By Bill Parry
A long-running traffic nightmare came to an end Friday morning when large tractor trailers were no longer forced to detour on to the neighborhood streets. Matthew Weiss, an Astoria resident for more than 20 years, called it“an amazing turn of events” that “restored his faith in government” after he registered complaints with elected officials for more than 15 years.
“I can’t tell you how thrilled I am,” Weiss said. “It’s an amazing boon to our community to get these giants machines off of our local roadways back on to the highway where they can go about their business.”
To hear Astoria’s elected officials tell it, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Department of Transportation gave the neighborhood and western Queens a giant gift just in time for the holiday season. The huge 18-wheelers can now remain on the Grand Central Parkway to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway instead of being forced to use Astoria Boulevard and other streets to get to the Long Island Expressway.
“It’s great to finally see our full vision for a truck-free Astoria Boulevard realized,” state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria), who has tried to solve the problem since 2004, said. “When I passed the law over a decade ago allowing trucks to stay on the highway between the Triborough Bridge and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, the state still needed to create enough clearance so the biggest trucks could fit under the overpasses. With this fix now being implemented, Astorians can breathe easier that our air will be cleaner, traffic will be reduced and the unbearable noise and damaged streets to which we have grown accustomed will be lessened.”
State Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) announced that the project was nearly finished last Friday at the Columbus Triangle at Astoria Boulevard South and 31st Street
The $2.5 million project lowered the Grand Central Parkway roadbed at three overpasses, at 31st Street, 69th Street and Broadway to allow enough clearance for the big rigs.
“Reducing the truck traffic in local communities will improve the quality of life in Astoria, Woodside, Sunnyside, Jackson Heights and Elmhurst,” state DOT Acting Commissioner Paul Karas said. Construction work began Nov. 12 and it was completed in time for this weekend’s holiday getaway.
“A long horrible nightmare for the people who live, work, travel and raise their families in the Astoria neighborhood is finally ending,” Simotas said. “I can’t think of a nicer gift to the community this holiday season and I thank Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Department of Transportation for listening to our request, acknowledging the needless suffering of this community and getting this project done in record time.”
City Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) has seen parents try to keep their children safe and seniors struggle to cross the intersection on a daily basis as he walks from his home on 28th Street to his district office on Newtown Road.
“Lowering the roadway to allow trucks to stay on the highway will bring benefits to traffic safety and our environment,” Constantinides said. “Astoria Boulevard, known for its highway feel, will experience less truck traffic to make the street feel more incorporated into the community. This will benefit our seniors and families who walk and drive along it. We all deserve access to streets without unbearable traffic congestion, loud noises, and heavy fumes.”
U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) was on hand to thank the governor, and congratulate Community Board 1, Gianaris, Simotas and Constantinides for their success.
“This has been an incredible team effort to see this through,” Crowley said. “It shows that government can work for the people. I think people have become jaded about the role of government in their lives. We were told this could not happen and yet it made so much common sense.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr