Turning onto Sapphire Street from Linden Boulevard, it almost seems like a roller coaster.
Make the turn fast enough and the dip causes a sensation in your stomach akin to the first drop on Great Adventure’s Nitro.
On either side of Linden Boulevard, Sapphire drops a good 5 to 6 feet at least into what locals call “the pit.”
But head south on Sapphire and you won’t get very far. The road ends after a block and a half at an 8-foot wall. On the other side of the barrier, the street continues — at the same level it was at Linden Boulevard.
Similarly, 149th Avenue drops into the “pit” and becomes Loring Avenue, which is cut off at Amber Street by another wall that bisects the intersection. Both streets continue at a higher altitude on the other side in Brooklyn.
“You should see it when it ices up in the winter,” said one resident who was walking his dog on Sapphire Street. “I’ve seen cars slide down there. It’s like the luge.”
The topography of the pit is conducive to flooding. There are few, if any, sidewalks and the asphalt has deteriorated. Even after nearly two weeks of no rain, several puddles could still be spotted early this week. During Hurricane Sandy, much of the pit was underwater, despite being at least a half a mile from any body of water.
According to the city Department of Transportation, the streets in the area are 12 feet below legal grade.
The DOT announced before Community Board 10 last week that it will undertake a massive long-term reconstruction of the streets in the area to raise the below-grade roads to a higher elevation and install better sewage and drainage systems. At the same time, the city Department of Design and Construction will work on the neighborhood’s drainage system for storm and sewer outfall.
According to DDC Spokesman Craig Chin, the project’s estimated cost is $50 million and it is not scheduled to begin until 2024.
The collaborative projects are termed the “Jewel Street Project” because the north-south roads in the pit are named for gems: Sapphire, Amber, Emerald, Ruby. Half the project is in Queens, the other half is in Brooklyn. The borough border straddles the neighborhood between Sapphire and Amber streets.
As part of the project, the DOT will raise the streets in the pit to between 2 and 8 feet — and add sewers and storm drainage, which will eventually lead the water to Spring Creek at Sapphire Street and 156th Avenue, a half mile south of the pit.
The streets that will be raised include Sapphire and Amber streets north of Loring Avenue, Ruby and Emerald streets north of Linden Boulevard, Loring Avenue between 79th and Amber streets and Blake and Dumont avenues east of Drew Street.
The majority of the street surfaces will be raised 2 to 3 feet. The biggest changes will be on Sapphire and Amber streets at Loring Avenue, where the retaining walls are located, which will be raised as much as 8 feet — the height of the walls.
The walls on Sapphire Street and the intersection of Amber Street and Loring Avenue will come down, creating continuity between Lindenwood and Brooklyn. That will make it easier for storm runoff to flow toward Spring Creek from the lower-grade streets.
As the streets are raised, properties that have a setback will have an embankment built at the edge of the property line, where new sidewalks will be installed. The city will build a small retaining wall where there is no setback.
The work will also include reconstruction of 156th Avenue, also referred to as Fairfield Avenue, on the southern end of the work zone.
At the site where storm and sewer outflow will drain into Spring Creek, the DOT is planning a reconfiguration of 156th Avenue and presented options to CB 10 on new changes, including turning the dead end at Spring Creek into a cul-de-sac and reconstructing the section of 156th Avenue between 78th and 79th streets where there is a 100-foot right of way — wider than the rest of the streets in the neighborhood. Plans include establishing lawns and driveways in the northern 36 feet of the road width that would be maintained by homeowners or repaving the setback to create a service lane. The city will also install crosswalks and new curbs.
The DOT had approached CB 10 with plans for that site in 2011, but none came to fruition.
The project also calls for the DDC to dredge part of Spring Creek and clean the siphons in the water that have become clogged since they were built in the 1970s. The plan also calls for the creation of tidal flats along the creek away from streets. All the work in Spring Creek will be done on the Brooklyn side of the border.
The work in Spring Creek did raise the concern of CB 10 member John Fazio, a Hamilton Beach resident.
“What are you going to do with the materials you’re removing?” he asked.
A representative from the DDC said the material will be taken off site and not placed back in the bay.
At the end of the presentation, CB 10 chairwoman Betty Braton pushed the DOT and DDC representatives on a proposed timetable for the project, noting others proposed for the community — including the Albert Road project in Ozone Park — have been on the table for years.
“We won’t hold our breath,” Braton said, half-joking, when a DDC representative said the project would move forward in a few years, though the agency says it will not begin for 11 years.