For decades, the Village of New Hyde Park has dealt with the traffic and safety hazards of a grade crossing on New Hyde Park Road. When construction began to remove the crossing and the road was closed to traffic, those inconveniences were exacerbated. Now, the removal has been completed and the road is open to traffic.
“Right now, everyone seems to love it,” Rainer Burger, a New Hyde Park village trustee, said of the completed underpass.
The new underpass has two lanes going each way with a steep drop going under the Long Island Rail Road tracks. It has concrete walkways on both sides of the road for pedestrians to traverse under the tracks.
New Hyde Park Mayor Lawrence J. Montreuil said the people who live on and around New Hyde Park Road should be recognized since they have been subjected to large amounts of inconvenience with traffic as well as noise and vibration from the construction.
Burger said since construction on New Hyde Park Road started, they have had “a lot of traffic issues.”
Burger is the main contact the village has with Third Track Constructors, the contractors undertaking the Long Island Rail Road expansion project to add a third track from Floral Park to Hicksville, and all the grade crossing eliminations and station renovations that come with it.
He said when the road was closed for construction on Feb. 3, everything was diverted onto Covert Avenue and South 12th Street and sometimes traffic spilled onto residential streets.
“We had a traffic nightmare because we had shut down a major artery,” Burger said.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and with it came lockdowns on business and travel. Burger said the traffic problems “went away.”
Before the shutdown, Burger said he asked Third Track Constructors to have the underpass completed by Labor Day. This was because when an underpass was installed on nearby Covert Avenue in 2019, the traffic problems were much worse in the nonsummer months.
According to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the underpass was finished two months ahead of time and the downturn in public transportation ridership and vehicle traffic had allowed many public transportation projects to be fast-tracked since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
While Montreuil agreed that the construction was a great inconvenience, he said the village had seen the grade crossings as a nuisance for decades. The crossings would cause traffic buildups when trains came through and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said that the grade crossings contributed to noise and air pollution and were a safety issue as six fatal crashes had occurred at grade crossings on the Long Island Rail Road Main Line between 2007 and 2017.
The removal of the grade crossings from Covert Avenue last year even caused the New Hyde Park Street Fair, which has consistently drawn thousands of visitors to Jericho Turnpike, to be converted into a Community Day. This year’s Community Day was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bill Cutrone, president of the Lakeville Estates Civic Association, said the grade crossings caused “tremendous” backups during rush hour.
Despite that, Cutrone said he wouldn’t say the traffic caused by the construction rose to “nightmare” level. He said his association worked with the village to implement better detours and signs to alleviate some of that problem.
Cutrone did have one concern, which was when snow slickens the road in the winter, cars could have trouble getting up the hill created by the underpass on the northbound side, which has a stop sign at the top.
The next project that will be undertaken in the village is the conversion of South 12th Street into a dead-end street. The grade crossing will be closed permanently to traffic and dead-ended on both sides. Burger said the reasons for this were safety concerns because in the past drivers have blown through the signs signifying a train is coming or been stuck on the tracks when the crossing gates came down.