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Faulty lights, police checks snarl LIE traffic for miles

The morning commute to Manhattan along the Long Island Expressway, never really a walk in the park, turned into a crawl through the parking lot late last week as delays transformed brief treks along the borough’s central artery into hourlong odysseys.

Traffic was tied up along the borough’s entire 14-mile stretch of the LIE both Thursday and Friday mornings, creating a domino effect that started near the Queens Midtown Tunnel and stretched nearly into Nassau County.

“It was unbelievable,” said one driver who spent 45 minutes traveling between the Clearview Expressway interchange and College Point Boulevard before finally turning around. “I just gave up on it.”

Drivers stuck in the bumper-to-bumper traffic busily chatted on cell phones to push back appointments and get some work done during delays that sometimes exceeded two hours.

The state Department of Transportation attributed the backups to the closure of the HOV lane and the Police Department’s stepped-up security efforts.

Early Thursday morning a contractor accidentally ripped up cables connecting to the overhead gantry lights that indicate whether or not a lane of traffic is open, forcing the city DOT to close the high occupancy vehicle lane, which puts westbound bus traffic on the eastbound side of the median.

“You could leave traffic going in its regular pattern, but the HOV lane was not opened up yesterday because of this malfunction,” said city DOT spokesman Keith Kalb. “We wouldn’t put traffic heading against other traffic without those lights working.”

The problem was fixed by early Thursday afternoon.

But the Daily News then claimed partial credit for Friday’s delays, declaring in an article Saturday that police had tightened their checks of single occupancy vehicles at the Queens Midtown Tunnel and other crossings in response to a cover story in Thursday’s edition.

The paper’s exposé revealed that newspaper staffers driving alone into Manhattan during rush hour were stopped only five out of 31 times despite the SOV ban that has been in place since shortly after Sept. 11.

An NYPD spokesman said the department does not discuss its security measures.

A bus strike last Wednesday and Thursday may have also prompted numerous express bus riders to drive into work instead, increasing the number of cars heading into Manhattan.

Although the state Department of Transportation is in the midst of a rigorous reconstruction of the roadway, DOT spokeswoman Jennifer Nelson said the construction project had nothing to do with the delays.

“Our construction jobs are not causing the delay on the main line, because we have all the lanes open,” Nelson said.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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