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State to begin construction on Whitestone Expressway

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A major project to overhaul the Whitestone Expressway and replace a bridge leading to the road is expected to begin this month, state officials said at a meeting at Community Board 7 last week.

Traffic tie-ups are expected for certain portions of the roadwork, which is slated to last until August 2006.

But once the $177 million project is complete, the flow of cars into the area should improve, and drivers will have easier access to shopping on the College Point side of the expressway, officials said.

"I think it's going to be a nightmare until its done," said Joan Vogt, who represented state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Whitestone) at a Friday meeting with state officials and Community Board 7 on the project. "But I think it will be great when it's finished."

The work is actually two separate projects combined into one.

The Bascule Bridge, which connects Northern Boulevard, the Grand Central Parkway and the Van Wyck Expressway with the Whitestone Expressway, will be completely replaced.

The bridge was built in 1939 and is in poor condition. Over the years, barges have often hit its base.

The state Department of Transportation will build a new bridge to the eastern side of the current one. After traffic is diverted to the new structure, the old structure will be knocked down.

The larger project involves replacing the pavement of the Whitestone Expressway from the bridge to 14th Avenue, about a mile stretch of the road. Two U-turn lanes connecting the service roads will be built under the expressway near College Point Boulevard and Linden Place.

The U-turn lanes will be designed to relieve traffic in the area. Drivers exiting from the northbound Whitestone Expressway often congest Linden Place as they try to enter the shopping center on the opposite side. The U-turn should help alleviate this problem, officials said.

Likewise, those leaving the center will be able to use the U-turn lane near College Point Boulevard to return to the highway.

A new exit ramp will also be constructed. The ramp will connect traffic from Astoria Boulevard and the Grand Central Parkway to Linden Place. Currently, drivers coming from those two roads struggle to make the exit at Linden Place.

The height of the expressway will also be adjusted to provide a better sight distance for drivers, and lighting along the road will be improved.

"All along the main highway we're going to have 40-foot poles with sufficient lighting," said John Elias, the state DOT engineer in charge of the project.

Overhead message boards providing information on traffic will also be installed, officials said.

While work on the Bascule Bridge is not expected to affect traffic, repairs on the Whitestone Expressway itself could cause problems, officials said.

By mid-March, traffic could be rerouted as workers construct a temporary road on the expressway's median.

The worst period is expected to begin in about a year and last for several months. During that time, drivers coming on the Whitestone Expressway from the Cross Island Parkway will not be able to exit on 20th Avenue.

Still, officials emphasized the project should not affect rush-hour traffic.

"We're always going to maintain four lanes in both directions during peak hours," said John Kwok, the construction supervisor.

During off peak hours, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., one lane will often be closed in each direction.

In order to complete the project, the state had to acquire land from a variety of companies, including Con Edison and College Associate, an asphalt plant. College Associate, at 32-02 College Point Blvd., will remain closed during the length of the project, officials said.

Although the project is not expected to finish until the end of 2006, the contractor, Tully Construction, is hoping to finish the job by September 2005 in order to earn a $2.6 million bonus from the state.

Tully began operating a waste transfer station in Willets Point in 2001, a move which was protested by some community members.

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.

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