A town hall meeting organized by Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) on April 30 was aimed at giving Briarwood residents a chance to meet with elected officials and bring up issues and concerns with city departments ranging from Buildings to Sanitation to the NYPD.
But it was the ongoing construction around the Kew Gardens Interchange — and the frequently delayed effort to refurbish the northern entrance to the Briarwood-Van Wyck subway station — that had most of the more than 40 residents on edge during the meeting.
The state’s latest goal for completing the entrance is this summer. Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Little Neck), one of the handful of elected officials to stop by, acknowledged that people are frustrated over the delays. But residents like Alec Daitsman say it has gone beyond that.
“You said in 2010 it would be August 2012,” Daitsman said. “Then it was October 2013, then February 2014, then May 2014. Why does it take so long?”
The project is the first stage of a massive state plan to reconfigure the tangled interchange that links the Van Wyck Expressway, the Jackie Robinson Parkway, Union Turnpike and the Grand Central Parkway.
It involves half a mile of the Van Wyck between 86th Avenue and the Grand Central, the section of Queens Boulevard that crosses the expressway and the replacement or refurbishing of six bridges.
It is expected to be completed in 2016 and cost more than $260 million.
Residents said they would like some sort of light at the end of the tunnel from noise and construction-related traffic rerouting and delays.
“This is taking longer than the Hoover Dam,” one resident complained.
But Project Manager Phil Trapani and Craig Ruyle of the state Department of Transportation said the Hoover Dam comparison was a useful one.
“The Hoover Dam didn’t have the Van Wyck Expressway — the busiest highway in Queens — and Queens Boulevard,” Trapani said. “They weren’t dealing with a transit authority, and the DOT, and Con Edison, and National Grid, and Verizon.”
“The Hoover Dam was in the middle of nowhere,” Ruyle said.
He added that much of the time length built into the project is due to the desire to keep from inconveniencing area residents and businesses as much as possible.
“Part of the reason is that we have to keep three lanes on Queens Boulevard and four on the Van Wyck open,” Ruyle said. “We can’t just shut everything down and bulldoze it.
“And the Van Wyck is the major artery into [Kennedy] Airport,” he added. “Just talk about shutting that down and see what kind of trouble you cause.”
He also said this winter’s weather caused a number of delays in general. Work on the subway entrance also was slowed considerably with the discovery of lead paint in the existing tunnel from the Briarwood Library to the station’s mezzanine level.
Dust and chips from lead paint can cause developmental problems in young children and other medical problems if swallowed or inhaled, leading to its use being banned in the United States since 1978.
City, state and federal regulatory agencies have strict, exacting standards for its remediation and removal from active construction sites.
Two residents said that when the northern entrance opens this summer, that security will be an issue.
Capt. Frederick Grover, commanding officer of the NYPD’s 107th Precinct, said he and his staff officers coordinate their efforts regularly with their counterparts in the NYPD’s Transit District 20, which is in charge of patrolling all subway trains and stations in Queens with the exception of the A Line.
“Of course, we hope you’re still the commanding officer by the time it opens,” Councilman Michael Simanowitz (D-Flushing) said.
Complaints about garbage, particularly around the new subway entrance on the south side, came down to Ruyle and Joseph Raskin from New York City Transit, saying litter jurisdiction switches 36 inches from MTA facilities.
Ruyle said he would put up some temporary trash containers in the construction zone — but only as long as it is a construction zone.
When the talk turned to trash outside the purview of the MTA and the DOT, Bruno Iciano, a community affairs liaison with the Department of Sanitation, said the best way to address many complaints under DSNY’s jurisdiction is to call to 311.
“They send every complaint to the appropriate agency. Every complaint has to be addressed,” Iciano said. “If you don’t address the complaints sent to you, you get called in for a talk. And I don’t like getting called in for a talk.”
One example, Iciano said, was complaints of people who don’t clean up after their dogs in certain areas.
He said police officers and DSNY enforcement officers must witness a dog owner leaving his or her pooch’s mess in order to issue a summons.
“But the fine has gone up to $250,” he said. “Leave 311 the time and place where people are doing it. We’ll get enforcement officers out there five or ten minutes before the time you say. And dog owners communicate with each other. Once word gets around that we’re issuing summonses in an area, people stop doing it and move somewhere else.”