A years-long struggle between Kew Gardens’ residents, business owners, the Metropolitan Transit Authority and Long Island Rail Road over the Lefferts Boulevard bridge came to an end last week.
With the support of elected officials, the community was able to preserve Lefferts Boulevard and the small businesses on top of the overpass instead of seeing the bridge demolished, which was the MTA’s initial plan, according to residents.
“This action is the result of the persistent advocacy of the Kew Gardens community and the bridge merchants,” said state Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans). “I was proud to work with them, as well as my colleagues at the city and state levels, to push for preservation.”
A month before the July 11 announcement, Comrie sponsored a bill that would have required a feasibility study to rehabilitate the bridge, which is between Austin and Grenfell streets, and it passed in the Legislature. The bill needed only a signature from Gov. Andrew Cuomo to direct the LIRR to conduct the research on such a project.
With the MTA agreeing to repair the bridge, the funds that would have gone toward the study can go directly to fixing the overpass, according to LIRR President Phillip Eng.
“We thank Council member Karen Koslowitz, who identified funding for this project,” said Eng. “After many conversations with the community and elected officials convened by Borough President Katz, my team looked at this issue more carefully and we determined that the best use of the funds would be to directly repair the platforms.”
Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) had used capital and expense funds set aside in the 2018 and 2019 fiscal budgets to pay for the bridge, and it amounted to $1 million, according to her spokesman, Michael Cohen.
“The demolition of the Lefferts Boulevard bridge would have had a devastating effect on the Kew Gardens community,” said Koslowitz. “On the bridge are the mom-and- pop stores that the neighborhood has relied upon and they also would have been gone.”
Structural repairs to a pair of platforms above the LIRR tracks in Kew Gardens that span either side of Lefferts Boulevard and provide a base for the neighborhood retail buildings would be made, according to Eng.
“The LIRR is an integral component of Queens and we understand the importance of these business to the character of Kew Gardens, so we wanted to re-evaluate all options,” said Eng.
The bridge was built in 1920 and the structures needing repair were concrete and iron platforms west of a roadway that supported a retail building at 81-12 Lefferts Blvd. and another one to the east on the roadway supporting another retail building at 81-19 Lefferts Blvd., according to the MTA. About a dozen businesses were housed within the two buildings.
The lifespan of the bridge is expected to be extended by 20 to 30 years. A contract is expected to be rewarded by the end of 2018 and construction should be finished by 2019, according to Aaron Donovan, a spokesman for the LIRR and Metro-North.
In addition to the repairs, the LIRR platforms between Kew Gardens and Forest Hills are being extended to accommodate six cars instead of four, according to Kew Gardens Civic Association Executive Director Murray Berger, one of the biggest community advocates for the repair of the bridge.
While plenty of praise for the repairs has gone to Koslowitz, Comrie wanted to recognized state Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz (D-Flushing), who died Sept. 2, 2017, for being one of the first elected officials to get the ball rolling on this subject.
“I thank my colleagues in government—namely Council member Karen Koslowitz, who has secured $1 million toward the cost of the repair, Assemblymember Daniel Rosenthal, whom I worked closely with on this matter in Albany and the community, and the late Assemblymember Michael Simanowitz, who was a strong advocate for the bridge merchants and community,” said Comrie.
He also thanked the many civic associations that stood up to the MTA, and he plans on working to see the development to the end.
“I will continue to work alongside my partners in the community to ensure that the LIRR follows through on its promises and protects the existing businesses on the bridge.”
Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose