State Eyes Traffic Changes At L.I.E./GCP/Van Wyck Interchange

For Queens commuters, it is ground zero for traffic hell.

Anyone who has ever spent a rush hour commute honking their horn in vain or fruitlessly swerving in and out of lanes attempting to avoid the inevitable, knows how unbearable the traffic can be at the interchanges of the Long Island Expressway, Grand Central Parkway and Van Wyck Expressway.

However, the New York State Department of Transportation is now looking to ease congestion along the dreaded one-mile stretch where the three arteries converge.

Four potential design alternatives—from routine street and bridge maintenance to the construction of direct connections between the roadways—were unveiled last Wednesday at a public scoping meeting at Forest Hills High School.

Robert Warshaw, of the firm Parsons, Brinkerhoff, Quade and Douglas, outlined the main goals of the study. They include easing traffic congestion, repairing deteriorating pedestrian and vehicular overpasses, minimizing the potential for accidents, improving the intersection at College Point Boulevard and reducing flooding on the L.I.E.

Nearly 170,000 motorists drive along the L.I.E. portion of the study area daily, with another 111,000 utilizing the service road. The numbers are equally as staggering for the GCP, with more than 200,000 motorists utilizing the main roadway and another 50,000 traversing the service road.

“That’s a lot of traffic for a one-mile area,” Warshaw said. “And, it causes major operational problems.”

As part of its study, DOT officials examined the accident reports from the past year in the area. Of the more than 1,000 collisions—four of which resulted in death—the majority were attributed to sudden halts while motorists were in stop-and-go traffic. The remainder were predominantly overtaking accidents, as drivers attempted to pass one another on the road.

The traffic problems, Warshaw said, are most exaggerated along the cloverleaf ramps where the roadways merge.

Among the alternatives to rectify the problems would be the construction of a direct connection from the northbound GCP to the westbound service L.I.E. mainline. The loop ramp connecting the northbound GCP to the westbound L.I.E. service road would be maintained for local traffic.

The most expansive of the four alternatives, the plan would also require a small amount of right-of-way acquisition in Flushing Meadows Park, which would be mitigated by new improvements to the park.

A second alternative would provide for direct connections from the southbound GCP to the east and westbound L.I.E. mainlines. Existing cloverleafs would be upgraded and at-grade improvements would be performed at the intersection of College Point Boulevard, the Van Wyck Expressway, and the L.I.E. service roads, possibly in the form of roundabouts or jughandles. Service roads for the L.I.E. and the GCP would be slightly relocated.

A third conceptual alternative would focus on the rehabilitation and reconstruction of four pedestrian and six vehicular bridges, many of which are 50 years or older. Among the biggest of the potential rehabilitation projects would be the widening of the L.I.E. bridge over the GCP and the partial reconstruction of the 112th Street pedestrian bridge over the L.I.E.

“The bridges have biannual inspections by the state that flag problems,” Warshaw said. “But, they do need major rehabilitation because they are aging.”

The plan would also include the construction of shoulders at the approach to the project area bridges and the construction of a two-lane exit from the southbound GCP to its southbound service road.

The bridge rehabilitation and roadway improvements are also included as part of the the previous two traffic-calming alternatives.

The fourth and final plan would include only routine maintenance of the involved structures and roadways, addressing the most serious deterioration.

The major concern of those in attendance focused on the project’s potential inconveniences to neighborhood residents.

Greg Carlson, director and manager of the Fairview apartment building alongside the L.I.E., said his tenants experienced numerous quality of life problems during the recent reconstruction of the expressway.

He said lights from the construction site shined into apartments, parking spots were restricted and noise became virtually unbearable. The roadway reconstruction, which has since been completed in the area, also forced a six-year delay of the installation of new storm sewers, leading to flooding inside the building.

Carlson fears that new and possibly more dangerous problems could arise with the state’s new construction plan.

“The L.I.E.-GCP area is a disaster,” Carlson said. “The GCP gets backed up with people making a sharp right speeding 60 miles per hour. There’s no lighting or signage and the guardrails have been changed numerous times.”

Joseph Hennessy, chairman of Community Board 6, suggested that sound barriers be erected along either side of the project area, where many senior citizens reside.

“They shouldn’t be forced to undergo noise and environmental problems like they did in the past,” Hennessy said. “The residents should be given consideration.”

Public comments about the proposed alternatives can be sent to Douglas Currey, P.E., regional director, New York State Department of Transportation, Region 11, Hunters Point Plaza, 47-40 21st Street, Long Island City, NY 11101. Public comments will be accepted until June 7th.

The final alternative will be made public in late 2006 or early 2007.

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