When the Cross Island Parkway was built in the 1930s in anticipation of accommodating visitors to the 1939 World's Fair, it cut through the heart of Bellerose. A pedestrian tunnel was constructed at 88th Road that goes under the busy parkway to connect the neighborhood.
Over the past couple of years, say residents, the tunnel has become an eyesore and a safety hazard at night because the lights no longer work.
“I've never seen it in such bad condition,” said State Senator Tony Avella, who was joined by numerous resident last week to call on the city to maintain the tunnel. “It's unsightly, but unsafe as well because the lights are out.”
Maintenance for the tunnel falls under the jurisdiction of the “bridge painters,” a small unit of the Department of Transportation (DOT) responsible for the upkeep of every bridge and tunnel in the city.
“Is this tunnel a priority?” asked Avella. “Probably not, but we need to make it a priority.”
Avella said last week that he sent a letter to DOT on the issue, but residents say that is was only after the state senator scheduled the press conference that they finally noticed a work crew trying to cover up some of the graffiti at the entrances to the tunnel.
But the graffiti is just the beginning. In addition to the broken lights, the paint on the walls is cracked and peeling, and residents say during heavy rains the tunnel floods because the sewers need cleaned out.
“It does require a little time and effort, but this community deserves the effort,” said Avella.
A DOT spokesperson confirmed they received Avella's letter, and said the agency was conducting maintenance at the site.
But some residents argue that a one-time effort isn't sufficient, and that the city needs to revisit the tunnel on a consistent basis.
“This has been an ongoing problem,” said Bob Friedrich, co-op president of nearby Glen Oaks Village. “This needs to be put on a regular maintenance schedule so we aren't here again in a year or two.”
And the Cross Island Parkway divides more than a neighborhood, on a smaller scale it divides a parish community. On one side of the tunnel sits St. Gregory the Great Church, and on the other side sits St. Gregory the Great School.
“The tunnel gets a lot of use because we have kids going back and forth between the school and church for activities and events,” said Reverend William Dulaney, parochial vicar at St. Gregory. “On Sunday mornings, many people travel back and forth from mass.”
Angela Augugliaro of the Queens Colony Civic Association in Bellerose, said her group used to get money for paint from the city and volunteers would paint the tunnel from time to time, but it can't keep up.
“Our civic association has tried for years to paint over the graffiti by volunteering our time and buying paint out of our own pockets,” she said. “But the conditions have become much worse and we are unable to paint over the problems.”