Nearly three months ago, after hearing non-stop complaints from residents about the overgrown grass and debris on the Nassau Expressway, which runs through Rockaway Turnpike in Lawrence to the Atlantic Beach Bridge, Inwood resident Pete Sobol decided to bring volunteers together to mow the grass and clean up the roadway.
“It’s always been a thorn in the side of Inwood residents,” Sobol said about the roadway’s condition A state road, it is designated Route 878. “In Lawrence, [the grass along Route 878] looks like a professional ball field, but in Inwood it looks like an overgrown field.”
According to Beau Duffy, the director of Communications for the New York State Department of Transportation, the state is responsible for maintaining the “shoulders” along the expressway from the railroad tracks, north to Burnside Avenue.
“During the summer months, we mow about once a month,” he said. “We’re not responsible for mowing along Route 878 in the Village of Lawrence, that is the responsibility of the village and Nassau County is responsible for all maintenance on Route 878 north of Burnside Avenue.”
Sobol and other residents, as well as landscaping business owners, meet each Saturday morning for a weekly cleanup. “We went from a small focus team to a nice group of people practicing good citizenship,” he said. “We’re proud of who we are and where we live and we don’t want our community to look like this.”
Longtime Inwood resident Patty Vacchio got involved with the clean up of the roadway after Sobol contacted her and she attended several meetings to discuss the planning and coordination of the group.
“The appearance of our community means a lot,” she said. “I don’t remember [Route 878] being maintained regularly and I always felt it had a very unkempt look before anything was done.”
Roy Meserole, a lifelong Inwood resident, has been a member of the New York State Department of Transportation’s Adopt-A-Highway Program for the Nassau Expressway since the highway was built in 1988. “We mainly pick up litter because it’s nice to see everything is nice and clean,” he said.
When Meserole learned of Sobol’s efforts he was appreciative. “It’s a big area to maintain and I’m very grateful to him,” Meserole said. “It was looking pretty shabby and he’s doing a great job keeping it trimmed.”
From Memorial Day to Veterans Day, Meserole said six flags are displayed through the center island of the expressway. “I always want it to look nice,” he said. “Originally when Route 878 was built, we talked about planting flowers but we’re lucky to keep the grass mowed.”
Duffy said that the goal of the New York State DOT is to maintain a grass height of approximately eight inches, within 15 feet of the roadways, interchanges, and in front of guide rails and drainage ditches.
“We have a statewide approach to managing resources to ensure that public safety and mobility are maintained,” he said. “Our number one priority is to preserve safety and infrastructure first, and appearance second. Our mowing policy ensures public safety by maintaining adequate sight distances at all intersections and providing a clear zone for vehicles to pull off the roadway.”
Having volunteers cleanup the roadway is great, but the state needs to do their job, Vacchio said. “Although it is much appreciated how these volunteers have stepped up to take on this project and given such concern to the look of their community, it’s sad that it has to come to this,” she said. “The state needs to take back what is theirs and maintain this on a routine basis, not when it becomes an eyesore, but rather schedule this into their routine maintenance.”
To get involved, call Sobol at (516) 371-3882.