By Bill Parry
A new era began on the Ed Koch-Queensboro Bridge with the closing of the entire Queens-bound outer roadway Monday night.
Motorists are no longer allowed to use the lane between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. following a city Department of Transportation review of existing safety measures, traffic volumes and travel speeds ordered after a deadly crash early on the morning of Dec. 10.
The daily closure and reopening is managed by NYPD officers and agents already stationed on the bridge to oversee the weekday reversal of the two Queens-bound lanes of the upper roadway to accommodate Manhattan-bound traffic.
Off-duty Police Officer Elisa Toro, a 36-year-old mother of two, was heading to Queens around 2 a.m. when she struck a guard rail on the exit ramp and lost control of her Ford Focus. The car flipped over a concrete barrier and went airborne before flying into the side of a vacant storefront on Queensboro Plaza South, the same location as two other fatal crashes two years ago. Toro was thrown from her car and killed.
The concrete barrier that Officer Toro hit was one of several placed along the exit ramp by the DOT as a safety measure in 2011. Called Jersey barriers, they were installed along with bright signs and rumble strips after the two deadly accidents occurred in 2011.
Two elected officials warned back then that the measures were not enough.
“We stood here two years ago asking for the complete redesign of the ramp, and instead we got new signs and a couple of barriers,” said state Sen. Michael Gianaris, who held a joint news conference with City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) the afternoon after Toro crashed and died.
“The time for half measures is gone,” Gianaris said.
He went on to say that the DOT has changed its line of thinking.
“By closing the Queens-bound outer roadway, the agency believes it is reducing the potential for speeding and other unsafe nighttime driving when the lane is underused,” the senator said.
“The closure is the first step toward ending the carnage that has claimed too many lives over the last three years,” Van Bramer said. “With this closure and the implementation of a long-term permanent solution, we will once and for all make Queensboro Plaza safer for the tens of thousands of commuters that utilize this popular transportation hub every single day.”
Gianaris agreed, saying, “I applaud the DOT for finally giving this dangerous stretch of road the attention it deserves.”
Hopefully, the nighttime closure will provide the time for a proper evaluation of the street design coming off the Queensboro Bridge exit ramp so we can eventually solve this problem once and for all.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4538.