City to fix road flooding

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City Councilman John Liu (D−Flushing) is hoping that an emergency sewer fix will stem the constant flooding in neighborhoods along the Whitestone Expressway, where plans for a broader storm drain project have been thwarted by a lack of funding.

Liu’s chief of staff, John Choe, said the city Department of Environmental Protection had nearly completed work last week to install two new catch basins along 28th Road near the Whitestone Expressway. The area has been plagued by flooding because of a lack of adequate storm drains and while a sewer restructuring has been planned, funding problems have kept its implementation on the shelf.

“The DEP has created a dedicated storm sewer that will go from the two catch basins on that road and direct all future storm water into the Whitestone Expressway drainage system,” Choe said. “Hopefully, this will greatly alleviate flooding in the area and some of the damage that has occurred.”

Contstance Recchio, 51, who has lived in the area for more than 10 years, said she has her fingers crossed the new system will work.

“Well, we’ll see what happens when we have a big storm,” Recchio said. “Flooding issues are sort of a part of life over here. It can be so awful. It’s great to see they’re finally doing something about it, though. Now we just have to wait.”

The DEP has been working to find a solution for severe flooding that has plagued dozens of residential blocks in Linden Hill and Whitestone along the eastern side of the Whitestone Expressway since the hulking roadway was constructed decades ago. The small swath of land has never had any connection to the city’s sewer drainage system, which was not a problem until the Whitestone Expressway was built, becoming a barrier for rainwater as it naturally drained toward nearby Flushing Bay.

“The expressway literally became like a dam,” said Liu, who has been working with the DEP to fix the problem for nearly six years.

A representative for the DEP said the agency is now working on final plans to construct a 1.2−mile pipeline that will carry water collecting in the neighborhoods — which stretch from the Cross Island Parkway to 29th Avenue — south along the Whitestone Expressway service road and into the mouth of Flushing Bay near College Point Boulevard.

The plan, which the DEP estimates will cost between $60 million and $70 million, would also have a sewer system installed in the neighborhoods themselves that would connect to the large pipe, which will be about 9 feet in diameter.

The plan is the latest solution proposed for the problem by the city agency.

Liu said the DEP originally proposed using seepage basins — deep holes that collect rainwater and naturally disperse it back into the soil over time — in 2003, but quickly decided that approach would not meet the neighborhood’s needs.

The next year the DEP proposed drilling underneath the Whitestone Expressway itself, using “micro−tu­nneling technology” which would allow the agency to complete the project without shutting down the busy highway — a plan that was later torpedoed by legal issues with The New York Times printing plant, located on the other side of the highway.

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e−mail at sstirling@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 138.

Updated 6:33 pm, October 10, 2011
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