The Draft New York State FFY 2014-2017 Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) was recently released for comment, and once again, NYSDOT is dressing up a road widening to look like a much more progressive transportation project.
NYSDOT is proposing to extend the Long Island Expressway’s (LIE) westbound contraflow bus/taxi/HOV 3+ lane to 97th Street in Queens. The lane currently runs between the Queens-Midtown Tunnel and Calvary Cemetery/58th Street and is available for use between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. A contraflow lane such as this would add a lane through the use of a movable divider.
Although the $18 million project is being presented as something that will improve transit service, it looks like nothing more than a widening project — and one that will be paid for using limited Congestion Mitigation & Air Quality (CMAQ) money.
TSTC has advocated against HOV lanes on the LIE for years, because widening highways — even by just rearranging lanes during peak periods — doesn’t relieve congestion over the long term. Added capacity eventually fills up, resulting in the same congestion the widening was intended to alleviate.
One would hope that NYSDOT would have learned from past experience. In 2009 NYSDOT moved forward with a plan allowing cars with two or more passengers (HOV2+) to use the westbound bus-only lane on the Staten Island Expressway (SIE) – a lane added in 2005 for the express purpose of bus-only use. Once NYSDOT started allowing HOV2+ into the SIE lane, the department found that bus delays became more frequent and that 54 percent of vehicles in the HOV2+ lane were single occupancy vehicles, showing the conversion actually created a de facto general traffic lane.
If NYSDOT truly wants to mitigate congestion on the LIE, it could use the money to beef up bus service, transform the HOV lane into a bus-only lane, or convert the existing lane to a High Occupancy Toll lane, providing drivers (even single-occupancy drivers) real options to bypass congestion while also raising revenue for transportation.