The Long Island Expressway, the longest parking lot in the world, will become wider if the State Department of Transportation has its way. State DOT’s present plan is to create a fourth lane in each direction between exits 64 in Suffolk County and 30 in Queens (the section between exits 57 and 49 has already been built) for high occupancy vehicles. State DOT has also contracted with Parsons Brinkerhoff (a private transportation engineering firm) to study improvements to the LIE between Exit 30 and the Queens Midtown Tunnel. During a public meeting in November, a spokesperson for the Department stated that such improvements might include building “special use lanes.”

In 1996, Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a non-profit watchdog group, began working with residents, civic groups and elected officials in Queens to oppose the expansion. Residents were unaware of the plans because no public hearing had been held in Queens.

That year, Queens Borough President Shulman, State Senator Padavan, Assemblymen Prescott and Weprin, Community Board 11 and the Douglaston Civic Association filed suit to prevent the expansion of the LIE into Queens. That suit was not upheld by the Supreme Court and is presently in the Appeals Court. However, it has delayed the study of the LIE “improvements” between Exit 30 and the Queens Midtown Tunnel.

The residents and elected officials named above as well as Comptroller Hevesi, Representative Ackerman, Council Member Leffler oppose the building of HOV lanes because:

• HOV lanes increase congestion.
• Increases in congestion increase air pollution.
•Widening the LIE increases noise pollution
• Widening the LIE decreases home values and has resulted in several homes being condemned.
• Widening the LIE decreases commercial viability of stores which abut the highway.

So why, given all the opposition to the expansion, does DOT want to build HOV lanes? State DOT claims that the building HOV lanes will decrease congestion. On the surface, the logic seems simple – if more people are in each car, fewer cars will be on the road. However, this logic assumes that the number of However, if the Department of Transportation decongests the Long Island Expressway by building a new lane for HOVs, it will attract more single occupant cars to the LIE taking up the space abandoned by people carpooling. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation study of HOV lanes explains this finding, “If you build additional road capacity, the tendency is for it to be filled up.” Cities across the country have had this experience with HOV lanes, and as you mention, new plans for lanes including one recently rejected by Governor Pataki are largely being abandoned. You quote the DOT’s Long Island Regional Director, Craig Siracusa, that the HOV lanes are “proving themselves” by carrying 900 vehicles. Yet, Mr. Siracusa did not mention whether the non-HOV lanes have become less congested. Nor did the statistics he cited indicate whether passengers in these 900 vehicles carpool because of the HOV lane or whether they carpooled prior to the creation of the lane. DOT’s own statistics lean towards the latter interpretation since there has been almost no growth in usage of the lanes since June of 1996 (implying that the lane simply captured existing carpools and did not create new ones).

Improve LIRR Instead

There are only two ways to decrease congestion – provide clean, safe, fast, transit options or change land use patterns. Transferring the estimated $79 million to speeding up the LIRR would vastly decrease usage of the LIE. LIRR estimates that creating a direct connection to Grand Central Terminal could decrease commute times for riders and attract people out of their cars. Instead of building new roads, building new easily accessible town centers and transit systems will get people out of their cars or considerably shorten their auto trips and decrease the need of people to use the LIE.

They point out that between exits 57 and 49, nine hundred HOV cars use the HOV lanes. However, they have not reported whether those nine hundred cars formed carpools in order to use the lanes or whether they carpooled prior to the lane being built.

Residents and businesses of Maspeth, Middle Village and Elmhurst who have recently been besieged by LIE “upgrades” that dumped truck traffic and cars onto local streets can imagine the turmoil that would occur with any expansion. Even after the lanes have been built, increasing capacity on highways only means more traffic, more congestion and more pollution. To learn more about what you can do to stop the expansion, call Lisa Schreibman at Tri-State Transportation Campaign at (212) 777-8181.

Prior to 1995, the DOT expanded the LIE between Exists 49 and 57. The new lanes were dedicated to High Occupancy Vehicles during rush hours. DOT claimed these lanes were successful because the ridership figures in 1996 indicated that 900 cars/hour used the lanes during rush hours. However, DOT never studied whether the cars using the new lane were new carpools or simply cars which had always met the two-person HOV requirement. DOT figures indicate that they were probably the latter since there has been no increase in carpooling since 1996. Further, DOT never published its figures on ridership in the non-HOV lanes. In other cities, the experience has been that for every car sorted into an HOV lane a new single occupancy car takes its place in the general use lanes.

In 1995 DOT began to hold public hearings on the rest of the expansion of the Long Island Expressway, from three lanes in each direction to four, between exit 64 in Suffolk County to Exit 30 in Queens. The hearings were held in Nassau and Suffolk Counties only.

Also in 1995, DOT began to condemn property near the LIE. For instance, in Roslyn Heights eleven houses were condemned. Community groups in Syosset, East Hills, Roslyn Heights, Old Westbury and Little Neck objected to parts of the LIE expansion.

In 1996, State Senator Padavan, Queens Borough President Shulman, Queens Community Board 11, Douglaston Civic Association and many private individuals sought to enjoin the expansion in Queens claiming that DOT had not properly informed and sought feedback on the plan from residents of Queens. A Supreme Court judge turned down the suit. It is still pending appeal.

In 1997, despite clear opposition to highway expansion in Eastern Queens, DOT contracted with Parsons Brinkerhoff (a private transportation engineering firm) to study upgrades to the LIE between exits 30 and the Queens Midtown Tunnel. In November of 1997 a DOT spokesperson stated that the study, which is technically a “major investment study,” will look at several options including expansion for HOV lanes.