More than 50 Briarwood residents gathered last Thursday for a firsthand update on the ongoing reconstruction of the Kew Gardens Interchange, which handles more than 500,000 vehicles daily.
Craig Ruyle, a project design supervisor for the state Department of Transportation, delivered the update during the Briarwood Community Association meeting at Samaritan Village in Briarwood, directly overlooking the construction on Queens Boulevard and the adjacent Van Wyck Expressway.
The first stage of the project, which began in 2010 with an estimated price tag of $148 million, consists largely of widening the Van Wyck Expressway and will effectively reconstruct a half-mile section of the expressway just south of the interchange, between Union Turnpike and Hillside Avenue, in addition to a section of Queens Boulevard over the Van Wyck.
The project will also include the addition of auxiliary lanes on the Van Wyck Expressway to ease traffic flow in both directions at the interchange with the Grand Central Parkway.
According to the DOT’s website, the project will replace or reconstruct six bridges and will also include the reconstruction of subway entrances at Briarwood-Van Wyck Boulevard, as well as the addition of three new pedestrian plazas on Queens Boulevard.
Ruyle reported that subway entrance D, off the Van Wyck near Maple Grove Cemetery, is nearing completion and may be opened as soon as late May.
He said that new lighting is being installed around the station, and that a temporary traffic signal is being installed on Queens Boulevardto enable people to cross safely to access the new station.
Tony Wong, a resident near 83rd Road, called the lack of lighting near the D subway entrance a “major concern.”
“It’s very dark over there and it’s a good place for unsavory characters to hang out,” he said.
Some residents at the meeting had expressed concerns that people coming home at night would have difficulty getting across Queens Boulevard without a new traffic light.
Sey Schwartz, president of the association, also warned commuters to exercise caution when crossing near the Van Wyck service road.
“Cars are going very fast when they turn from Queens Boulevard onto the Van Wyck Service road,” he said.
Other resident ideas included adding extra signs near the construction on 84th Drive to warn drivers of pedestrians in the area, and also of increased debris on sidewalks, as a result of the construction.
Ruyle, saying he had conducted an “unofficial” survey of people crossing the 84th Drive intersection, concluded that more than 70 percent of pedestrians “ignored” walk signals. He urged residents to use caution crossing Queens Boulevard, even when using the crosswalk.
Continuing with his update, Ruyle said that “traffic will now be shifted from the south side of Queens Boulevard to the north side and work will begin on the demolition of the Queens Boulevard Bridge over the Van Wyck Expressway.”
He added that the reconstruction over the Van Wyck Expressway bridge has to be done in five stages and will take about two years to complete. Further, Ruyle reported that work on the Hoover Avenue Bridge over the Van Wyck is continuing.
Other ongoing work includes the construction of retaining walls along the Van Wyck for the widening of the highway to four lanes from Hillside Avenue to the Grand Central Parkway. He estimates that the current project should be complete by January 2016.
In other news, Tom Motta, community affairs officer with the 107th Precinct, reported that crime in the area is generally very low despite some nagging quality-of-life issues. “For some reason, we’re seeing an increase in auto air bag thefts,” Motta said.
He added that thefts of car parts continues to be a problem in the area as a resident of nearby Parkway Village related the story of a neighbor who had all four tires stolen off his car.
Still other residents complained of a deli on 84th Drive and Manton Street becoming a local hangout where they suspect sales of cigarettes and alcohol to minors.
“We’ve been sending decoys to that deli,” said Motta. “But, so far we haven’t had much success with any arrests.”
Motta admitted that the deli and the surrounding area are a “big hangout.”