Thursday, March 11, 2010

Maspeth Demands Immediate Steps to Reduce Truck Traffic

Crowley Calls for Change to Through Route Designation

By Conor Greene

Sick and tired of heavy truck traffic along Grand Avenue, elected officials and community leaders came out in force last week to demand that the city take action to prevent large vehicles from using local roads instead of nearby expressways.

The long-awaited Maspeth Truck Bypass Plan is still being studied by the city Department of Transportation, which expects to unveil several route options to the public in September. In the meantime, a group of officials led by Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) is requesting that changes be made to the through-truck routes that currently run along Grand and Flushing avenues into Brooklyn.

Currently, the through route becomes local truck routes once the avenues enter Brooklyn, meaning vehicles can currently exit the Long Island Expressway and cut through Maspeth to reach their destinations. Crowley wants the DOT to change the through route designation to a local route, forcing truckers to stay on the expressway until they reach their destination.

“For far too long the DOT has ignored the traffic problems in Maspeth... and has allowed trucks to use [the neighborhood] as a dumping ground,” said Crowley during last Friday’s press conference at the intersection of Flushing and Grand avenues. “Why is Maspeth the only location in the city where the DOT allows a through route to terminate at a borough boundary?”

Crowley notes it would only require a “simple adjustment” to change the route designation and alleviate the strain on local roads, and says the change could be implemented within days or weeks. “What we’re asking for is something so simple… It’s not fair for people to be using Grand Avenue to get to Brooklyn,” she said.

Joining the councilwoman at the event were officials including Rep. Joseph Crowley, Rep. Anthony Weiner, Senator Joe Addabbo, Assemblywoman Marge Markey, Jim O’ Kane of the Maspeth Chamber of Commerce, Gary Giordano of Community Board 5, Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, and members of the Juniper Park Civic Association, which has been pushing for the Bypass for years.

A city DOT spokesman wouldn’t say whether the agency will change the route designation, and didn’t provide an update on the status of the bypass plan study. “We are studying the concept of a local truck route as we move ahead with the ongoing Maspeth Bypass study and discussions with the community,” said Scott Gastel in a statement.

Crowley spoke with Queens Commissioner Maura McCarthy before Friday’s rally, but the councilwoman’s office refused to provide details of that conversation.

After more than a decade of waiting for action to reduce the amount of trucks rumbling through the neighborhood’s commercial center, residents and officials say they are running out of patience with the DOT.

Robert Holden of the JPCA said the problem became much worse with the closing of the Staten Island landfill ten years ago, at which time community activist Frank Principe and Maspeth business owner Tony Nunziato began devising the bypass plan. “Here we are in 2010 talking about the same thing,” he lamented. “We’ve done so many studies, yet the DOT is not listening. Our patience has run out – we need something done right now.”

“It has sat on many a desk for too long,” said Nunziato of the bypass plan.

Assemblywoman Marge Markey, who has represented Maspeth since 1998, said the truck traffic negatively impact the local quality of life in numerous ways, including by adding to air pollution, creating hazardous conditions for pedestrians and clogging up roads for local drivers. “In these tough economic times, it is important that we do everything we can to help neighborhood businesses survive,” she said.

When asked why elected officials have yet to be able to get the truck bypass plan implemented, she laid the blame with the city. “It’s just that the DOT is working at a very slow pace. I think it’s a real embarrassment for that agency,” she responded.

Jim O’ Kane of the Maspeth Chamber of Commerce said the trucks have a huge impact on the many senior citizens living and shopping in the area. “They are intimidated by this truck traffic while crossing the street,” he said.

After the official press conference ended, members of the JPCA including Holden, Nunziato, Manny Caruana and Lorraine Sciulli called out several of the politicians whom they say only attended for a “photo op” after dragging their feet on the issue for a decade.

“Frankly, I’m surprised a couple of the elected officials dared show their faces,” said Holden, specifically mentioning Markey, Joe Crowley and Anthony Weiner. “Marge Markey never mentioned Tony Nunziato, who thought of the plan. What’s happened since 1999? Zero. She can’t even get trucks off the main street of her own town.”

Lydon Sleeper, chief of staff for Councilwoman Crowley, interjected several times that holding the second conference “is not right.”

“Had they done their jobs for ten years, this would have been done,” said Sciulli. “These elected officials didn’t do their job for ten years.”

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