An official with the state Department of Transportation said Friday that the agency remains committed to working with Briarwood residents as long as work on the Van Wyck Expressway requires disruptions on Queens Boulevard.
The widening of the Van Wyck is the first and southernmost stage of a multiyear project to modernize the Kew Gardens Interchange, where the Van Wyck, Grand Central Parkway, Union Turnpike Queens Boulevard and Jackie Robinson Parkway all converge.
Residents, business owners, drivers and pedestrians have been facing detours, Jersey barriers, roving road striping and musical subway entrances ever since the state began the $148 million effort in mid-2010.
Back in August some residents even held a Saturday morning rally that included complaints about safety and subway entrances that have had to close and reopen to accommodate different stages of construction.
But before Phil Trapani of the DOT even presented his update on Friday to the more than 80 residents and business owners present, Sy Schwartz, president of the Briarwood Community Association, reminded people that the project will be for the better in the long term.
“Some people only like to talk about the bad,” Schwartz said. “And the DOT has been responsive to just about every change we have asked for — and that’s saying something.”
Trapani said the project’s first phase is about 40 percent complete, and is scheduled to be finished in June 2016.
“But that includes planting, landscaping, everything,” he said. “So construction should be done long before that.”
One of the major sections of the Briarwood project is the Hoover Avenue Bridge over the Van Wyck. The north side has been demolished. Once the new deck is completed traffic will be diverted there and the south side will be taken down and replaced by the end of 2012.
In regard to safety, Trapani said the DOT has done things like adding five street lights to the approach to the new subway entrance for the E and F lines near the Van Wyck service road.
He said workers have taken care to add new striping as construction requires lane shifts.
But in regard to people’s safety, he had a complaint of his own, including in his Power-Point presentation a photo he had shot Thursday morning of about 10 people crossing Queens Boulevard when the countdown Walk/Don’t Walk sign — among those the DOT installed several months earlier at the request of residents — clearly was in Don’t Walk mode.
“People are telling us somebody is going to get killed,” he said. “Somebody will be killed if they don’t pay attention to traffic signals.”
In response to some residents calling for more traffic lights in the area, Trapani said the state has no authority to install them on city roads. But it has added conduits and bases for new lights in five places where the city could choose to use them in the future.
Schwartz said while the MTA is preserving mosaic signs calling the subway station Briarwood-Van Wyck, all new signage will be simply Briarwood.
Another speaker at the meeting was state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who has picked up a portion of Briarwood with the newly drawn Senate districts.
“He may only have a sliver of Briarwood, but that won’t stop him from representing everyone here,” said Schwartz, who first worked with Avella during the latter’s tenure on the City Council.
Following a brief introduction and an open-ended invitation to contact his office and staff, Avella pressed the case for one of his new statewide initiatives — a scratch-off lottery game that would be used to fund community projects that used to receive money from discretionary funds allocated by state senators and Assembly members.
Gov. Cuomo has by and large vetoed all requests for discretionary funds in response to a series of scandals in Albany. But Avella said what critics have derided as pork provides essential services.
“You can still punish corruption,” Avella said. “But I know of a senior center that will close if it doesn’t get additional funding. Little Leagues are going to have to shut down or charge kids a lot more to play. These things are going to start to disappear.”
He encouraged everyone with an interest in any such program to write to Gov. Cuomo.