Anyone who drives on Queens’ congested highways or rides its crowded buses and trains knows that the borough’s current transportation system will not be able to handle the population swell projected for the next 25 years.
The body in charge of coordinating the solution—and the $151 billion in federal, state and local funds needed to make it happen—is called the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council.
Made up of governments and transportation providers for New York City, suburban Long Island and the lower Hudson Valley, the council is federally mandated to come up with and periodically revise a long-range regional transportation plan for the region.
At a hearing at Borough Hall on Monday, Queens residents offered council representatives their suggestions about the transit projects proposed for the borough in coming decades.
Many of these projects are already familiar to the borough’s commuters. In northern Queens, they include congestion relief on the eastbound Cross Island Parkway in Bayside, safety and access improvements to College Point Boulevard in Flushing and safety improvements to the Long Island Expressway in Bayside, the Grand Central Parkway in Glen Oaks and the Clearview Expressway in Bayside.
In southern Queens, the projects include improvements to the Van Wyck Expressway, roadway improvements in eastern Laurelton and the raising of Long Island Rail Road underpasses in Jamaica.
In western Queens, they include construction on the Roosevelt Avenue/Conrail overpass at the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in Woodside and safety improvements on Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst and Northern Boulevard in Sunnyside.
Looking beyond the next decade, projects are scheduled for the Kosciuszko Bridge in Maspeth, the Belt Parkway in Howard Beach, the Long Island Expressway between the Cross Island Parkway and the Clearview Expressway in Bayside, the Van Wyck South and Belt Parkway West in South Jamaica and the Jackie Robinson Parkway in Glendale.
Other projects are in the research stage, including a traffic study for north Corona, parking and public transportation study for the greater Jamaica area and a truck route management study for the whole borough.
But it was the project that has not even been funded yet—namely, the controversial Cross Harbor Rail Freight Project, which would build a 120- to 160-acre intermodal rail yard in West Maspeth—that drew the most concern from Queens residents.
“It seems like all it’s going to do is dump a whole lot of truck traffic into Queens,” said Pat Dolan, president of the Kew Gardens Hills Civic Association.
Gary Bogacz, director of planning for the NYMTC, said the local increase in truck traffic was “one of the trade-offs” for greater freight efficiency throughout the city.
Patrick Centolanzi, a Kew Gardens resident and member of the Modern Transit Society, suggested that the planners of the project consider lessening the air pollution, noise and traffic impact on Maspeth by requiring the yards to be serviced only by electric-gasoline hybrid trucks.
While the trucks currently driving freight across the country and into the city via the George Washington and Verazzano Bridges need to be built for long-distance highway driving, he argued, the trucks that will be unloading freight from Maspeth and driving it out to Long Island could be more environmentally friendly.
“Those trucks would be much better to have in the neighborhood than the ones we have now,” he said.
But, of course, truly environmentally sound transportation doesn’t use engines at all. Federal law requires that part of the council’s plan include a pedestrian and bicycle element.
“We have a lot of wonderful green spaces in Queens that were set up as corridors by Robert Moses,” said Roger Weld, the state Department of Transportation regional bicycle coordinator.
The department’s goal is to connect the various green spaces of Queens so that cyclists can get around “without becoming roadkill,” Weld said.
One of the big projects in the early stages of design right now is a bike path through the Kew Gardens Interchange. Another is the completion of a bike loop around Jamaica Bay, with the possibility of a connection to Kennedy Airport down the road.
For Dolan, who remembered being told as a child never to cross any of the major highways in her neighborhood, the notion of being able to walk or bike from Kew Garden Hills to Kew Gardens was a revelation.
To comment on the council’s long-range regional transportation plan, visit www.nymtc.org/plan.html.