By Joe Anuta
The same traffic problems have plagued College Point since the 1980s, an old study shows, yet civic leaders said continuing development and a lack of capital improvements are making gridlock even worse.
The new mixed-use Gelmart building, on 20th Avenue, is the latest to stir up concerns over congestion. The 147,000-square-foot building that once housed a rubber and bra factory will now house a variety of businesses, including a 114-room hotel, a Chinese grocery story, a gym and a 300-person seafood and sushi buffet.
But those associated with the project, called Point 128, said the city should do more to alleviate traffic in the area.
“I think it’s more of an issue of the city of New York not handling how traffic should work,” said Peter Reyes, general manager of the hotel. “It’s not just industry anymore, and a lot of people have concerns.”
And those concerns go back a long way.
A 1984 traffic study conducted by Urbitran stated “although minor improvements … will reduce or eliminate the traffic congestion presently experienced at the site, they will not be capable to support any additional development within the Corporate Park.”
The study stated that an additional exit off the Whitestone Expressway at Ulmer Street, which is right by the College Point Police Academy currently under construction, would be one of the only ways to reduce traffic.
But it was never built.
The city Department of Transportation has made many improvements, like widening roadways at perpetually clogged intersections at 20th Avenue and the Whitestone Expressway and adjusting traffic signal timing. But those suggestions also called for in the study 30 years ago, providing that the exit ramps were installed as well.
DOT also installed dedicated U-turn lanes at Ulmer Street for cars wanting to get off the Whitestone Expressway, the department said.
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) was on Community Board 7 at the time the study came out, and still calls it the most comprehensive to date.
Avella said developers like those constructing the Gelmart building are not the problem: It is the city’s approach to traffic mitigation.
“We’ve had to assume a huge nightmare by the development of the corporate park, but the city has done very little for infrastructure,” he said. “Whatever the city came up with in terms of later traffic studies, it is not dealing in reality. They continuously downplay everything so they can do as little as possible.”
Avella said though the city rakes in enormous amounts of tax dollars from development in College Point, it does not invest those dollars back into capital construction projects, like the ramps suggested back in the 1980s.
Chuck Apelian heads Community Board 7’s College Point Corporate Park Task Force and said he is still waiting for the city Economic Development Corp. to extend a major road to 20th Avenue and provide much-needed relief on the main entrance into the shopping centers that guard the neighborhood, even though it was slated to be completed already.
“Without a doubt College Point is underserved by infrastructure,” Apelian said. “I believe the city infrastructure money should be reinvested in the area they are promoting development for. Otherwise, it is a recipe for failure.”
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.