State and city officials broke ground last week on a five-year project designed to unsnarl the mess of traffic along a number of intersecting highways in Kew Gardens.
The $148 million project will reconstruct a half-mile section of the Van Wyck Expressway between Union Turnpike and Hillside Avenue as well as a quarter-mile section of Queens Boulevard over the Van Wyck. It is expected to create about 200 jobs in the borough.
“We celebrate the start of this project that will improve mobility, relieve congestion in Queens and bring jobs to the area,” acting state Department of Transportation Commissioner Stanley Gee said at the Aug. 18 ground-breaking.
Drivers have long lamented the congestion they encounter on the interchange at the confluence of the Grand Central Parkway, the Van Wyck Expressway, the Jackie Robinson Parkway and Union Turnpike, on which more than 500,000 cars drive daily.
The project, funded by a combination of state and federal funds, will include the construction of auxiliary lanes on the Van Wyck; the replacement or reconstruction of six bridges, including the Queens Boulevard bridges over the Van Wyck and Main Street and the 82nd Street pedestrian bridge over the Van Wyck; and the reconstruction of subway entrances to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority station at Briarwood-Van Wyck Boulevard. Three pedestrian plazas will be constructed on Queens Boulevard and hundreds of trees will be planted on the Van Wyck and Queens Boulevard.
“When you think of the JFK Airport, you think of not only the gateway to New York but the gateway to America,” U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) said. “To run into that kind of congestion is not a good first impression.”
Gee and Meeks were joined by a large crowd of elected officials last week, including state Senate President Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans); Sens. Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica), Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) and Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose); state Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills); Borough President Helen Marshall; and Council members James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) and Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills). Denise Richardson, managing director of the General Contractors Association of New York, was present as well.
“Here is a project that creates jobs, improves transportation and has a long-term impact on the borough of Queens,” Smith said. “This is a hallmark day for Queens.”
Hevesi said he was pleased to see the project come to fruition, particularly after Gov. David Paterson temporarily halted it during budget negotiations earlier this year.
“There were unnecessary holds on this project,” Hevesi said.
Richardson said the number of cars on the Kew Gardens interchange long ago exceeded the volume it was meant to carry.
“Anybody that has ever driven on the highways of Queens or listened to a radio traffic report knows what a nightmare the Kew Gardens interchange has been for motorists for more than a generation,” Richardson said.
Once the $148 million project is completed, officials said there are unfunded initiatives they hope to complete, including reconstructing other parts of the interchange, including the Van Wyck Expressway north to Jewel Avenue, sections of the Grand Central and Jackie Robinson parkways and Union Turnpike.
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson