After Albany finally passed the Fiscal Year 2011 budget earlier this month, a massive, multi-million-dollar traffic and infrastructure improvement plan in Kew Gardens recently got the green light for which borough drivers and pedestrians have been waiting.
State Department of Transportation officials and elected leaders last week broke ground on the first of three phases, or contracts, of the Kew Gardens Interchange project. The complex web of thoroughfares includes the Van Wyck Expressway, Grand Central Parkway, Jackie Robinson Parkway, Queens Boulevard and Union Turnpike. Approximately 500,000 vehicles use the interchange each day.
“It will literally build bridges, reconstruct part of the Van Wyck Expressway, improve safety and employ hundreds of workers,” Queens Borough President Helen Marshall said. “It will also go a long way toward untangling the Kew Gardens interchange, which thousands of drivers have to navigate daily.”
According to the DOT, Contract I, which will cost $148 million and take about five years to complete, will include a reconstruction of a half-mile section of the Van Wyck, from Hillside Avenue to Union Turnpike, and a quarter-mile section of Queens Boulevard over the Van Wyck.
The first phase also calls for the replacement of four bridges and the reconstruction of two others, including the Queens Boulevard bridges over the Van Wyck and Main Street, the Hoover Avenue Bridge and the 82nd Street pedestrian bridge, which will be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Auxiliary lanes will be added to the Van Wyck to ease the flow of traffic in both directions at the interchange with the GCP, as well as pedestrian plazas on Queens Boulevard.
Entrances to the Briarwood-Van Wyck subway station will be reconstructed. Contract I will round out with landscaping on the Van Wyck and Queens Boulevard.
Funding includes $72 million of 2005 New York State Bond Act assets.
According to DOT Regional Director Phillip Eng, construction on Contract I is scheduled to start within the next month. It is not known how long the full project will take to complete or how much it will cost. Due to funding, Contract II must be split up into two parts.
“We don’t have a full envelope of time available right now,” Eng said. “But we continue to progress with designs.”
Area elected officials expressed excitement over the beginning of the long-awaited project aimed at easing traffic and improving safety.
City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) echoed Marshall’s observation of the project’s positive effect on borough employment.
“The roads that make up the interchange have been a source of gridlock and excessive traffic for a long time,” Koslowitz said.“While this project will take years to complete, it will ultimately benefit the residents of the area as well as create needed jobs in Queens.”
State Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Flushing) highlighted the fact that the renovation addresses both vehicular and foot traffic.
“I welcome this effort to streamline and improve traffic flow through Queens, because this route is vitally important for commuters, transportation between our city’s airports, business and tourism,” Stavisky said. “In addition, I commend the state DOT for also considering pedestrians in their redesign of the interchange because many Queens residents do not have cars but still need to be able to navigate through their neighborhoods and over the highways that criss-cross them.”
Future contracts call for the reconstruction of the Van Wyck north to Jewel Avenue, and sections of the GCP, Jackie Robinson and Union Turnpike.
Construction on the first part of Contract II is anticipated to begin in 2012.