The dangerous exit ramp from the Gowanus Expressway at Sixth Avenue will be widened from one lane to two under a plan to make traffic move more safely and more freely.
The goal is to allow more traffic to get off the highway onto the ramp because the traffic bottleneck at street level causes dangerous vehicle backups on the highway, which has an accident rate that’s three times the state average.
In addition, the state Department of Transportation says it will increase car capacity by one lane in each direction on Sixth Avenue by cutting into the curb. And traffic signal timing will be altered, in an effort to decrease backups at street level.
“We believe it will be a much better situation,” Steven Smith, a consulting engineer on the project, told a packed town hall meeting organized by Councilman Vince Gentile (D-Bay Ridge) recently.
“It won’t be perfect, but it will be better — especially during the rush hour.”
The agency can’t begin the work until the state passes its budget, which was due on April 1. But once the project is begun, it will be be completed within 15 months, Smith said.
The ramp will remain open during construction, he said.
Greg Ahl, a Community Board 10 member, knows firsthand how dangerous the exit ramp is. In 1971, he was driving along the highway, heading for the exit, when he got caught in what turned into a 10-car pile-up. The traffic was backed up all along the ramp, Ahl said, but he couldn’t see that because of limited visibility due to the highway’s configuration.
“There was no way I could stop and no place to go,” Ahl said.
Ahl said he thought adding a second full lane to the exit ramp and traffic signal timing changes would help, but, he added, traffic agents at the bottom are crucial to safety efforts there. “They are there sometimes,” Ahl said, “but we need them every afternoon, and they have to realize they need to pull enough vehicles off the ramp so they can see the last car.”
Not everyone is happy with the proposal. Allen Bortnick, another CB10 member, said that all the Transportation Department wants to do is “create a wider parking area,” in large part, Bortnick acknowledged, because it would be extremely costly to re-engineer the exit in such a way that the bottleneck at the bottom of the ramp would be dissipated.
The police are well aware of problems at the exit. “It’s a very, very dangerous location,” said Deputy Inspector Eric Rodriguez, the commanding officer of the 68th Precinct, who said the precinct does regular enforcement there. Traffic agents — who are not assigned by individual precincts — have been put there in the past, but “they have disappeared,” said Rodriguez, who promised to try to get them back.
The $400-million interim repairs currently being made to the Gowanus, including deck replacements at various points along the expressway, are intended to help the highway remain useful till the viaduct is replaced with either another viaduct or a tunnel, a project that is still being debated and remains years in the future.