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Two bridges in Sunnyside to become one-way: DOT

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In a roughly one-hour...

By Alex Ginsberg

A Department of Transportation plan to convert two bridges over the Sunnyside rail yards to one-way thoroughfares met spirited resistance from residents and representatives of two community boards at a public meeting June 30.

In a roughly one-hour presentation at the Sunnyside Senior Center, Michael Primeggia, DOT’s deputy commissioner for traffic operations, detailed the department’s plan to make 39th Street one-way southbound and Honeywell Street northbound between Northern Boulevard and Skillman Avenue. The change, he said, would reduce traffic accidents and delays at the troublesome intersection of 39th Street, Steinway Street and Northern Boulevard.

But many of the 50 people in attendance, including members of Community Boards 1 and 2, suggested that the change would simply redirect traffic to other areas while hurting area businesses that depend on traffic flow.

Primeggia said there were 65 accidents over the course of the last year at the junction of 39th Street, Steinway Street and Northern Boulevard on the north side of the rail yards, as compared with three at Honeywell Street and Skillman Avenue, and 20 at Skillman Avenue and 39th Street over the same period.

Using a computer simulation and traffic statistics compiled by DOT consultant Eng-Wong, Taub & Associates, Primeggia showed how the lack of a left-turn-only signal on Northern Boulevard contributed to those safety problems as well as traffic delays at the junction.

“This is a typical condition,” said Primeggia as the computer showed cars and trucks lining up on 39th Street, waiting three full cycles of the traffic light — six minutes or more — to process through the intersection. The simulation also depicted left-turners on Northern Boulevard sneaking through the intersection on the tail end of their green cycle, forcing other traffic to wait.

In all, the traffic study examined 14 intersections on Northern Boulevard, Queens Boulevard, Skillman Avenue and 31st Street during the winter and early spring of 2003.

The results were clear, Primeggia said. By eliminating northbound traffic on 39th Street over the rail yards, DOT could open up enough extra time in the traffic light cycle to add a left-turn-only phase for Northern Boulevard. Northbound traffic — instead of backing up at 39th Street — would be redirected west on Skillman Avenue and then cross the rail yards on the underused Honeywell Street overpass that opened last winter.

But Joe Conley, vice chairman of Community Board 2, said the plan envisioned a ridiculously circuitous route for Sunnysiders heading to Long Island City.

“I love to shop on Steinway Street,” he said. “And I don’t know too many people who are going to go to 39th Street, make a left to go to Honeywell, to make a right, to make a right, to make a left back down to Steinway.”

Instead, he suggested that drivers would use 43rd Street, which borders on residential areas and doglegs treacherously where it becomes 42nd Place.

Primeggia admitted that some drivers would use that option, he suggested that most — who are not as familiar with the area as Conley — would follow DOT signs directing them to Honeywell.

Conley also questioned the timing of the project, slated to begin in late August or early September, noting that Community Boards 1 and 2, which do not meet over the summer, would have no opportunity to consider the plan. Others slammed DOT for not studying the economic impact on area businesses.

“The biggest concern is the disrespect the agency is showing,” said Community Board 1 transportation chairman Jeffrey Gold. “They spent all this money on a consultant’s presentation ... but they never bothered to talk to us.”

Elected officials from the affected communities were invited to a June 12 meeting between DOT and Queens Borough President Helen Marshall at Queens Borough Hall to discuss the plan, the department said.

But an attendance sheet provided by the Borough President’s office showed that no elected officials attended and only two — Assemblywomen Catherine Nolan (D-Ridgewood) and Margaret Markey (D-Maspeth) — sent representatives.

Others at the Sunnyside Senior Center suggested that Primeggia and DOT should not presume to know the area as well as residents who have lived there for decades.

“All you can offer us is theory,” one woman snapped at Primeggia.

Primeggia bristled, replying, “I can give you the experience of my life, 25 years doing this for a living, and my intimate knowledge of how traffic works in this neighborhood.”

Reach reporter Alex Ginsberg by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

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