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Nassau Expressway

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

In 1693, New York Governor Benjamin Fletcher announced that Long Island was to be renamed the Island of Nassau. Fletcher, attempting to strengthen the colony’s ties to England and the Anglican Church, made the change to honor William the Third, the new English King. King William’s previous title had been Prince William of Nassau. Today, Nassau County, Nassau Street, and the Nassau Expressway carry on the name.

The Nassau Expressway was conceived in 1946, as a part of the New York State arterial highway system. It was to be a ten-mile, mixed-traffic facility connecting Brooklyn and Western Queens with South Shore communities in Nassau County. It was also intended to provide direct and rapid access to Idlewild Airport (now John F. Kennedy International) from either end.

Although construction did not begin on the Expressway until 1967, it was originally planned in the late 1940s as one of several new highways created under the joint administration of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority and the Port Authority of New Jersey. Robert Moses (1888-1981), in his position as Head of the Triborough Authority, proposed the building program in order to take advantage of the federal funding being made available through a new proposal of the Eisenhower Administration.

In order to facilitate the creation of a Federal Interstate Highway System, the government was prepared to make $50 billion available over a ten-year period for the creation of 41,000 miles of highway. The only restrictions were that the roads had to be toll free, and had to be truly interstate, rather than local in scope. The federal government was prepared to shoulder 90 percent of the cost for any highway project approved by the program. The availability of such enormous sums prompted cooperation between the two authorities, formerly frequent rivals, and an extensive new system of expressways and bridges affecting every borough and surrounding county was mapped. The public works resources of New York City were committed to roads for many years to come. Many of the newly proposed Expressways were planned to parallel existing highways, in order to lessen their heavy burden. The Nassau Expressway would serve as a counterpart to the Van Wyck Expressway.

The New York State Department of Public Works began the right-of-way purchasing and demolition along the proposed route in 1961. Land was also purchased for an eight mile Long Beach extension, but its construction was vetoed on the state level in 1967, ‘though the rights-of-way were not sold until 1993.’

The first segment of the Expressway was finally completed in 1971, between Cross Bay Boulevard and the Van Wyck Expressway (I-678). The segment was one-way eastbound and ran parallel to the Belt Parkway. This section, now 3.8 miles long, is still in use, though it may bear the dubious distinction of being New York City’s only one-way expressway. Although the highway had existed on paper for more than 20 years, construction continued to run into delays caused by lack of funds and by opposition from community and environmental groups. The concerns raised included the fragile health of the Idlewild Park/Jamaica Bay ecosystem, and the placing of the exits.

In 1981, a revised plan was approved by the New York State Department of Transportation and the residents of the Five Towns area of Nassau County, where a stretch of Inwood that once contained 60 houses had been waiting 30 years to be developed. The new 2.7-mile segment between Rockaway Turnpike in Inwood and the Atlantic Bridge Beach was completed in March 1990. This $28 million work was financed 50-50 with state and federal funds.

Recently, the New York State Department of Transportation allocated $15.5 million for repairs to the Queens segment of the Expressway, which occurred in 1999 and 2000. Both pieces of the road are currently designated as NY 878. The Queens segment of the highway also bears signs saying 878I, a testament to its original Federal Interstate funding.

Saturday, Dec 01, 2001

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