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DOT seeks input into Kosciuszko repair

For commuters who regularly cross the Kosciuszko Bridge, the 1.1-mile stretch of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway that spans the Newtown Creek, congestion and awkward lane merges turn the roadway into a daily source of aggravation.

But beneath drivers’ sight lines lurk far more serious problems for the 62-year-old bridge, which also harbors cracks and structural defects that are spreading rapidly despite active maintenance efforts by the state Department of Transportation.

The DOT began the long-term process of determining how to address the bridge’s many woes last Thursday with an open house at PS 199 in Long Island City, where an army of representatives greeted community members and collected their input on the project.

The hearing represented the first step in an environmental review process that is expected to produce a solution to the bridge’s traffic and structural problems. Construction on the Kosciuszko, which extends from the Morgan Avenue exit in Brooklyn to the interchange with the Long Island Expressway, is not expected to begin for another six or seven years.

“If this was a race, this is the start,” said Robert Adams, the project manager with the state DOT who is overseeing the Kosciuszko repair. “We hope this process will lead to a solution that's favorable to everyone.”

The DOT has poured $50 million into maintenance over the past decade to “keep the bridge safe,” Adams said, but “the deterioration is becoming more common” despite those efforts.

The bridge also has four times as many accidents as similar highways, which the DOT attributes to its narrow lane widths, lack of a shoulder, and a steep grade leading up to the top that causes low visibility.

The most basic solution would be to continue doing aggressive maintenance, which would mean only fixing what needs to be fixed at any one time. But other possibilities include rehabilitation, which involves thoroughly repairing everything on the bridge, and replacing the entire structure with something new.

Widening the roadway could also be included in any of those options.

“It could be a whole new structure,” said Frank Catalonatto, a transportation engineer working on the project. "It could be a tunnel, it could be anything."

DOT officials are also concerned about where to put the traffic while construction is underway, especially since the surrounding side streets are incapable of accommodating vehicles from the bridge.

Many residents of surrounding neighborhoods who attended the meeting were alarmed by the project, especially since some had already been forced out of their homes four decades ago when they were condemned for an earlier expansion of the highway.

“We’re right in the line to take our houses,” said Joe Ruzalski of 46th Street in Woodside, who complained that his neighborhood is now overwhelmed by cars that come onto the side streets to avoid congestion on the expressway.

Still, he recognized that “they’ve got to do something” to fix the plagued bridge.

Adams said the DOT is looking to find a solution that would require as little land as possible be seized from surrounding property owners.

For the most part, people were pleased to have a chance to share their concerns with representatives of the DOT.

“I think they are handling it much better than they had handled other projects in the past,” said Cathryn Keeshan, the co-president of the United Forties Civic Association in Woodside.

But neighbors will remain anxious until the DOT determines a plan-of-action that assures them their homes are safe.

“There’s a great deal of nervous frustration in the community,” Keeshan said.

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

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