By Madina Toure
The city Department of Environmental Protection is working on reopening 131st Street and 11th Avenue in College Point temporarily to alleviate traffic conditions brought on by the building of a sewer in Whitestone.
The DEP is currently building an intercepting sewer in Whitestone to reduce the amount of combined sewage overflows that go into Flushing Bay during wet weather, said Vincent Sapienza, DEP’s deputy commissioner.
The agency closed the roadway along 11th Avenue near 130th and 131st streets in May 2013 and hoped to reopen the street by the end of last year, but additional work that involved homes needing to have their sewer connections re-diverted to the city sewer system caused a delay, Sapienza said.
In the meantime, the agency is working with its contractor to have 131th Street temporarily reopened as the additional work continues, he explained.
“We’re working with our contractor now to come up with a different means of doing this additional work that may allow us to open up that corner,” he said.
He anticipates that the project will be complete within the the next four to six weeks.
Last week, City Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside), along with community groups and businesses, met with Eric Landau, the DEP’s associate commissioner, to discuss the project. Landau said work was set to resume within the next week and that the project would take an additional four to six weeks to finally be complete.
Vallone also pushed the DEP to provide some type of relief for affected business owners and residents, leading to a decision to temporarily reopen 131st Street to allow some traffic routing.
He praised the project and said he was pleased that the DEP has given a time frame for when the project will be completed but said the issue stemmed from a lack of communication on the part of the agency.
“It was one of the examples where a little bit of communication from the city agencies would have alleviated the concerns down there,” he said.
Construction started in May 2013 and was expected to be completed by fall 2014 but as of fall, the construction was still ongoing. The closure of the avenue forces College Point residents to use 14th Avenue or 20th Avenue, which are already overburdened with traffic, Vallone said.
Construction was then scheduled to be complete by the end of February. As of February, the redesigning process had yet to be completed.
“They just had expressed concern that it was lengthening the time that it took for some folks to get through the area and that’s obvious a concern to DEP as well,” Sapienza said. “We have to do street work while we put in sewers, but we want to be the least amount of inconvenience as we can to local residents while we do that.”
Joseph Femenia, president of the College Point Civic and Taxpayers Association, said the reopening of 131st Street would ease traffic problems by enabling cars to come in through two different directions and leave either way.
Femenia hopes the area will be reopened by April.
“All the traffic dumps into 14th Avenue and 20th Avenue, which has always had traffic, and Ulmer Street is a total mess,” Femenia said. “So between the roadway problems and this delay over there, there’s no real easy answer to get out of there.”
Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtour