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LIE, Grand Central project snarls traffic

Second in a series

Taking the Long Island Expressway into Manhattan or to Long Island is a necessary evil for thousands of commuters, but the daily ride is like waking up from a nightmare only to realize that you weren't dreaming.

Construction on the LIE, added to the normal traffic patterns on the roadway, has left traffic inching along from the Queens Midtown Viaduct, at the start of the Midtown Tunnel, to the Grand Central Parkway and Long Island Expressway interchange.

"It has not been redone since it was originally built in the 1940s," said Alex Dudley, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation. "It's near the end of its useful life. It has a bad riding surface."

He said the rehabilitation of the highway will include the installation of new lights, a new road surface, a new drainage system and the removal of the bumps in the road.

Modern Continental, a Boston-based contractor, started construction on the roadway last spring with a scheduled completion date in late 2003. Dudley said it is one of the costliest roadwork projects in state history at a cost of $200 million and is being done concurrently with the most expensive project ever, the $228 million construction on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway..

The project is to be completed in four sections, with construction crews working on two lanes of the highway at a time. To keep the traffic moving the DOT has rerouted traffic onto the Horace Harding Boulevard.

"The use of the service roads allows us to accommodate the same number of lanes," he said. The only difference is that there are traffic lights on the service roads.

Dudley said the upgrading of the drainage system will mean better water run-off, and removing bumps in the road and improving drivers' sight lines will reduce traffic accidents.

He said the highway was not being expanded at any point, but in certain areas the DOT was adding sound walls to shield neighboring residents from traffic noise.

"We have enough work for the construction crews to be out there seven days a week, but they only need to meet their individual schedules," Dudley said. "There are big-time incentives for completion of the overall project."

If the project finishes early, there is a bonus of $15,000 per day, but if construction takes longer than the completion date, there is a fine of $15,000 per day, Dudley said.

Local residents are divided in their feelings about the rehabilitation of the highway. Some say the noise and congestion bothers them, but others see the project as a necessary evil and are willing to put up with the inconvenience if, ultimately, the highway improves the traffic flow around their homes.

"That's messed up," said Richard Minor of Rego Park, when he found out the construction on the LIE would last late into the year 2003. "Most of the noise comes from the traffic, which has been rerouted through the streets."

He said the problem is that traffic gets backed up, then nothing moves and people sit on their horns. The city needs to have more traffic cops helping to move the traffic along, he said, adding that there are a few traffic cops but not on a regular basis.

"It is terrible in the morning," said Natalie, who was sitting in a park alongside the LIE service road. "You can't hear yourself think: bang bang all morning."

Jack Onofrichuk said the construction needed to be done. It should help the traffic congestion on the highway and in the area, he said. But, he added, the construction does not affect him because he walks everywhere.

The road work is an inconvenience, said Irene Shakaraov, but the road needs to be fixed.

People who seemed most angered by the construction were drivers stuck in traffic on a late Saturday afternoon. Milton Luna, a delivery man from Maspeth, said the construction adds 45 minutes to an hour onto any trip he has to make through the area.

"It slows me down. I should have been home already," said a cab driver sitting in traffic. "It is a pain in the butt."

Next in the series - construction on the BQE.

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