There are only three paths out of the Rockaways — and one of them is crumbling

Cross Bay Boulevard, a main evacuation route for residents of Broad Channel, is still in bad shape a decade after Superstorm Sandy.

November 2, 2022 Haidee Chu, THE CITY
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The cracked and crumbling Cross Bay Boulevard, one of the three paths out of the Rockaways, has been the subject of an outsized share of citizen complaints, according to an analysis by THE CITY.

The thoroughfare has been a problem for decades, according to frustrated residents of Broad Channel. That’s the neighborhood on an island in Jamaica Bay just north of the Rockaways and south of mainland Queens, with the boulevard running through it and A train tracks immediately to the east.

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“If there’s a roadway collapse, or if there’s another hurricane, Broad Channel has nowhere to go and people from the center of Rockaway have no way to get out,” local Community Board 14 Chairperson Dolores Orr told THE CITY.

The asphalt of the boulevard is pocked with deep, visible cracks and depressions, even ten years after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy highlighted the need for resiliency work in the area. These days, locals are renewing the call for a complete rebuild of the roadway — which has been the top item on Community Board 14’s capital project list since 1990, including in the most recent budget draft published in mid-October.

Dan Mundy Sr., 85, a lifelong Broad Channel resident and former president of the neighborhood’s civic association, recalled receiving a call in the early 2000s from a local homeowner upset that her house — just doors down from a concrete drainage tunnel that supports a section of Cross Bay Boulevard — shook when trucks passed it.

Mundy said he eventually learned the problem stemmed from the installation of new sewers in the 1990s — a project that required digging trenches and hollowing out the concrete base that supports both sides of the boulevard. This, he said, in turn destabilized the tunnel — and the boulevard at large — as solid concrete was replaced by a patchwork remedy.

Three decades later, trucks, buses and even cars thud loudly as they drive over the cracks formed where the tunnel walls meet the road.

“It’s an accident waiting to happen,” said Mundy, pointing to the tunnel, which is usually walkable when the tide is low but was flooded by a high tide when THE CITY visited Thursday morning. “When you do go under there, you can really see where the concrete is falling off. The [steel] rebars are all sticking out.”

Mundy pointed to another section along the tunnel — also known as a culvert or “sluiceway” to locals —  where he said a pothole has opened up time and again. From inside the culvert, Munday said he can “almost put my hands up to the street” where the weak spot is.

“They keep coming and they fix it, and it falls apart again,” Mundy told THE CITY. “So it’s just a Band-Aid they’re doing on everything here.”

Major complaints

The cracks and potholes along the culvert are just one symptom of how the sewer installations that gutted the boulevard in the 1990s have, over the years, continued to destabilize the nearly century-old roadway, said Mundy. The boulevard is estimated to carry an average of about 25,000 cars a day.

About a half-mile south down the boulevard from the culvert is a noticeable depression that has only sunken deeper over time, locals say. Another section of the boulevard near the depression, too, partially collapsed about 10 years ago, Mundy added — which prompted an emergency repair from the city.

Mundy worries that deteriorating conditions at the culvert — and the boulevard at large — could cause a collapse that would not only halt traffic on the road, but also rupture sewer lines and water mains that serve the area. Already, 311 complaint data suggests that the portion of the boulevard crossing the waters of Jamaica Bay is more problem-prone than that on the mainland.

The city Department of Transportation has received 150 street condition complaints about the Broad Channel section of the boulevard since Sandy — more than double that of the mainland section of the boulevard, of similar length, which sits within the same community district. In Broad Channel, complaints reported 27 cave-ins, 108 potholes, and 16 instances of wear and tear or “rough, pitted or cracked roads,” according to an analysis of 311 reports by THE CITY.

In the same 10-year timespan, the Marine Parkway Bridge — the other cross-bay route out of the Rockaways, which sees comparable daily traffic to the boulevard — drew just 25 street condition complaints, including 16 potholes, two rough roads and two cave-ins.

“They have done work on the main roadway — not significantly, but enough that they can keep putting it off,” Orr told THE CITY.

But the roadway needs more than just the kind of “substandard remedy” that followed the sewer installation, Mundy said. True resiliency, he believes, would require a complete rebuild that “takes everything out that’s here, and then fill in all the holes, compact [them] down, and then lay a new concrete piece.”

Cracks are visible in the culvert, or tunnel, that runs underneath Cross Bay Boulevard in Broad Channel, pictured last week. Photo: Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

Growing needs

According to a June community board resolution, the city has already approved 12,000 new rental units to be developed on the Rockaways over the next two to three years, which will bring an estimated minimum of 6,000 new cars to the peninsula and put more pressure on Cross Bay Boulevard.

“With every development project, the question is: What about transportation?” said Orr.

But reconstruction prospects for Cross Bay Boulevard have stalled for a few reasons, according to Mundy, including a dispute between the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Transportation about which city department is responsible for the culverts.

“I spent years with the agencies, and nobody knew [the culvert] existed,” Mundy recalled from his civic association duties. “Then when they looked on maps and stuff, they couldn’t find anything to do with any agency that ever did anything on it.”

The city transportation department, however, seems unworried. “The Cross Bay Boulevard culvert is structurally sound,” DOT spokesperson Vin Barone told THE CITY after conferring with DEP. “DOT is working with its sister agencies to conduct routine inspections while we continue to explore long-term infrastructure upgrades.”

Mundy said he recalls just two inspections conducted on the culvert in Broad Channel — one from about 10 years ago, then another in December of 2019. But he also added that “nobody can seem to find” the inspection reports.

Continuous economic limitations, too, have also posed additional challenges to the prospect of reconstruction, Mundy noted. A pending City Council resolution calls on Congress to approve legislation that would “proactively fund the planning and construction” of coastal resiliency projects by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

And even as Broad Channel received an influx of financial aid for resiliency work in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Mundy added, that money was directed to imminent priorities like rebuilding homes that had been destroyed and raising the boulevard’s side streets to elevate houses above the floodplain.

“There’s a lot of road work going on in Broad Channel, which is a good thing — they’re really important things,” Orr told THE CITY. “But the DOT, if they know that there’s construction work that’s going to be done on that roadway within five years, they’re not going to do a complete rebuild because they don’t want all this patchwork.”

With the street-raising project well underway, however, Mundy said it is all the more important that the city finally focuses on rebuilding Cross Bay Boulevard lest future road work and construction in adjacent areas  become a continuous impediment to the boulevard’s rebuilding and resiliency efforts.

“I was worried about it 10 years before Hurricane Sandy,” Mundy told THE CITY, before driving down a side road that sometimes gets covered by ponds of rainwater backed up from the sewer system during high tide. “What I’m trying to do is get ahead of it — not wait till we have another big emergency. Let’s get moving while we can.”

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