According to state officials, a contractor for the $130 million plan to renovate a less-than-mile-long stretch of State Route 878, also known as the Nassau Expressway, was expected to be chosen by the end of this week. A community meeting will be held next month before work gets under way, possibly in June, officials said.
The expressway runs from the Belt Parkway and Conduit Avenue, in Ozone Park, Queens, to the Atlantic Beach Bridge, in Lawrence. It is used by 40,000 vehicles per day, according to state officials. The project, proposed to help alleviate the heavy traffic flow in what officials call a central business corridor — from the intersection of Rockaway Turnpike and Peninsula Boulevard in Lawrence to Burnside Avenue in Inwood — includes the elevation of the roadway, the construction of a new multi-use pedestrian path and a state-of-the-art drainage system, the installation of traffic signals that will be synced to ensure smoother movement of traffic, improved turning lanes and upgraded access to businesses along the central corridor.
“A big part of this project is the syncing of the traffic lights,” said State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), who has pushed the state Department of Transportation to begin the work seven years earlier than its original starting date in 2025. “Second, over by the batting cage,” he added, referring to Five Towns Mini-Golf and Batting Range, along Rockaway Turnpike in Lawrence, “there will be wider lanes, and having people turn in and out to decrease the snarl.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the project at the Five Towns Community Center in Lawrence in February of last year. As part of a separate state project, 20 cameras are scheduled to be installed on the expressway, later this year.
The work cannot be done soon enough for Marty Rosen, who owns the mini-golf and batting cage business. Rosen said he believes his business suffers because the timing of the traffic lights by the 5 Towns Shopping Center creates a ripple effect of dense traffic along Rockaway Turnpike. “Because of the traffic on Rockaway Turnpike, I lose business because the traffic signals are synced in favor of the shopping center,” Rosen said.
The shopping center is in the Rosedale section of Queens, roughly a quarter-mile from Rosen’s business. The heavily trafficked corridor stretches from Queens to Central Avenue in Lawrence. Vehicles heading to and coming from Kennedy Airport and using the Nassau Expressway also compound the problem.
New York City Department of Transportation officials said that traffic signals at city shopping centers are “semi-actuated,” or pre-timed, and are designed to remain green on the main street — in this case Rockaway Boulevard — until a vehicle leaving the shopping center is detected.
And Mary Studdert, a spokeswoman for the Nassau County Department of Public Works, said that on the county section of Rockaway Turnpike and Route 878, “Nassau County follows applicable guidelines for the timing of traffic signals. There are standardized guidelines through the Federal Highway Administration that we follow. Our focus is to provide timings that service the demand in traffic volume in a coordinated manner.”
Studdert said that the county has “worked extensively” with the city DOT in the Rockaway Boulevard and Rockaway Turnpike corridor to reduce traffic delays. She added that the city is scheduled to conduct a traffic study in the area, and the county will take part, in the interest of improving the traffic flow. City officials did not say when the study would begin.
State Assemblywoman Melissa Miller (R-Atlantic Beach) said she looked forward to seeing the project begin as soon as possible. “My constituents are living in hell — I can’t tell them next year,” she said, adding that she would like a barrier between lanes to be included in the work, to help avert fatal crashes like the one that occurred between Bay Boulevard and Burnside Avenue in Lawrence on April 4. Elisheva Kaplan, of Far Rockaway, and her fiancé, Yisroel Levin, of Brooklyn, were killed in the five-car crash, and Brooklyn resident Rahmel Watkins, 35, was charged with manslaughter and driving while intoxicated.
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