To drive their point home, the group of officials, assembled by Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, held a noisy press conference at the truck-clogged intersection of Grand and Flushing avenues as dozens of oversized vehicles whizzed past.
“These trucks are not here as props [they're] here all the time,” said Congressman Joseph Crowley, the councilwoman's cousin. “This is a health hazard to the community.”
Officials and community groups have complained of truck traffic in Maspeth for years, with little result. Now the Department of Transportation (DOT) is preparing a Maspeth Bypass Plan to move trucks out of the neighborhood, but a study of the project won't be finished till this fall. In the meantime, said Councilwoman Crowley, DOT should change the area's designated through truck routes to local routes.
The change would block trucks from using a portion of Myrtle Avenue and Grand and Flushing avenues between the Long Island Expressway and the border with Brooklyn. Hundreds do every day, to avoid nearby highways, slowing traffic and adding to air pollution in Maspeth and Ridgewood that has contributed to some of the highest asthma rates in all of Queens.
“While we wait for the Maspeth Bypass Plan to take effect, this simple adjustment will serve as a temporary solution for our community,” said Crowley. “Alleviating these traffic issues would, without a doubt, improve the health of these residents.”
The transportation department has told elected officials it would review the plan. A DOT spokesperson did not return calls seeking comment.
Simply changing the truck routes might not be enough, however, to stop truck drivers from using them anyway. Assemblywoman Margaret Markey said unless the rules are enforced truckers would continue riding through Maspeth and Ridgewood.
“We can have all the plans that we want but if we don't have the police to enforce the regulation everything is for naught,” Markey said.
In November of 2005, Markey sent a letter to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly urging him to create a mobile truck inspection unit to patrol the 104th Precinct for tractor trailers using local streets. Markey offered to spend $50,760 in capital funds on a surveillance vehicle for the unit and scales to weigh trucks that exit the highway.
The NYPD declined her offer.