deliveries. Concrete mixers cannot be barged.

Despite all this new information, residents attending the meeting still expressed concern about truck traffic. Winters tried to put it into perspective, saying that even with a peak of 67 trucks per day, the trucking would only increase northbound weekday traffic on Main Street by 1.8% per day. Bringing the average daily trucks down to the goal of 37 would mean an increase of 1%.

“I think there is a perception out there among people who don’t have all the details that there will be thousands and thousands of trucks and it’s really going to overwhelm Main Street,” Winters said. “I think it’s important for people to understand there is a lot of background traffic.” He points out that Goldwater Hospital traffic, once contributing about 500 cars per day, has been eliminated. Other Cornell-related traffic will be limited because workers will be unable to park on-site.

Cornell and Tishman meet with RIOC weekly to discuss potential issues with deliveries, access, and road closures, and to develop a protocol for oversize loads and escort vehicles.

Residents brought up the possibility that planned construction on the Island-access helix will coincide with peak trucking time, but the Task Force was unable to comment, as helix construction has not been scheduled. RICC is waiting for information from RIOC regarding the extent to which the helix could be damaged due to load bearing limitations as well as wear and tear.

Winters reiterated that Cornell and Tishman are working to meet the 40% commitment, removing over 13,700 trucks from the roadway. He said they have reduced about 4,000 trucks from the projection, partly by making building design modifications. There are still 9,600 trucks to redirect. “Our goal throughout the project is to barge about 10,000 trucks... by the time demolition is done we’ll be about 60% of the way toward that commitment.”

Winters also noted that the concrete mixers coming onto the Island aren’t full because of the 36-ton weight limit on the bridge. He said the trucking numbers could be reduced by another 10% if the mixers were full.

RICC said, “There will never be enough barging to please the Roosevelt Island community,” but in an email to The WIRE, the group expressed pleasure that Cornell created a barging plan designed with community concerns in mind.

Air Quality and...

There was also good news on the air-quality front. RICC said, “The Task Force meeting provided the first modest break in the long-time void between community demands for air-quality measurement on Main Street and Cornell’s insistence that air quality will be measured only on site, and in a manner that does not measure dangerous fine particulates.”

About saving the trees on the south end of the site, Winters said, “There is no decision made on trees. Three separate City agencies need to rule, but two are already in favor of leaving the curb [and the trees] where it is.”

Cornell confirmed that park access for pedestrians and vehicles would be maintained throughout the construction process.


Cornell Tech K-12 Director Diane Levitt addressed the board for the first time since July. She affirmed that she meets with parents and staff from PS/IS 217 every six to eight weeks to discuss ways that Cornell Tech can help develop STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) opportunities at the school. She said, “In the area of professional development, which is one of the areas we’ve agreed to discuss, [Cornell Tech] has been involved in several ways.”

Levitt listed Bootstrap, which started in October, and Codesters, which also started this past fall and is offered after school. Bootstrap uses online game software to teach algebra. Levitt says, “Algebra is a fulcrum, it is a very powerful predictor of academic success.”

Levitt articulated Cornell’s goal, “To create professional development for middle-school staff that empowers them to embed computational literacy and digital fluency in their curriculum across subject areas.” Whether or not Cornell’s goals amount to the “adoption” of the school that Cornell agreed to in its lease of the site is still a matter of definition. Unlike the experts that RICC has had testify about air quality, there has never been a school representative or STEM education expert at a Task Force meeting, carrying a wish list. This meeting was no different. Principal Mandana Beckman did not attend, nor did she send a member of her administration to stand alongside RICC in holding Cornell accountable.

The Relationship

It has taken time for the school to figure out what they should be demanding from this relationship. Administrators and PTA cite a lack of expertise. It is easy to copy another school and ask for the same equipment as they have, but as PS/IS 217 Science and Math Coach and Sustainability Coordinator Ursula Fokine says, “We have to work within the constraints of the system [the Board of Education]. By the time we get something, it’s obsolete.” Fokine also said, “If Cornell could facilitate purchasing and maintenance, that would be an extraordinarily welcome thing.”

Principal Beckman told The WIRE that parents have been aggressive in demanding more from the relationship with Cornell, but added that there is no money on the table. In a written statement prepared for The WIRE, RICC said, “The problem seems to be that no matter how strongly Cornell leverages their other relationships, if they do not also commit to funding, few programs can be started.”

Christina Delfico and Ellen Polivy of the Task Force suggested adding a clause into corporate-sponsor contracts mandating a community education give-back. Cornell Tech received a $50M naming gift from Verizon that Levitt explained “is all building,” countering, “Everybody knows I have my hand out. I am a famous beggar all over our campus. I am aware of the issue, and it is important to me, too.”

Both the principal and Cornell affirm that they have regular meetings.


An April 17 date has been set for the event now being called HACK, Roosevelt Island. Levitt said it will be run by Cornell MBA and Masters of Engineering students. Because it is being held so close to Earth Day, the agenda will be game design on environmental topics. Middle-school students will learn some coding and some design. Levitt said, “This is our learning year. I think [the event] will be good, but I think it will be even better next year. We’re really excited and we know we have good material.”

Levitt reported she has had several ‘really engaged’ meetings with the Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD), the entity that funds the Beacon program. Together, they are planning a summer program in tech in partnership with the City University of New York. Levitt says, “I am really optimistic that it will happen.”

Levitt also reported that Cornell hosted a December seminar called “Coding and Beyond.” She said, “There were educators, policy makers, funders, after-school program leaders, and program developers. Administrators from PS 217 were invited and Ursula [Fokine] attended.”

The next Cornell Construction Task Force Meetings are scheduled for April 27, July 27 and October 26.

Tags: Cornell construction Briana Warsing Sara Maher Environment

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