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Op-Ed

Time to complete the Nassau Expressway

Posted

We applaud when new businesses open in our community, providing jobs, much-needed tax revenue and convenience to our residents. However, while working to attract these companies, we cannot neglect to ask whether we can support the additional burdens placed on our infrastructure.

The new Amazon warehouse now rising on Rockaway Boulevard, on the Nassau-Queens border, will, when operational, add a significant amount of new traffic to an already immensely overburdened roadway, which serves as the only real evacuation route from the Five Towns, Far Rockaway and the Long Beach-Atlantic Beach area, housing many tens of thousands of people.

Rockaway Boulevard already carries many multiples of the volume of traffic it was designed for many years ago. Several times a day most days, traffic is backed up in both directions, usually causing severe delays for motorists. We have seen southbound traffic backed up all the way to the Southern State Parkway, a distance of about seven miles. Northbound, we have seen a good part of the Five Towns area snarled in traffic for hours. Ambulances, police and other first responders face a hopeless task when they need to traverse the area. Emergency evacuation, should it be needed, is virtually impossible.

To be clear, this is not a call for Amazon’s warehouse plan to be blocked. Rather, we should welcome and support it properly. And the solution is readily available, requiring only the attention and action by our state and federal officials, who have ignored this critical situation for years, endangering the lives and welfare of the affected areas.

The answer to this critical problem is to get vehicles traveling between the affected areas and Queens and Manhattan off the commercial strip running from Burnside Avenue, on the south end, to Brookville Boulevard, on the north. It would also be good to bypass the area in Queens where the motor vehicle bureau is located. The issue was known, and a solution envisioned, before most of us were born.

A highway (State Route 878, also known as the Nassau Expressway) connecting the Belt Parkway to the Atlantic Beach Bridge was planned as early as 1945. It’s not necessary to recite the complete unhappy series of delays and government (mostly New York state) failures affecting the proposed highway. This is well documented and available online. Suffice it to say that although the complete right of way was acquired by New York state in the 1950s and 1960s, only the western section of the expressway, in Queens, ending at Kennedy Airport, and a scaled-down southern section, in Nassau County, were ever built, leaving the entire portion alongside the airport, and along the busy commercial area between Brookville Boulevard in Queens and Peninsula Boulevard in Nassau County, unbuilt. This unbuilt section accounts for the traffic issues.

We have been calling for years for New York state to complete the Nassau Expressway. Instead, Gov. Andrew Cuomo provided a Band-Aid that never helped. They rebuilt a half-mile-long section of the existing roadway, between Burnside Avenue in Lawrence and Rockaway Boulevard, at the astonishing cost of more than $100 million. While this did alleviate flooding that happened a few times a year, it did nothing to fix the real problem.

We wrote to U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, as well as Reps. Kathleen Rice and Gregory Meeks, on April 6, recognizing the imminence of a large infrastructure program and asking that this community be remembered and the Nassau Expressway finally built. To date, we have not had the courtesy of a reply.

It is time for our community to stand up and declare that we are not second-class citizens, and deserve to finally have our needs recognized and addressed by our elected representatives. If you agree, please join us, and sign our online petition at: www.nassaucountyny.gov/ld7.

Howard Kopel, a Republican, is the presiding officer of the Nassau County Legislator. Denise Ford, also a Republican, is a legislator.