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Federal funding could help Totten with transformation

On the grounds of the Civil War-era fort, the congressman met with local civic leaders and city officials to announce improvements to the parking lot and overpass at 212th Street. But these updates will only be possible if both chambers of Congress hash out an agreement over the six-year federal transportation appropriations bill and President George Bush signs it into law.

"We're doing the prudent thing and doing the planning to make sure everything runs smoothly," Ackerman said of the transition of the property from the federal government to the city Parks Department.

"The project, to a great extent, will reduce the flow of traffic," he said.

Plans for the $4.12 million project include doubling the parking in the public lot at the entrance to the fort and reconstructing the Cross Island Expressway overpass at 212th Street. With this money, the city plans to widen 212th under the Cross Island overpass to two lanes in each direction, relieving what Bay Terrace Community President Phil Konigsberg called a bottleneck.

This comes on the heels of an announcement made three weeks ago by state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) at the ruins of the waterfront fortress. That part of the park will receive $713,000 in city and state money for restoration to the walls, roof and security fences at the 19th century fort. This brings the total amount of funding for the park to nearly $5 million.

"A couple of weeks ago we began the groundbreaking at the battery," Queens Parks Commissioner Richard Murphy said. "This park, little by little, is getting what it needs."

Transportation improvements, community leaders said, are integral to the restoration of the park.

"We've been asking for additional parking. We've been asking for the roads to be straightened out," said Bay Terrace Community Alliance member Warren Schreiber. "This is so important to the community."

When the entire park project is complete and the property is turned over to the city, the public will have access to an expanded greenway on the waterfront, an esplanade, a playground, soccer fields and possibly ballfields that sit on what is now U.S. Coast Guard property, parks officials said.

Plans for a restaurant on the site have been hampered by the vendor's decision to pull out of the project, Ackerman said Monday.

Parking at Fort Totten will increase from 136 to 285 spots with the expansion of the lot into the greenway that sits alongside of it.

The infrastructure of the Cross Island and 212th Street overpass will also be reconstructed.

"These were the two components we needed taken care of over here," Community Board 7 Chairman Gene Kelty said. "(Ackerman) hit it perfectly."

The remaining obstacles appeared to be a congressional compromise on the bill and the president's signature, which are needed to make the funding available in the federal budget.

"Of course, he has threatened to veto (this)," Ackerman said. "The politics are being worked out."

The House approved a $275 million appropriations bill earlier this month and the Senate passed a $318 million version of it in February. An agreement must be reached before the bill is sent to the president. White House advisers have said that the president may veto the bill on the grounds that it is fiscally irresponsible.

Iris Weinshall, the city's Department of Transportation commissioner, said the $4.12 million is comprised of 80 percent in federal funds and 20 percent in city matching grants.

"We've put up our match," she said.

She estimated the transportation construction would take 18 months to two years to complete once the funding is in place and the city is able to begin work.

Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.

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