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Shrubbery, trees hide LIE from Maspeth community

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The view of the Long Island Expressway from parts of Maspeth is likely to grow greener in a few months as the state Department of Transportation builds two tiers of planted terracing along the side of the highway.

State Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (D-Maspeth) designated $2.1 million in the state budget to fund the construction of two retaining walls between Maurice Avenue and Hamilton Place on the eastbound side of the LIE.

“It will be reducing noise and air pollution for the residents in the immediate area,” Markey said. “I think when it’s finished it’s going to be very beautiful.”

Although shrubbery and trees have already been planted along the roadway, they grow from such a steep slope that residents complained the plantings were not visible from the community side.

The new design would replace the slope with two tiers of planting, one a few feet above the roadway and another at the level of the adjacent service road.

To create the tiers, the state DOT is building two retaining walls so the slope can be filled in with soil and transformed into flat surfaces.

“My goal was ... to come up with the idea of terracing to make it aesthetically and environmentally sound for our neighborhood,” said Tony Nunziato, the chairman of Community Board 5’s Environmental Committee who spearheaded the neighborhood’s efforts to have the terracing built.

The terracing, which may go up as early as this summer, also allows denser vegetation growth than a hill could accommodate.

“You could plant maybe five times the planting material you would normally have there,” Nunziato said.

The community’s desire to create a green separation from the highway dates back several years.

When the LIE rehabilitation was planned in the late 1990s, the community asked the state DOT to provide “a dense vegetative buffer between themselves and the LIE mainline,” said Jim Wilson, the design supervisor for the ongoing project.

But the neighborhood directly south of the LIE sits at a much higher grade than the highway itself, which passes through parts of Maspeth like a canyon. Since the trees and shrubs were ultimately planted on a slope between the two, they were hardly visible beyond the highway itself.

“The bottom line is they weren’t happy with the results of the planting,” Wilson said.

Markey stepped in to finance the project when the state DOT made it clear the agency would build the terracing but could not fund it, because it was considered more of an aesthetic change.

But Nunziato believes the impact of more vegetation around the highway could be palatable.

“Aesthetically it’s gorgeous, plus you’re making a barrier where it’s quality of life for the people off the expressway,” he said. “Sound-wise, pollution-wise, you’re absorbing.”

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

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