Island Park residents take Austin Boulevard traffic in stride amid repairs


Though an $8.9 million repair to Austin Boulevard has snarled traffic on the Island Park thoroughfare, residents have accepted the inconvenience, saying they have waited two decades for completion of the project.

“It took years to get this project going, and of course you’re going to get your complaining,” Roland Zimatore said. “. . . Think of the final outcome: beautiful paved roads and no flooding.”

Kelly Ann Foster said her house is often inaccessible when the street floods, and she has regularly had to wait more than an hour for the tide to recede late at night to drive home after a storm, adding that she is anticipating the first storm after the project to test the roadwork. “Pain worth the gain,” she said.

Larry Mirro said he was OK with the slowdowns because they’re “only temporary,” noting that he “loves the action.”

Ronnie Krum, who lives on Baker Street, said she was also taking the traffic slowdowns in stride. “It’s inconvenient, but about time,” she said, “They’re doing great. Now if we could get some trees and plants, it would be fantastic.”

County officials had pushed for improvements on Austin Boulevard for many years. Last October, the project was an-nounced as part of County Executive Laura Curran’s 2021-24 Capital Improvement Plan, and the county allocated funding for the work.

The Austin Boulevard portion of the plan focuses on upgrading a 1.4-mile stretch of the road, and is intended to improve pedestrian and vehicle safety, as well as drainage and storm resiliency. The drainage work that was completed last week necessitated the closure of two northbound lanes, and now there will be three northbound and two southbound lanes. 

A similar project was slated to begin last spring, but was shelved because of the coronavirus pandemic. Road improvements for Austin Boulevard, which runs north and south through Barnum Isle, include a southbound lane reduction, reconfigured lane widths, raised and painted center medians, increased parking lane widths and new traffic signals with protected left-turn signs at select intersections. Intelligent transportation systems, including cameras, driver feedback signs for speed awareness and variable message signs will be installed along the road to improve daily traffic flow and emergency evacuation routes.

Pedestrian improvements will include curb build-outs, improved crosswalks and countdown timers at all intersections with traffic signals. Existing drainage problems will be addressed on Barnum Island with construction of a separate drainage outfall for Long Beach Road runoff. Additional drainage improvements will be incorporated into the reconfigured intersection at Austin Boulevard and Vanderbilt Avenue, as well as Broadway.

The project involved a long public engagement process, which included several Technical Advisory Committee meetings and a community meeting during the study and analysis phase. Work began in January and is expected to take two years to complete.

County Legislator Denise Ford, a Republican from Long Beach, said when she was running for re-election in 2019 that seeing the Austin Boulevard project completed was among her top priorities. Now that it’s progressing, she asked residents to remain patient amid traffic jams caused by road repairs, and compared the slowdowns to ones experienced during work on the Barnum Island and Long Beach bridges.

“We’re all tired of traffic, and I ask for continued patience,” she said. “As we continue, we expect that two lanes in each direction will be kept open, and this will cut down the delays. Due to [Hurricane] Sandy, there is funding being spent in our area to address our drainage and roads, which have been in disrepair. All of this is necessary and will ultimately help our communities.”