June 27, 2021 By Christina Santucci
Queens Borough President Donovan Richards has formed a task force of elected officials, city agencies and community leaders to address quality of life issues in College Point.
The group met for the first time earlier this month to discuss matters including an ongoing sewer construction project in the neighborhood, which residents say has been very disruptive for road users in recent years.
The $113 million project began in 2017, and involves upgrades to streets and infrastructure as well as the installation of more than four miles of new storm sewers on more than 80 blocks in College Point, according to the Department of Design and Construction (DDC), which is overseeing the work. Originally scheduled to be completed this year, the job is now expected to conclude in 2023.
College Point civic leaders and residents said the sewer project has made driving on local streets difficult – if not hazardous, created difficulties for people with disabilities and taken away sought-after parking spots. The poor road conditions have also led to vehicles being damaged.
“People are replacing tires every six months, their suspension systems,” said Jennifer Shannon, president of A Better College Point Civic Association. “The roads are absolutely horrible.”
Shannon said she attended a recent virtual task force meeting with civic board members Sheryl Klaven and Mirjana Karcic. Prior to that, she did a driving tour of the project area with the borough president so he could see the issues firsthand.
A Better College Point Civic Association is one of three community groups on the task force – along with the College Point Civic and Taxpayers Association and Community Board 7, according to the borough president’s office.
College Point Civic and Taxpayers Association Treasurer Brock Weiner also complained about the condition of neighborhood streets.
“A tremendous amount of our roads are like driving on the moon,” he said.
Weiner said that representatives of his civic group were not at the meeting earlier this month but plan to be involved in future discussions.
The task force also includes elected officials, Con Edison and relevant city agencies – including the DDC, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Small Business Services.
The DDC in a statement said that work being done by Con Edison has delayed the sewer project.
“Because of this interference with our project, our contractor has had difficulty scheduling his work efficiently and has stored materials on the street in several different areas as he tries to find places to work away from Con Edison,” DDC Executive Director of Public Information Ian Michaels said.
Shannon, Weiner and Memoli said that construction materials have been left in the roadways for long periods of time – sometimes for months and even years – taking up parking spaces, which Shannon described as a hot commodity.
“People in College Point are at their wits’ end,” Weiner said.
Another resident, Susan Memoli, said the uneven roads have also made it difficult for her to get around with her adult son, who is in a wheelchair. Her son had gotten a new wheelchair in June 2020, but the wheels have already worn down and need to be replaced soon, which she blamed on the uneven streets.
Memoli said she also tripped and fell while crossing 14th Avenue in September and needed stitches.
“What does a person do with a walker?” she asked rhetorically, pointing to the rough road at 14th Avenue and 121st Street.
Richards agreed in a statement that the “seemingly endless work” has caused “a great deal of hardship for local residents and businesses.”
He said that he is working with various officials to rectify the situation.
“We will work together to fix the quality-of-life issues in the area and to bring this sewer project to an environmentally conscious, speedy, and successful conclusion,” he said.
In a statement provided Friday, the DDC said it also plans to address the residents’ complaints.
“Following a walkthrough of the site with BP Richards, we have instructed the contractor to begin restoration work on 10 blocks and to consolidate his street storage areas for the community’s use,” Michaels said.
“We are also cooperating with the Borough President’s task force and welcome its suggestions for how to move the project along more quickly and with less impact on the community,” his statement continued.
The task force will convene monthly – except in August, a spokesperson for the borough president said. For now, the meetings will be held virtually.
Several elected officials who represent the area and are part of the group – state Sen. John Liu, Assemblymember Daniel Rosenthal and Councilmember Paul Vallone – thanked the borough president for forming the group. U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is also a member.
“Each year, we call upon the city to complete total reconstruction of College Point roadways, only to have it fall on deaf ears,” Vallone said in a statement. “I applaud Borough President Richards for undertaking this endeavor as the city must prioritize northeast Queens.”
Liu praised the group as a bridge between residents and government officials.
“The biggest complaint that College Point residents have constantly brought up for the last several years is lack of communication with the government agencies,” he said in a statement.
For Memoli, the ongoing work has been so frustrating that she has considered moving. When asked how long she has been in the neighborhood, she simply said “too long.”
Weiner said he expected the sewer project to go on a while longer – but hoped that the task force would help to speed up the process.
“We are hoping we will see the end of it within the next few years …. But I’m not going to hold my breath,” Weiner said.
Meanwhile, Shannon said she has seen a slight improvement in work sites since the task force meeting, and lauded the borough president for getting the ball rolling.
“I’m going to have faith that they are going to do what they said they would,” she said.