Today’s news:

Overhaul of Steinway St. bridge set for July

A 42-month reconstruction of the Steinway Street Bridge over the Grand Central Parkway is slated to begin in July, although the project will not affect the general public until next spring, a city engineer told Astoria community leaders earlier this month.

Another major road construction project in western Queens — rebuilding the borough’s northern leg of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway — is halfway through stage one, and engineers have begun to consult the community on the impact of its second phase, which will not begin for another two years.

The Steinway Street Bridge project will erect a new structure in place of the aging span, which has been continuously monitored by the city Department of Transportation and maintained through a continuous repair program.

“It has outlived its useful life and has to be replaced,” explained Ali Mallick, the director of roadway bridges for the city DOT, at a meeting of the Community Board 1 District Cabinet June 13.

Originally built in 1937, the bridge carries two lanes of traffic in each direction over the Grand Central Parkway’s approach of the Triborough Bridge. But the bottom of the bridge shows its age, with some of the internal structure exposed by crumbling concrete, and it is incapable of carrying any load greater than what it holds now.

Between 4:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. on a typical day, the Steinway Street Bridge carries 347 northbound vehicles and 487 southbound, while 6,366 eastbound and 5,598 westbound vehicles travel beneath it along the Grand Central Parkway, Mallick said.

In order to maintain traffic flow during construction, the 18-foot sidewalk along the side of the bridge will be reduced to five feet to create more room for traffic to flow during the construction.

The project will be carried out in six phases. The first stage, reducing the size of the sidewalks, will be followed by three separate reconstruction phases for the east side, west side and center of the bridge. The last two phases are devoted to the reconstruction of the sidewalks on each side.

Although work on the project will begin in July, it will not cause any disruptions on the street until March 2003, Mallick said.

During the peak hours of 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., the contractor will not be allowed to close any lanes of traffic on the bridge itself. The closing of lanes along the Grand Central Parkway will be minimal and limited to late night hours, while the entire highway can be closed for spurts of only 15 minutes at a time for safety consideration when demolition is done late at night.

The contractor will receive a $5,000 incentive for every day ahead of schedule the project is completed up to three months, and lose $5,000 a day with no limit if the project is delayed beyond its scheduled end date.

The reconstruction of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway between Queens Boulevard and 25th Avenue is halfway through the first of two phases, the project supervisors told the Community Board 1 Transportation Committee Monday night.

The second phase, which extends south from Broadway, should begin in spring 2004 as soon as the current phase winds down. The state Department of Transportation is enlisting community input on the project, which is not expected to go out to bid for another year and a half.

The project’s central objective is to improve safety conditions by correcting sight lines and widening lanes along a segment where the highway turns sharply.

Among the most jarring safety concerns is the entrance ramp from Broadway to the Brooklyn-bound side of the expressway, which has no acceleration lane and poor sight lines.

“It’s like taking your life into your own hands,” said Karl Rubenacker, a partner with Vollmer Associates, the consulting engineering firm coordinating the project.

The northbound lanes near the Roosevelt Avenue crossing will be shifted east during construction to run alongside a set of freight rail tracks, opening up a wide space in the middle of the highway where construction will be based.

Traffic along Roosevelt Avenue, which also carries the No. 7 train, will be diverted to a temporary bridge that will be built directly north of the existing bridge.

Sound walls will be available if residents want them, a decision that will be made through a vote among affected property owners. Although no residential property will be seized for the construction, some easements for sound and retaining walls may infringe on neighbors’ land.

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

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