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Another Lane Coming to Staten Island Expressway to — Again — Try to Solve Congestion ‘Problem’

11:44 PM EDT on October 26, 2020

Politicians love a shovel shot. (From left) Rep. Max Rose, Assembly Member Michael Cusack, state DOT Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez, and State Sen. Diane Savino.

The more lanes you have, the better traffic will flow, right?

That’s once again the thinking behind the latest fattening of the Staten Island Expressway, the interstate running through the gut of the Forgotten Borough that's so despised by residents of the Rock, they call it the “Distressway.”

But the politicians and and state planners watching traffic creep by near the westbound Richmond Avenue exit early Monday afternoon were all smiles as they cheered a $3.3-million “auxiliary lane” that will extend a little more than half a mile from the exit of the Martin Luther King Jr. Expressway to the South Avenue exit (map below):

Come on — will this really help? Photo: State DOT
Come on — will this really help? Photo: State DOT

They say the new lane — the fourth on this section of the highway — will reduce congestion by giving westbound drivers from the MLK Expressway more time to merge into New Jersey-bound traffic.

Rep. Max Rose (D–S.I.), who is battling to hold his seat amid a challenge from Republican Assembly Member Nicole Malliotakis, said his goal is to ensure that car drivers get more asphalt.

“This is not something that is anecdotal, and this is not something that should be minimized,” Rose said. “Every minute, every second, every hour that we give people back from their horrendous commutes and this traffic nightmare is more time with their families, more time for leisure, more time to invest in themselves. We can do better, and today we say we have a plan to do better. We are not going to let up until this is fully solved.” 

But is adding a new lane for all traffic the answer? When Streetsblog asked about induced demand — the fundamental law of highway congestion which states that adding lanes for cars reduces traffic only temporarily, until the new lane gets overwhelmed — Rose brushed it off as poppycock.

“Let’s actually try to help people here. That’s what this is all about,” he said. “Not some theoretical notion.”

About 10 years ago, the state invested more than $75 million to widen and reconfigure about three-quarters of Interstate 278 between the Verrazzano-Narrows and Goethals bridges. That plan targeted the strip roughly between the Verrazzano and Victory Boulevard, with extra lanes, new entrances and exits, and two full-time HOV lanes installed. But it left out this portion of the roadway, which now routinely backs up as traffic heads toward Jersey in the afternoon. 

State officials said they would provide Streetsblog with numbers comparing car and congestion counts on the entirety of the roadway from before and after that work was completed. (We'll post a story when we get those stats.)

On the plus side, the daily back-up has led some of the Island’s elected officials, including Rose, to push for the extension of the HOV lane on the Jersey-bound side all the way to the Goethals Bridge — which would give more room to buses and cars carrying at least three passengers while not taking away space from trucks and low-occupancy cars.

The state is adding plane to the Staten Island Expressway, hoping it will help cars and trucks like these whiz through the borough.
The state is adding plane to the Staten Island Expressway, hoping it will help cars and trucks like these whiz through the borough.

That plan hasn’t been approved by the state, but, according to state Department of Transportation Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez, it is on the table.

“That is something that was always under consideration, and we’re going to continue to look at it,” she said.

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