On Friday, local lawmakers and the state Department of Transportation (SDOT) announced that by the end of the year, large trucks will be allowed to stay on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE) from the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge to the Long Island Expressway in both directions.
Right now, only small trucks are permitted to stay on the expressway. Bigger trucks are forced to exit the BQE at three locations due to 12'-6” clearances. They end up taking local roads in Astoria, Woodside and Sunnyside, which legislators say cause congestion, pollute the air, and create dangerous conditions for pedestrians.
On November 12, SDOT began work to lower the roadway at three bridges at 31st street, 69th Street and Broadway to a new clearance of 14 feet.
The $2.5 million project, including micro-milling the concrete pavement, lowering the catch basins, resurfacing the pavement and changing all the signs, is expected to be complete by the end of the year.
According to SDOT acting commissioner Paul Karas, the agency worked with the Federal Highway Administration to determine what it would take to increase the clearance. They also conducted a lengthy environmental review and if the infrastructure can sustain the change.
Karas said the change is beneficial for truckers as well, who don’t have to get off the BQE and wind their way through a neighborhood.
“They wouldn’t want to do that because it’s more time-consuming, it’s inconvenient, it’s a tougher drive and it’s slower,” he said.
In a statement, Governor Andrew Cuomo called it a “common-sense infrastructure project.”
“Working with the local community and truckers, we are correcting a long-standing inconvenience, improving safety and reducing congestion, as well as helping trucks and area residents get around safely and more efficiently,” he said.
Lawmakers from all levels of government advocated for this change for a long time. Congressman Joseph Crowley said the intersection at Astoria Boulevard, near the entrance of the RFK Bridge, the N elevated train and the BQE, is “full of noise pollution.” It has become normalcy for residents to hear the “constant din.”
“There’s more that needs to be done, but I can’t tell you how incredibly important this is for our community,” Crowley said. “We are grateful for this, this is a great present.”
In 2004, State Senator Michael Gianaris passed legislation to allow smaller trucks to stay on the stretch of the BQE. He said for four gubernatorial administrations, lawmakers have begged and pleaded to expand the clearance to give larger trucks the same change.
“It’s taken too long, but we’re here to say finally this community will have some relief,” Gianaris said.
Councilman Costa Constantinides noted the impact this change will have on parents with strollers, seniors and families who have to deal with 18-wheelers on local roads. He said it doesn’t just affect one intersection, but all of Astoria Boulevard from 44th Street, where trucks get on and off the BQE.
“The truckers who have to get off at 44th Street want nothing to do with this community,” Constantinides said. “They’re here to pass through, they’re not interested in stopping in Astoria.
“They just want to go as quickly as they can, so it makes our traffic more unsafe,” he added. “It’s made for a bad situation for all our families in western Queens.”
Twenty-year Astoria resident Matthew Weiss has advocated for this change for years. His apartment sits just 50 feet from Astoria Boulevard.
“This is an amazing boon for our community to get these giant machines off of our local roadways and back onto the highway where they can go about their business without disturbing us with their noise and their pollution,” he said.
For Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas, this fight has been personal. She grew up near Astoria Boulevard, and for decades has seen the safety and environmental hazards of trucks on local streets.
“This long, horrible nightmare for the people who live, work, travel and raise their families in Astoria is finally coming to an end,” Simotas said. “I can’t think of a nicer gift to this community this holiday season.”