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Nassau County legislators stump for 878 buildout

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Two Nassau County legislators who wrote an op-ed in the Herald last month, proposing that a bypass be built to reduce traffic on the Nassau Expressway, stumped for their solution at a July 15 news conference in front of the Five Towns Shopping Center, where Rockaway Boulevard, in Queens, meets Rockaway Turnpike, in Nassau County.

Legislators Denise Ford and Howard Kopel, Republicans who both represent the Five Towns, called on government officials to step up and help solve a problem that businesses, motorists and pedestrians have had to deal for far too long, they said.

“A highway connecting the Belt Parkway and running through the Atlantic Beach Bridge [was] planned as early as 1945,” Kopel said, adding that traffic is much heavier now than in the past. “The unbuilt sections, located by JFK airport and along the busy commercial area between Brookville Boulevard, in Queens, and Peninsula Boulevard, in Nassau County, have accounted for severe traffic issues.”

The Nassau Expressway, officially known as State Route 878, stretches 10 miles, from the Atlantic Beach Bridge through Queens to Ozone Park.

Ford said she thought the Five Towns community had been ignored, and challenged federal and state legislators to come to the area and see the traffic for themselves.

“It is time for our federal legislators, as well as our state, to stop hiding behind their desk, come down here, stand here at 5 o’clock at night and look at what goes on around here,” she said. “Let them see how dangerous it is. This forgotten community can no longer be forgotten. It is time the president realizes that this is something necessary. This was a road that was promised to us many years ago. It is time that we are taken serious about this.”

Ford added that traffic has become an extraordinary inconvenience for first responders and civilians alike. “When ambulances cannot get through and fire departments cannot get through — when regular people cannot get through to get home at a decent hour, that is a travesty, and it has to end,” she said. “And I say to the governor, start communicating with us. We are willing to work with you and help you in any way we can. This is not for us, this not a political thing, this is a humanitarian thing.”

Lawrence Mayor Alex Edelman shared the legislators’ sentiments. “This project is long overdue, and it is time we get this started,” Edelman said at the news conference.

The next day, he told the Herald that Nassau County officials were working with the New York City Department of Transportation to sync six traffic signals between Brookville Boulevard, in Queens, and Burnside Avenue, in Lawrence, which is expected to allow 600 vehicles to pass through that area every 30 seconds, and help reduce traffic congestion.

“We need our elected officials to step on the gas and to complete the 878 now,” Lawrence Village Trustee Paris Popack said. “Last week alone, two separate instances on Rockaway Turnpike shut down our neighborhood and the roads for two days.”

Popack was referring to an overturned oil tanker that forced the closure of a portion of Route 878 for more than 14 hours on July 7, causing gridlock across the Five Towns, and a utility pole on Rockaway Turnpike that fell two days later, causing more congestion.

Two days after the news conference, Kopel recalled his 2014 campaign to overhaul the Nassau Expressway. “Years ago we had several thousand signatures submitted to Governor Cuomo, and he got very angry about this,” Kopel said. “He had a representative call me, saying the expressway will get done. I also spoke to [State Sen.] Todd Kaminsky. I wrote a letter together with Legislator Ford several weeks ago to Sen. [Charles] Schumer, Congresswoman [Kathleen] Rice and other officials, and didn’t get a response from anyone expect Congresswoman Rice.”

Kopel said that Rice’s office contacted him, but was not exactly willing to help with the project. “When Congresswoman Rice’s team reached out, they said they have done wonderful things for the community, which is not relevant to the original project for the 878,” Kopel said. “However, it does establish a line of communication to continue to move forward.”

Rice’s office did not return a call requesting comment.

Ford agreed with Kopel. “Because this is all a part of the original project for the 878,” she said last Friday, “it has got to be about 50 years since they have been talking about building this expressway from Queens into the Five Towns, and we all believed that everything would be connected through Rockaway Turnpike. While this has not happened, the people in this town need this more than ever.”

Have an opinion on the Nassau Expressway? Send a letter to jbessen@liherald.com.