By Sophia Chang
The state Department of Transportation began the work in August 2000, to implement major improvements, including a direct ramp from the eastbound LIE to the southbound Cross Island. Before the ramp was built, people had to exit onto West Alley Road, a local street, and maneuver to the parkway.Four years later, officials say the work is done, all three LIE lanes in each direction are open, and only the final details need to be addressed.”All major construction has been over for a year,” said Snehal Shah, lead engineer of the project. He said the DOT was landscaping the new interchange. Though all work was due to be completed by this month, Shah said the summer and recent rain have caused some delays. “We will be completing the landscaping by the fall planting season, by the end of October,” he said.For years drivers had to contend with lane closures, traffic snarls and orange construction barrels on a two-mile stretch of the expressway from Springfield Boulevard to Little Neck Parkway. The projected cost of the construction, according to the DOT, was $158 million.In addition, existing shoulder areas were converted into another “travel lane” for areas prone to bottlenecking near the interchange, Shah said. “People will have easy access,” he said. “Two lanes exit onto the Cross Island Parkway and drivers will smooth it out fast.”The interchange was launched as an alternative to a state Department of Transportation plan for lessening traffic on the expressway that included widening the LIE for a high-occupancy lane. The 1996 DOT proposal was met with community and political opposition in Queens and a lawsuit spearheaded by state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) successfully stopped the plan. A high-occupancy vehicle lane begins at the Queens-Nassau County border, and the state DOT has worked since the early 1990s to extend the lane 40 miles into eastern Long Island.Other DOT improvements are not as visible as the new interchange ramp. “We improved the geometry and the weaving effect, eliminating accident-prone areas” around exit ramps, Shah said. In addition, the nearby Alley Pond Park was the beneficiary of environmental touch-ups. The DOT tore down two existing highway loop ramps and a landscaped area will screen the park from the expressway, according to the agency.Reach reporter Sophia Chang by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.