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Route 878 project is nearly complete

The future of Five Towns Mini Golf & Batting Range is unclear

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A $130 million overhaul of a roughly half-mile stretch of State Route 878, also known as the Nassau Expressway, appears that it will finish on time, with less than two months remaining until the New York State Department of Transportation’s deadline to complete the project.

“The Nassau Expressway project remains on track for completion by the end of the year,” DOT spokesman Stephen Canzoneri said.

Work began in late summer 2018 on the busy thoroughfare, which is being raised three to four feet to reduce flooding, and rebuilt to combat ongoing aging and stress. The new section is supported by roughly 4,500 timber pilings dug down to a depth of 55 feet.

It also includes a new multi-use pedestrian path, a state-of-the-art drainage system, synced traffic signals to ensure smoother movement of traffic and additional turning lanes. After a multi-vehicle crash in the work area in April 2018 that resulted in the deaths of Elisheva Kaplan and Yisroel Levin, a concrete or plastic Jersey barrier, used to separate traffic lanes, was expected to be installed as well.

The project included the removal of the infamous “Inwood mound,” a 30-foot-high, nearly 250,000-square-foot heap of construction debris along the expressway, near its intersection with Bay Boulevard. The mound was a mix of concrete, brick, asphalt, rock and soil.

Originally expected to start in 2025, the work was moved up seven years because of the strong bipartisan advocacy of County Legislator Howard Kopel, a Republican from Lawrence, and former State Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder, a Democrat from Queens. The pair began a campaign in 2014 that included more than 3,000 people attaching their names to a letter sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and a rally at the Five Towns Mini Golf & Batting Range, on Rockaway Turnpike in Lawrence.

At a state budget hearing in February 2017, Democratic State Assemblyman Todd Kaminsky — now a state senator — pressed then DOT Commissioner Matthew Driscoll to push the project forward. “It was a symbol of government failure, [and] it frustrated South Shore residents that a road flooded in the rain in 21st-century America,” Kaminsky said in explaining why he made the expressway renovation a priority. Drivers on the adjacent Rockaway Turnpike, he added, wondered “why you get a green light, then, 10 feet later, a red light.”

With the project’s completion near, the future of the miniature golf course and batting cages, a fixture in the community for more than 40 years, remains uncertain. Its owners, Marty Rosen and his son, Matt, lease the state-owned land by the month, and have had their battles with the state, ranging from the land’s nearly being put up for sale in 1997, to a fight over rent in 2017 and 2018 that ended when it was increased 35 percent, to just over $6,400 from $4,750, to a new threat that the land could be sold.

Kaminsky, along with U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice, a Democrat who represents the Five Towns, and Renee Williams, a director of the Rockaway Development & Revitalization Corporation, have sent letters to the state DOT, supporting Five Towns Mini Golf & Batting Range. “The responses they got were ambiguous,” Rosen said. “The DOT is following their line that they can’t talk to anybody until they decide what they’re doing.” He added that the situation leaves him “in limbo,” and could prove to be a considerable financial hardship if the state ultimately sells the land after he continues to pay the rent. A petition on change.org has more than 2,600 signatures supporting the Rosens.

“Once the project is completed, the New York State Department of Transportation will re-evaluate its property needs in the area,” Canzoneri said, repeating the DOT’s position from earlier this year.

Kaminsky said that he continued to remind the DOT that the business has been a dependable tenant, and to press for the project’s completion. “A lot of progress has been made, but we cannot rest until we see the finished product, traffic flowing and the lights are synced,” he said. “It has been a tremendous effort, it’s on budget and on schedule, the road is lifted, which should take away the flooding, but until it’s completed, we will continue to push the pace.”

Have an opinion on the Nassau Expressway project or the future of the Five Towns Mini Golf & Batting Range? Send your letter to the editor to jbessen@liherald.com.