The three-year, $140-million reconstruction of the Flushing River Bridge on the Whitestone Expressway is slated to begin next April, but state transportation authorities said on Monday they don’t expect any major tie-ups or detours.
Project engineers and state Department of Transportation officials made a presentation on the project at a hearing hosted by Community Board 7.
While the project will also take a portion of three businesses alongside the riverbed by eminent domain, officials said the businesses will be adequately compensated and/or will receive help in relocating.
“We do not have an adversarial relationship with any of the businesses,” said Michael Librizzi, manager of the DOT’s real estate section that is in charge of securing the properties for the project.
As explained by Daniel Wan, an engineer with the consulting firm Hardesty and Hanover, which designed the new structure, the Flushing River Bridge was built in 1937 to carry four lanes and was later modified in 1963 to carry three lanes from Astoria Boulevard and two lanes from the Van Wyck Expressway.
The bascule bridge, which on the northbound side heads toward the Whitestone Expressway, is badly deteriorating and needs to be replaced to correct unsafe conditions, he said. The existing elevated, five-lane bridge carries a daily traffic volume of 85,000 vehicles.
Large pieces of concrete have fallen off the bridge, girders are fatigued, lanes are too narrow, the shoulder is virtually nonexistent, there’s little stopping distance, and drivers coming from Astoria Boulevard are forced to weave through Van Wyck Expressway traffic across two lanes of traffic to exit off Linden Place, he said.
While drivers go much faster, Wan said there’s a 30 mph sign posted on the bridge. But the weaving from left to right to make the exit is hazardous, contributing to 110 accidents on the bridge from 1996 to 1998, mainly during winter storms.
However, the objective of replacing the bridge entirely will eliminate the weaving and widen lanes to 12 feet, as well as the shoulder from 2 feet now to 6 to 10 feet, Wan said. There will also be additional lighting, better drainage and better stopping distance, all of which will allow for faster, safer driving, up to 50 mph, he added.
To make the improvements, transportation officials say they need to replace the old bridge with a new one and reconfigure the roadway alignments of the Whitestone Expressway and Van Wyck.
The three-quarter-mile reconfigured highway will be built on three separate replacement structures, carrying two lanes of the northbound Whitestone Expressway, two lanes of the northbound Van Wyck and a new Linden Place exit.
The new structure will have the same number of lanes as the old and will eliminate the weaving to get off at Linden Place, officials said.
Due to the high traffic volume, officials said they will conduct the project in stages to keep traffic open on the existing structure. The new concrete structure will be built alongside the old bridge to keep traffic flowing, they said. After it is completed, the old one will be torn down.
Once the northbound bridge lanes are completed, southbound traffic from the Whitestone Expressway will go over the old bridge until new southbound lanes are constructed. Instead of weaving into northbound Van Wyck traffic, motorists will go under the expressway to exit off a new Linden Place exit.
The finished bridge will keep two lanes of traffic flowing from Astoria Boulevard into the northbound Whitestone Expressway with a third lane to exit at Linden Place, officials said.
The three properties under the bridge that will be affected include the Consolidated Edison plant, and two asphalt firms, Anthony Grace and 32-02 College Associates. Grace and Con Ed are on the south side of the river, while College Associates is on the north side.
Small sections of Grace, about 6.6 percent of the original area, and Con Ed, about 13.3 percent, will need to be taken, and will not greatly affect each business, Librizzi said. The Con Ed site, however, has some gas and electric facilities that will need to be relocated.
On the site owned by 32-02 College Associates, Librizzi said there is a three-story office building on site, occupied by College Associates and another tenant, which will be torn down and rebuilt on another section of the site. The land to be taken over will account for 13.5 percent of the original site, he said.
Librizzi said state officials are currently in the process of appraising each site to arrive at a fair market value for the portions that will be taken.
During the public comment part of the hearing, CB 7 Chairman Eugene Kelty said the board was concerned about traffic as a result of another project that is scheduled for the same time period. Kelty said he had hoped the bridge project and the upcoming sewer project could be done separately.
Attorney Michael Ricigliano, representing 32-02 College Associates, said his client’s property was unique and represented one of the few remaining asphalt firms in the city. He added that there were some “unanswered” questions about the property taking.
Librizzi said that Ricigliano was new to a process that has been going on for at least a year already.
He said state officials have talked to CB 7 and the property owners at every stage of the project and that owners of 32-02 College Associates were all well aware of the state’s needs as far as land acquisition was concerned.
Administrative Law Judge Peter Loomis, who supervised the hearing for the state, said anyone who wanted to comment on the project had until May 24th to submit written statements. To contact state officials, write to George Blaslov, NYSDOT, Region 11 Structures Unit, 47-40 21st Street, Long Island City, NY 11101 or call 482-4684.
All other CB 7 business was postponed in lieu of the hearing. Chairman Kelty said a vote on a proposed 400-seat early childhood center for School District 25 would be held on May 21st.