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Queens awaits $72M from federal bill for projects

The Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users contains more than 20 allocations earmarked specifically for the borough through 2009, including $3 million to study traffic in Willets Point, $8 million designated for the reconstruction of Queens Plaza, and a $15 million purse to buy ferries for the Rockaways. The bill also has several provisions for citywide projects such as improving school route safety and congestion relief studies.The measure was passed in the House 417-9 last Thursday. It is expected the Senate will vote on the bill shortly after the Easter holiday later this month.An estimated $10.5 billion is set aside in the bill for the state of New York, including at least $242.5 million for the city's 90-odd projects for safety, highways, public transportation, infrastructure and freight mobility.Several of the borough's most plagued intersections and pressing projects are addressed in the bill, along with measures to bolster public safety and ease congestion.North QueensFort Totten, the waterfront territory in Bay Terrace that once served as a Civil War fort and was used by the federal government before its imminent takeover by the city's Parks Department, was allocated $2.8 million for the expansion and reconstruction of the parking lot, spearheaded by U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside). He also sponsored a $4.22 million allocation for the reconstruction of the Cross Island Parkway bridge overpass and 212th Street adjacent to Fort Totten in order to reduce traffic congestion and improve access to the waterfront.Downtown Flushing was allocated more than $2 million by Ackerman for two separate projects that address traffic and pedestrian improvements as well upgrading access to major roadways, including College Point Boulevard and Roosevelt Avenue.In addition, the bill earmarks $3 million for the study and improvement of traffic flow in Willets Point for a possible new Mets stadium.West QueensThe bill dedicated half a million dollars to improving pedestrian safety on Queens Boulevard, the so-called "Boulevard of Death" known for its high pedestrian fatality rate. A 59-year-old woman from Flushing was killed last Thursday crossing the boulevard in Forest Hills, where more than 80 pedestrians have been struck and killed by cars since 1993.The convoluted intersection of Queens Plaza in Long Island City, where Queens Boulevard, Northern Boulevard, the Queensboro Bridge, and several subway lines merge into a traffic nightmare, was allocated $8 million for a renovation. Long Island City could also get an additional $2.4 million for a full reconstruction of the streets surrounding 11th Street.U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) allocated $640,000 to improve the congestion at the intersection of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway with Broadway and Roosevelt Avenues in Jackson Heights, which he said serves 40,000 commuters a day.In addition, the Long Island Rail Road station in Kew Gardens was allocated half a million dollars to improve traffic flow on Lefferts Boulevard, while PS 153 in Maspeth is to receive $250,000 for pedestrian safety improvements.South QueensThe southeastern portion of the borough received some of the biggest slices of the legislative pie. In addition to the $15 million for the Rockaways ferries sponsored by U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills), U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans) allocated $8.6 million for a section of Laurelton bordered by the county line, Laurelton Parkway and Sunrise Highway. The project would focus on the area's street drainage problems, according to Meeks's legislative staff. Meeks also designated $8 million for area infrastructure improvements to the Jamaica AirTrain station, as well as $2.4 million for street-level improvements on Mott Avenue in the Far Rockaways.Also, PS 114 in Belle Harbor was allocated $250,000 for pedestrian safety improvements.The $283.9 billion of guaranteed funding in the bill represents a 42 percent increase over the last six-year federal bill that earmarked around $200 billion for projects from 1998 to 2003. However, Ackerman said an earlier version of the bill last year never made it past the Senate and the White House after debate arose, but he was optimistic about the legislation passing this year. Ackerman noted that with the upcoming Senate vote, those representatives will likely add their own projects during deliberations, raising the possibility of more funding for Queens from New York Sens. Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton. "The final product has to be agreed to by everybody," Ackerman said.City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), who heads the Council's Transportation Committee, hailed the money earmarked for the borough."There is a substantial amount of federal funding coming to Queens and all of that money will be instrumental in providing more transit choices to Queens residents," he said. "Boy, do we need more transit options." Liu called upon the city's transportation agencies to wisely administer the federal allocations when the funding is dispersed."The members of Congress have done their part," he said. "Once the Senate passes it and the package is signed by the president, it is incumbent upon the city Department of Transportation and MTA to put the funding to good use."Despite the numerous allocations, some officials said the money slated for Queens was just a starting point, and projects that were overlooked included the Van Wyck Expressway and building a light rail system to LaGuardia Airport. "You never do enough. You always want to do more," Meeks said. "But given the climate in which we're living, it's difficult to do more with the president creating record deficits. We look forward to trying to find more."Similarly, a spokesman for Borough President Helen Marshall said Queens is a bottomless pit when it comes to transportation funding. "We have more highways and roadways than any other borough in New York City," said spokesman Dan Andrews. "The money is always welcome, but it's never enough. We probably could have used another billion dollars, I think."Reach reporter Sophia Chang by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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