The damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy more than five years ago was impossible to miss. Roads were flooded, power lines were knocked over, and homes were destroyed. In most cases, the damage has been repaired — but not in all.
State Route 878, also known as the Nassau Expressway, links Rockaway Turnpike and the western portion of the Five Towns to the Atlantic Beach barrier island via the Atlantic Beach Bridge. Commuters have complained that streetlights, particularly along the northbound side, have been out for a long time, and officials in local municipalities say the problem dates back to Sandy.
Barry Ringelheim lives in Atlantic Beach and takes 878 nearly every day on his way to work in Garden City. On a drive home during the week of Jan. 22, he said he counted three non-working lights on the west side of the highway heading south, and nine non-working lights on the eastern side by the northbound lanes between the Atlantic Beach Bridge and Rock Hall Road, about a mile north of the bridge.
Ringelheim said that he has written letters to officials at all levels of government about the issue since 2014. He worries about the possibility of a catastrophe the likes of Sandy. Route 878 is “an emergency evacuation route,” he explained. “If there were an emergency at 3 a.m. … or a huge storm … [or] if, God forbid, there were an accident, people wouldn’t be able to escape.”
The unrepaired streetlights are in the Village of Lawrence, but because 878 is a state road, the thoroughfare is under New York’s jurisdiction, so the village is limited in its ability to fix the problem.
“The lights are on a state road, but the village maintains the lights. We change bulbs and fuses,” said Gerry Castro, Lawrence’s deputy administrator. “Additionally, the section on the northbound side is adjacent to the water, and [State Department of Environmental Conservation] jurisdiction makes it harder to fix because of their regulations. We’re really asking for help beyond maintenance.”
Castro said the village electrician noticed that erosion, accelerated by Sandy, has exposed some of the underground lighting infrastructure, and the village is not equipped to handle the repair effort on its own.
At a legislative transportation budget hearing in Albany on Jan. 25, State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) proposed to the State Department of Transportation that it include repair of the streetlights in the proposed nearly $125 million overhaul of 878. The work is scheduled to begin this spring.
“It’s a real safety hazard to be so dark on such a big stretch of highway,” Kaminsky said. “The average driver or pedestrian doesn’t care about the reasons why. They just don’t want to be hit by a car. They just want it to be safe.” The senator added that he would stay on top of the DOT to make sure that the lights are repaired.
Sandy didn’t immediately damage the streetlights, Castro said. Rather, they slowly wore out as saltwater eroded the wires. State help has more than quadrupled the number of lights that are now working, according to Stephen Canzoneri, the Long Island DOT spokesman.
“NYSDOT has been giving assistance to the Village of Lawrence for street lighting and is always ready to continue to do so as requested,” Canzoneri said. “This assistance has helped the village’s lights go from 20 percent operational to 90 percent already.”
Still, the fact that lights remain out this long after Sandy concerns Ringelheim. “All emergency exits should be in perfect working conditions 24/7,” he said. “And now were going back five years, and everyone says, ‘I’m going to look into it.’ Where is our government?”
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