The $148 million development will attempt to alleviate the intense traffic jams that clog the Kew Gardens interchange – a complex junction of the Grand Central Parkway, the Van Wyck Expressway, the Jackie Robinson Parkway, and Union Turnpike – which sees a half-million cars daily.
“The Kew Gardens interchange is one of the most tangled knots of congestion in all of New York City,” said Gee, “impacting the economy of the city and affecting the quality of life of all Queens residents.”
He added that the congestion costs “more than $8 billion in time and fuel spent and amounts to 44 hours a year.”
Construction, which is set to begin shortly after the groundbreaking, calls for the restructuring of a half-mile part of the Van Wyck, south of the interchange, between Union Turnpike and Hillside Avenue. A quarter-mile portion of Queens Boulevard, directly over the Van Wyck, will also be reconstructed.
While all of the thoroughfares connected by the interchange are plagued with traffic delays, the Van Wyck’s route towards John F. Kennedy airport leaves it most susceptible to overlong delays.
“The Van Wyck, in particular, is extraordinarily congested much of the day,” said State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky. “I welcome this effort to streamline and improve traffic flow through Queens because this route is vitally important for transportation between our city’s airports and tourism.”
Six overpasses will be restructured or entirely replaced, including the Queens Boulevard bridges over the Van Wyck and Main Street, the Hoover Avenue Bridge and the 82nd Street pedestrian bridge.
“I’m glad we will be repairing the bridges, many of them are not up-to-date and are unsafe,” said Stavisky. “It’s not all about the cars; pedestrians matter, too.”
The new 82nd Street bridge will be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“Everything that we can do to enable handicapped mobility, we must do,” said Queens Borough President Helen Marshall.
Also set to be reconstructed is the Briarwood-Van Wyck Boulevard subway station, which serves the E and F lines.
New additions to the area include three pedestrian plazas to be built on Queens Boulevard, the planting of 600 trees and extensive landscaping. Auxilary lanes will be added on the Van Wyck, going in both directions, at the interchange with the Grand Central.
“The undertaking of this much-needed project will expand the number of lanes that will alleviate heavy traffic and reduce stress for drivers,” said State Senator Shirley Huntley.
A total of 200 jobs will also result from the project, not all of them related to heavy construction. “We work closely with the General Contractor Association,” said Gee. “They are the ones that hire the skilled labor needed to complete this project.”
State and federal sources will be provide half of the funding for the project, while $72 million comes from the 2005 New York State Transportation Bond Act funds.
“The funding enables our borough to move forward with vital infrastructure projects that will benefit the entire city and its transportation network,” said Marshall.
Despite the large scope of the project, it is only step one of the massive overhaul of the interchange. Step 2 will begin in 2012 and will see the reconstruction of the Van Wyck, north of the interchange, to Jewel Avenue, as well as portions of the other thoroughfares, and the ramps connecting them.