Phase 2 Of BQE Renovation Project Begins
The latest public meeting to explain the proposals and progress of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway reconstruction project was held under the auspices of the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) exactly in the middle of November, four months after the last one. This time the session was moved from the White Castle office at 69-01 34th Ave., parallel to the BQE, to the community room at one of the Big Six towers on Queens Boulevard, closer to where many of the community concerns about Phase 2 of the reconstruction project are centered.
The reconstruction project began with Phase 1 in the spring of 2000 and entailed extensive work between Broadway and 25th Avenue before coming to completion about a year ago. Phase 2 is taking place between 61st Street and Broadway and, as currently scheduled, will be completed a little more than three years from now, in December 2008. Phase 1 and the development thus far of Phase 2 have certainly been noticed by thousands of drivers, who have endured more than five years of inconvenience and face an additional three; but some residents of Woodside seem surprised at the impact Phase 2 is having on them. “It’s been going on for five years; how much longer?” asked one local resident at the meeting, apparently not realizing the dimensions of the reconstruction project. As usual, it was the duty of the DOT engineers and publicists to acquaint him and others with the facts.
Among those facts is one that most of the attendees at the meeting realized intensely: that sound barriers would be erected along the BQE in some places but not in others. Woodside resident Peter O’Donnell brought up the issue in an exchange with Craig Ruyle, NYSDOT engineer-in-charge. O’Donnell deplored the high level of noise created by traffic on the BQE, but when informed that a sound barrier to be put up would alleviate the noise problem where he lives, he replied that he was grateful. But Carol Terrano, another resident, was acutely aware that such barriers are to go on the north side of the BQE only and that there is no plan to muffle traffic noise on the south side, either near Nathan Weidenbaum Park, a children’s playground, or the adjacent neighborhood, and she was indignant. She has more than once said that civil disobedience, in the form of a BQE shutdown, is possible in response to what she believes is NYSDOT’s disdain. Hearing her warning, Ruyle was not offended. He said that he is not the designer, only the one who is building according to design. Dolores Rizzotto, district manager of Community Board 2, said that an intense letter-writing campaign on behalf of south-side sound barriers led to a recent meeting involving NYSDOT and political figures, including Congressmember Joe Crowley, Assemblymember Marge Markey and City Councilmember Eric Gioia. The activists who brought the meeting about were not invited to it, however, and requests for a report on the meeting, by Board 2 for instance, have yet to be answered.
Ruyle described how the bridge over the BQE on Queens Boulevard at 65th Place, which has an entrance ramp on the eastbound side and an entrance tunnel on the westbound side, is being rebuilt in five stages, purportedly to keep traffic disruption on the boulevard to a minimum. At present, the boulevard roadway is distorted by the imposition of Jersey barriers and crudely designated lane lines painted on the asphalt. Kathleen Histon, district manager of Community Board 6 in Forest Hills, but a local resident, said she has seen many near-accidents at the Queens Boulevard-65th Place intersection while driving eastbound to work. Dhiaa Shubber of Parsons Brinkerhoff, a firm that is a main engineer on the project, said that a 25-miles-per-hour speed limit has been imposed on motorists making their way through the twists and turns that the Jersey barriers have created, but that motorists often exceed it, making traffic conditions unsafe. Histon dismissed that explanation, saying that most of the hazardous conditions she described exist not so much in those makeshift lanes as in the intersection, as motorists going in either direction try to make left turns.
Other matters brought up included artwork, park space, rats and clogged catch basins. A woman asked if artwork such as that applied below the BQE overpass at Northern Boulevard in Phase 1 would be a feature of Phase 2, and Ruyle said he wasn’t aware of any plans for it. One man worried that reconstruction was cutting into park space on either side of the BQE. Ruyle said there would be some reconfiguration, but according to his calculations, there would actually be more park space after the project than before. A horror story about the appearance of a rat in a local resident’s kitchen moved Ruyle to ask his audience to report all such rat sightings so the project’s rodent control team could do something about it. That team makes weekly sweeps of the area. The catch basin team from the state is pledged to make monthly checks of those receptacles, Ruyle said, and he hoped it would fulfill the pledge. There has been a problem of poor drainage when the basins become filled with refuse. It’s fine to clean out the refuse, Ruyle reasoned, but the basins are only going to become filled again, and only ongoing vigilance will keep them clean.
The next public meeting should be in the early spring of 2006.