Lawmakers sound alarms for storm evacuation routes

Lawmakers sound alarms for storm evacuation routes

Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder is calling on the state to reinvigorate its evacuation procedures in the event of natural disasters.  File Photo

Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder is calling on the state to reinvigorate its evacuation procedures in the event of natural disasters. File Photo

Southern Queens leaders are looking for a way out.


Superstorm Sandy may have been an anomaly in terms of its severity and timing, but it also shined a harsh light on the region’s ability to evacuate, lawmakers said. State Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park) and Nassau County Legislator Howard Kopel linked up to collect signatures for the governor demanding upgrades along crucial exit routes.


“Residents in southern Queens and Rockaway have always been isolated geographically and often rely on one road in and out to access their home, which can be devastating in an emergency,” said Goldfeder, who has been one of many active voices in southern Queens pushing for storm preparedness since Sandy. “I strongly urge every resident to sign this petition today and send a strong message to Governor [Andrew] Cuomo that we cannot wait for another Sandy disaster to address out limited and deteriorating evacuation routes.”


The assemblyman penned a letter to state Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald and city Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg at the start of hurricane season this year calling for designated evacuation routes and signage to be updated regularly in his neck of Queens. The state passed that call onto the city, which has yet to respond, Goldfeder said.


“Agencies must stop passing the buck,” he said. “The longer we delay addressing these important issues, the more we are putting our families lives at risk each day.”


In his petition, Goldfeder argued that crucial pathways, including Beach Channel Drive and Cross Bay Boulevard, serve essentially as the only ways out in times of crisis for residents in Howard Beach or the Rockaway Peninsula. With their constituents united behind him, the lawmakers said they hoped to persuade the governor to prioritize emergency evacuation procedures throughout the region’s most vulnerable south shore spots.


“It is time that the residents of the Five Towns and surrounding neighborhoods, including Long Beach and Atlantic Beach, are treated with the same respect and attention that are accorded to other state residents,” Kopel said.


Kopel argued that Route 878 in his Nassau district could barely handle rush hour traffic – let alone emergency evacuation procedures.  He blamed Cuomo for continuously pushing back any evacuation renovations for years and said lawmakers were playing with fire with each delay.


“The traffic patterns on Rockaway Boulevard and the full construction of the Nassau Expressway have been studied for decades,” he said. “The only plausible resolution for the constantly increasing congestion is to complete the Nassau Expressway, connecting the northern section in Queens, near the Van Wyck Expressway and Belt Parkway, to the southern portion running from the Atlantic Beach Bridge to Rockaway Boulevard.”


Jonathan Gaska, district manager of Community Board 14, had a front-row seat to the devastation Sandy left behind two years ago. In a statement, he said he called on the state to implement ways to fund more capital projects to make the region’s only escape routes flow more easily.


“The efficient flow of traffic is vital to a safe evacuation, not only does signage need to be improved, roadway and drainage improvements need to be made in the Five Towns area of Route 878, Rockaway Turnpike as well,” he said.


By Phil Corso


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