On The Bayfront
By Elisa Hinken
Transportation Bond Issue Will Help Rockaway, Five Towns
The $2.9 billion state transportation bond act passed by voters on November 8th will help move forward a variety of projects to improve traffic and rail conditions throughout the state. The Five Towns and Rockaway stand to gain from its passage too. The long-planned expansion of Route 878, the Nassau Expressway, will get a huge boost from the bond passage, with millions of dollars slated to fund a five-year study of the project.
An expansion project would include interchange improvements at the corner of Rockaway Turnpike and Burnside Avenue in North Lawrence, which New York State DOT officials have called a dangerous section of the Five Towns road (having a heavily-used Dunkin’ Donuts store there doesn’t help). The original proposal for the expansion of Route 878, which would have turned it into an elevated highway between the Atlantic Beach Bridge and Rockaway Turnpike and expanded it toward the Van Wyck, was made 27 years ago but was halted. An attempt to include funding for a study in the 2004 federal highway bill was not successful.
The expansion would also provide residents of the Five Towns and Rockaway a stronger alternative emergency evacuation route, heading west toward the city instead of east — especially if the highway were elevated. Some local officials have pressed the state and federal governments to move the project forward, since the Five Towns, eastern Far Rockaway and the western end of Long Beach are in need of an alternative emergency evacuation route. The current evacuation route for the Five Towns area runs to the end of Peninsula Boulevard (which is under water during major storms) onto Hempstead Turnpike toward Hofstra, and then into the Nassau Coliseum parking lot in Uniondale.
The Nassau Expressway was originally planned by Robert Moses. It would have begun at the Belt Parkway and connected to the Cross Brooklyn Expressway (I-78), which was never built. From there it would have run parallel to the Belt Parkway for a short distance before curving toward the south, crossing the Queens-Nassau border, and running to the south through the Five Towns. From there, it would have crossed the Atlantic Beach Bridge, curved to the east, and ran through Atlantic Beach, Long Beach, and Lido Beach to Point Lookout and the Loop Parkway, where it would have ended. Most of these plans were never carried out. A short section of expressway was constructed from the Belt Parkway to Rockaway Boulevard in the vicinity of John F. Kennedy International Airport. A second section, which is a divided boulevard most of the way, was constructed from Rockaway Turnpike (by Costco), through the Five Towns to the Atlantic Beach Bridge. It ends on the other side of the bridge. The section near the airport is an east/west route, while the section in the Five Towns is a north/ south route. The section in the Five Towns does not connect to any other state route. Weird, isn’t it?
The need for an elevated highway from the Nassau/Queens border to the Belt Parkway/VanWyck Expressway areas would be a tremendous asset to all communities involved on the south shore areas. The problem is that traffic will become bottlenecked once again at the Belt/VanWyck areas. I feel the VanWyck has overtaken the Long Island Expressway as being the world’s longest parking lot these days.
I, however, don’t want to minimize the need for appropriate and early evacuation when the time comes. After all, when was the last time you visited Hog Island? A strong Category One hurricane struck New York City with 90 mph winds on August 24th of 1893. Barometric pressure was only 29.23 inches of Hg, but it leveled some one hundred trees in Central Park. The beach and piers on Coney Island was devastated. However, it wasn’t as bad as Hog Island, a sand spit off Rockaway Beach that was wiped off the map.