The long-delayed renovation of the Kew Gardens interchange will be shelved for at least a few more months as the state budget crisis continues to prevent many construction projects from moving forward.
“It’s on hold until we get a budget,” said state Department of Transportation spokeswoman Deborah Sturm Rausch.
The project, a massive, three-phase undertaking aimed at addressing traffic congestion and dangerous driving conditions at the point where the Jackie Robinson Parkway, Grand Central Parkway and Van Wyck Expressway converge, has been in limbo for much of the past decade.
Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) said that while he’s pleased that Acting DOT Commissioner Stanley Gee recently signed documents needed to begin the process of awarding contracts for the project to begin, delays persist because of two culprits.
“First, the state budget process continues to drag on much longer than it should and that is preventing money from being allocated for this and other state DOT projects,” Hevesi explained. “In addition, the governor’s decision to intentionally omit funds for state DOT projects, including the Kew Gardens interchange, in his emergency appropriation bills has resulted in stalling any progress on this project.”
Community leaders expressed frustration with the extensive holdup.
“There’s always a budget dance at this time of year,” said Community Board 6 District Manager Frank Gulluscio. “That’s one particular intersection that needs to get done.”
“We haven’t seen any movement on it,” said CB 9 District Manager Mary Ann Carey. “That intersection is a big problem for us. It’s very complicated.”
Murray Berger, executive chairman of the board of governors of the Kew Gardens Civic Association, said that he hasn’t heard any complaints from members regarding the delay.
“We welcomed [the project] because it would improve the approaches,” Berger recalled. “But we have to trust the state budget.”
According to Adam Levine of the city office of the state DOT, Phase 1 of the project will cost approximately $148 million, with work focused mainly on the Van Wyck Expressway from Hillside Avenue to 82nd Avenue, and about a quarter mile along Queens Boulevard.
Levine also noted that the “short, sharp turns” of the muddled patch of thoroughfares has made the interchange particularly dangerous.
“The area’s got higher than statewide accident rates,” Levine explained. “There’s a lot of weaving.”
Levine reported that Phase 2, which is slated to be underway by early 2012, will focus mainly on the Van Wyck down to 72nd Avenue. That phase calls for replacing the northbound and southbound viaducts, rearranging some exits and rehabilitating ramps.
Improving safety at the Grand Central-Jackie Robinson interchange will be the focus of Phase 3, Levine said.
“Some accident conditions are as high as 45 times the state rates,” at that point of the interchange, Levine added.
Phase 3 is scheduled to begin around the summer of 2013, when crews will work on eliminating “stop conditions” and improving westbound Grand Central alignment.
“The interchange project is very important, as the need for road safety in this area is crucial,” concluded City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills). “I am hopeful that once the state budget impasse is through, this work will be able to begin again.”