Syncing lights improves Nassau Expressway traffic flow

Jeff Bessen for LI Herald

November 02, 2020

Originally published in Long Island Herald on November 02, 2020.

Three levels of government, New York state, New York City and Nassau County, joined forces to accomplish a goal that many officials have pushed for in the past several years. The trio of traffic signals along Rockaway Turnpike and Rockaway Boulevard have been synchronized.   

The synchronization of the signals at the Nassau Expressway (state Route 878) and Bay Boulevard; Route 878 and Rockaway Turnpike; and East Avenue and Rockaway Turnpike at the Nassau County border with Queens has, according to official numbers, improved overall travel timed through the heavily congested corridor by 30 percent.   

“Not having the lights synced and having backups and [traffic] congestion was making people miserable for a very long time,” said State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat who represents the Five Towns.

Syncing the three traffic signals comes nearly a year after a $130 million project to renovate a .57-mile section of 878 between Burnside Avenue, in Inwood, and Rockaway Turnpike, in Lawrence. The entire state road stretches from Ozone Park, Queens to the Atlantic Beach Bridge and is used by roughly 56,000 vehicles per day, according to state officials.

“The NYS Department of Transportation coordinated with the Nassau County Department of Public Works and the NYC Department of Transportation to optimize signal timing and reduce bottlenecking on Rockaway Turnpike/Rockaway Boulevard and Nassau Expressway, which has improved travel times, said DOT spokesman Stephen Canzoneri. “All three agencies have committed to monitoring patterns and conditions for future modifications as needed.”

The project included raising the road three to four feet to reduce flooding, and the installation of new multi-use pedestrian path, a state-of-art drainage system and turning lanes. An ancillary benefit was the destruction of a nearly 250,000-square-foot, 30-foot-high heap of construction debris known as the “Inwood Mound” that sat along the expressway near the Bay Boulevard intersection. 

For Five Towns residents and those of surrounding South Shore communities, the Nassau Expressway serves as an evacuation route in case of emergencies such as hurricanes and the roadway to John. F. Kennedy International Airport.      

“I’m very proud of 878 project,” Kaminsky said, “and the cooperation between, the state, county and city was something that was necessary for all the parties as it makes for a smoother ride from  Nassau to JFK and Far Rockaway, and is a marked improvement.” 

Nassau County Traffic Engineering worked with the state and city to review the congestion issue. County officials said that traffic signals along 878 were “well-coordinated,” but there “was a lack of coordination between the signals on Nassau Expressway and Rockaway Turnpike from Seagirt Boulevard to the JFK Airport.”

After several visits to the area and a meeting, signal timing changes were made. County officials said that state DOT will conduct a study of the area to “develop an overall signal timing plan for additional improvement in the operations along the corridor.” The county will also meet with the city’s Metropolitan Transportation Council to discuss improvements to the Nassau Queens Interface Study to include a deeper study of possible improvements. 

Nassau County Deputy Presiding Officer Howard Kopel (R-Lawrence) who initiated a constituent letter-writing campaign in 2014 to get the state to move on plans for the expressway said it is good the traffic signals were synchronized, but the state is shortchanging taxpayers.  

“The only thing in my opinion that will do any good to get the traffic from the South Shore off the commercial strip is a bypass,” he said. “There are people who are traveling to Queens or Manhattan and just want to get where they are going.”