1999-10-09 / Front Page

Bugged By Bridge

Traffic Swells, So Does Tempers

Recent work on the Gil Hodges bridge has lead to traffic delays for morning commuters.

By John McLoughlin

"Wild West" were the only words one resident could find when describing the scene at the Gil Hodges bridge on Tuesday morning, October 5. What is normally a five minute ride over the bridge connecting the Rockaways to Brooklyn became a 50 minute nuisance for hundreds of early morning commuters.

Residents were stuck in standstill traffic starting about 6:30 a.m., with traffic piled up along the two feeder roads to the bridge, Beach Channel drive and Rockaway Point boulevard. One resident said that as tempers flared, and people realized they would be late for work, "chaos pursued." Cars began to make illegal U-turns, adding to the traffic congestion.

Recent construction on the bridge has led to one lane being closed in each direction around-the-clock. The Metropolitan Transit Authority started on a $73 million rehabilitation project on September 15, with a completion date set for Spring 2002.

MTA spokesperson, Frank Pascual, said the culprit in the morning delay was a stalled car. As for the resulting conditions from the delays, Pascual said the MTA is "addressing that right away."

By Wednesday morning, MTA employees were directing traffic, cones were placed along the road, and a sign was being posted to remind drivers that U-turns are illegal.

Pascual said that traffic flow was "very good" Wednesday morning, with a five to 10 minute wait.

United States Park Police, under an agreement with the MTA, assisted the flow of traffic on Rockaway Point boulevard.

Locals were concerned that traffic on the bridge would delay the response of emergency services. Pascual said MTA has "good communication with all departments of emergency service," assuring locals that "if needed we would run emergency vehicles in the opposite lane."

Last week Congressman Anthony Weiner called on the MTA to suspend construction on the bridge during busy traffic hours and reopen closed lanes during morning and afternoon commute hours. "Limited use of what is essentially a vital lifeline to and from the Rockaways has made an already difficult commute for its residents all the more taxing," Weiner said.

Pascual said that work must be done during daytime because of the "hazards" that are presented when working on a span over water. The planned work includes structural steel being repainted, electrical and traffic signals upgraded, installation of a centerline divider, a new concrete roadway, a new steel grating, and replacement of expansion joints and bearings on the facility.

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