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Highway Expansion

State DOT to Add ‘Auxiliary Lane’ on LIE — A Highway-Widening Project, Opponents Charge

11:20 AM EDT on July 31, 2020

The State thinks adding an additional lane here will reduce congestion.

The state Department of Transportation wants to give more space to cars on a stretch of a Robert Moses-era highway in Queens — a 1950s-era idea that is merely a highway expansion, and will only attract more traffic, cause more crashes, and more pollution, Queens critics charge.

State transportation honchos told Queens Community Board 11’s Transportation Committee last week that they plan to build a new "auxiliary lane" on the Long Island Expressway between the southbound Clearview Expressway and the Springfield Boulevard exit ramp.

Source: State DOT
Source: State DOT

State reps claim the work will alleviate congestion and make the area safer “by providing a longer distance for motorists to merge on and off the highway,” but members of the civic panel argue that it will do the exact opposite due to what’s called induced demand — a proven phenomenon that says creating more space for cars increases traffic rather than reducing it.

“Freeway widenings, and this is a freeway widening, even if it is over a limited length of the LIE really have short-lived advantages just due to the fact, the law of induced demand," said CB11 board member Ben Turner. "Just wondering why state DOT is still pursuing this strategy. We know climate change is a dire threat to our generation, to future generations, and still embracing this is really a vision of Robert Moses 80 years ago, and it doesn't work, it’s expensive and futile."

Now, on the roughly one mile of roadway between the two exit ramps is some green space that follows the path of service road to its side, which DOT would replace with the new on-off lane.

"That effectively is a highway widening — we're talking about removing the green space to widen out the highway," said Queens resident and safe streets activist Joby Jacob. 

A rep for the state could not provide an estimate for the project's price, but Jacob blasted it in its entirety, saying that spending any money on an alleged improvement for drivers at all is a slap in the face to public transit riders in Queens, as the MTA is facing a $16-billion deficit.

"It strains credulity that at the very moment Albany is talking about cutting MTA service for Queens residents, Albany will also spend millions of dollars to ram a highway widening through a Queens community to benefit Long Islanders," said Jacob.

State DOT reps told the board that the area is a “bottleneck” and the project is not considered a highway widening, but is just adding a supplemental roadway less than a mile long between two exit ramps.

"There are no current plans to widen the Long Island Expressway, but there is a project in the preliminary design phase to connect the entrance and exit ramps on the eastbound LIE via an auxiliary lane, less than a mile," said state DOT spokeswoman Diane Park.

But Gov. Cuomo used the same excuse when he built the $1 billion Kosciuszko Bridge with three additional lanes of traffic, for what he claimed at the time would reduce congestion.

But not long after it was built, traffic returned to the same-old — speeds heading towards Queens during the evening rush hour slowed to an average of 16 miles an hour, down from 19 miles an hour on the old bridge, the WSJ reported at the time, though the state claimed speeds actually increased.

And the project area is right near several schools and churches, where kids and worshippers would be subject to an influx of cars and their deadly emissions, throughout the length of construction and once it's finished.

"There's lot of schools in this area, those kids have to go to school every day with more pollution in their lungs because of this. I don't see the logic in this, we're trying to move to more green energy, safer environments, stop climate change," said another board member during the virtual meeting on July 21. 

DOT says construction on the project, which is currently in its early design phase, is slated to start next fall and wrap by fall 2023.

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