Thursday, April 1, 2010

Rego Center Opening Causes Traffic Woes

By Conor Greene

The new Rego Center has only been open several weeks, but complaints have been pouring in from residents about constant traffic jams on the roads surrounding the huge retail space.

Local elected officials, community leaders and the city Department of Transportation are now looking into ways to alleviate the strain placed on area roads, including the Long Island Expressway, Queens Boulevard, Junction Boulevard and 62nd Drive. While some of the complaints focused on the center’s opening weekend, Community Board 6 District Manager Frank Gulluscio said the gripes have continued since then.

And, while Kohl’s, T.J. Maxx and Century 21 are already opened, there is concern the problems will only worsen when bulk discounter Costco opens in the coming weeks. “The traffic during opening weekend was really horrendous, but we’re still getting complaints from people, mostly on 97th Street,” said Gulluscio. “Their concern is traffic, no doubt about it - getting ambulances in and out of the area, the public school down the block and pedestrian safety for residents and those going to the mall.”

Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) said that Queens DOT Commissioner Maura McCarthy agreed to review the situation now that the mall is open. “They’ve been working with us on this and I don’t think is a final deal,” he said, adding that he is hopeful traffic will be alleviated once the mall’s second entrance, located off the Horace Harding Expressway, is opened. “They [mall management] have been very responsive to us, and it’s a good thing to have the mall over there, we just have to iron out the kinks.”

The property is adjacent to the district represented by Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), who vowed to work with Dromm, CB 6 and the DOT “to make sure that we meet an appropriate balance between protecting the needs of the residents in the area with the economic benefits that the new mall brings.” She urged residents to contact her office with suggestions about improving the situation.

In a statement, a DOT spokesman said department officials met at the site prior to the mall opening and will be back there next week to review issues raised since the opening. Traffic patterns outside the mall are being monitored and requests submitted by community leaders and residents are being studied. The specific proposals include changing 62nd Drive to a one-way street, changing the timing of traffic lights on Junction Boulevard and 62nd Drive and reviewing the situation along 97th Street.

The DOT spokesman noted that many of the issues occurred on the mall’s opening weekend and said the department expects traffic will ease once customers and residents get used to the new layout.

Middle Village resident Lorraine Sciulli said she was disappointed how difficult it was to navigate the local streets around the shopping center on a midday trip there on a recent weekday. “It’s a horror. It was very hard to park as you would imagine. Totally tied up,” she said. “If more stores are coming in, they definitely have to make adjustments with the traffic. I don’t know what, but something has to happen.”

Despite the planned improvements, there is a feeling that more should have been done ahead of time to reduce the project’s impact on the neighborhood. “I expressed some of these reservations in advance when I was running for office, but now it’s there,” said Dromm. “I would have liked to see a ramp going to the expressway, and there were some other things that probably needed to be negotiated before the mall was given the okay.”

Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, said the project has also led to constant backups along the LIE. He agrees that steps such have been taken prior to the center’s opening, such as creation of an additional lane on the exit ramp, to prevent these problems.

“It was insufficient five years ago and it’s only worse now because of the new mall and expansion of the Queens Center Mall,” said Holden. “They’re going to have to have an emergency DOT meeting to address all these concerns because when you can’t get around, people start moving away.”

Still, Gulluscio maintained that the project is beneficial to the community. “It’s become a destination, with everything located right here as far as retail stores,” he said. “You don’t have to go to Long Island anymore, and the economic base stays in Queens, especially the hundreds of jobs created. People aren’t happy initially, but it’s there so we just have to make it work moving forward.”

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