By Dustin Brown
Traffic came to a halt at borough bridges and tunnels Monday morning as the city shut down all access to river crossings following the 9:15 a.m. crash of an American Airlines passenger jet in the Rockaways.
The mayor’s Office of Emergency Management ordered the closings at 9:45 a.m., a directive that lasted until noon, MTA bridges and Tunnels spokesman Frank Pascual said.
“Most of the roadways leading to and from our facilities were very heavily congested,” Pascual said. “It did take on average quite a while for traffic in general to return to normal.”
The lock-down came less than 30 minutes after the fiery crash of American Airlines Flight 587 in the Rockaway Peninsula, the cause of which was unknown.
The MTA operates the Throgs Neck, Whitestone and Triborough bridges, the Queens Midtown Tunnel, and the Cross Bay and Marine Parkway bridges leading into the Rockaways.
The Queensboro Bridge between Long Island City and Manhattan, operated by the city Department of Transportation, closed for the same length of time, spokesman Keith Kalb said.
Only the two Rockaway crossings remained closed after noon, Pascual said.
With traffic stopped like a cork at the borough’s edges, lines of vehicles gradually developed, although Kalb said the problems were less severe because traffic was lighter on Veterans Day.
“Obviously there is going to be backup, but with the holiday it was not as severe as if this was a normal rush,” he said.
At the Throgs Neck Bridge, cones normally placed on the side of the roadway to designate an inspection area were moved across the traffic lanes to stop vehicles, which formed a thin line along the northbound Clearview Expressway.
A solid line of traffic sat on the northbound Whitestone Expressway at 10 a.m. waiting to pass over the bridge into the Bronx.
After stopping vehicles at the approach to the Triborough Bridge in Astoria, creating a standstill along Astoria Boulevard and the Grand Central Parkway, police officers began directing westbound traffic that had yet to reach the bridge across a paved median and onto the parkway’s eastbound lanes.
Travelers in idling vehicles on Astoria Boulevard expressed weary frustration at the delay.
“It’s a drag to be stuck in traffic, but we’re very lucky not to have been on the plane,” said Cindy Engler, who was on her way to Boston.
““It was moving and then boom — standstill,” said Tyrone Swan, who traveled up the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway toward the Triborough to get to the Bronx.
Some devised creative ways to escape the congestion.
When their taxi was stopped on the Grand Central Parkway, Brad MacAulay and Rob Imrie hopped out and climbed over a low wall onto Astoria Boulevard. They were leaving LaGuardia Airport, where their Air Canada flight had returned to the gate following the Rockaways crash. They planned to cross the Triborough Bridge on foot.
“It’s nutty,” MacAulay said. “You can’t explain it in any other way. It’s ludicrous what’s happening.”
A commercial airline pilot heading to the airport, who only learned about the crash when he arrived at the M60 bus stop on Astoria Boulevard, stressed that airplanes are secure and warned against irrationally grounding flights.
“I’m willing to go,” he said. “I don’t have a problem flying.”
But he did acknowledge the prudence of halting air traffic while information about the crash remained scarce.
“If they have no information, until they have some it may be important” to ground the flights, he said.
Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.