A NEW CORRIDOR FOR NORTHWEST QUEENS: From the 1930's through the 1960's, New York City arterial coordinator Robert Moses proposed an expressway along the Northern Boulevard-Astoria Boulevard corridor as an express route for commercial traffic through northwest Queens. Since the Grand Central Parkway could not accommodate trucks and buses, Moses proposed this expressway to carry this traffic between Flushing Meadow Park, LaGuardia Airport, the Triborough Bridge and the Queens-Midtown Tunnel.
Moses considered the following alternative routes for the Astoria Expressway:
The original proposal was to have been a limited-access "truckway" along Astoria Boulevard, from Flushing Meadow Park (Grand Central Parkway at Northern Boulevard) to Astoria (Grand Central Parkway at the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway).
The second proposal was to have connected Shea Stadium with the Queens-Midtown Tunnel, using the NY 25A (Northern Boulevard-Jackson Avenue) corridor throughout its entire length. This proposal, which was to connect the Brooklyn-Queens and Whitestone expressways, would have provided an east-west alternate route for commercial traffic using the Long Island Expressway. A variation of the second proposal developed by the Regional Plan Association (RPA) envisioned an extension of the Astoria Expressway along the NY 25A-NY 347 corridor east to central Suffolk County. (The extension east of the Whitestone Expressway, which was called the "North Shore Expressway" by the RPA, would not have been eligible for Interstate funding.)
Both proposals for the Astoria Expressway would have cut wide swaths through the long-established, heavily developed communities of Corona, Jackson Heights, Woodside and Astoria.
PART OF THE INTERSTATE SYSTEM: As early as 1955, the Federal Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) considered an Interstate highway corridor in the area of the Grand Central Parkway and Astoria Boulevard. The proposed Interstate corridor was to connect the proposed Whitestone (Expressway) Interstate corridor with the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. The expressway initially received an I-595 designation in June 1958; it had changed to I-695 two weeks later because it linked two Interstates. The final I-678 designation appeared on the Astoria Expressway in April 1959, and was to continue onto the Whitestone Expressway.
In 1965, Moses announced specific plans for the expressway in Arterial Progress, a quarterly published by the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority. The 2.4-mile-long, $38 million route was scheduled for completion by 1970. One year later, the Tri-State Transportation Commission echoed Moses' recommendation as follows:
I-678 (Astoria Expressway): This east-west route through Queens will connect the upgraded Whitestone Expressway (I-678) with the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (I-278). It will provide an alternate to the Long Island Expressway (I-495), particularly for commercial traffic.
WAS THE PROPOSAL KEPT UNDER WRAPS? The furtive nature in which these plans had been developed unnerved New York City Traffic Commissioner Henry Barnes. On April 9, 1966, in an interview conducted by WPIX-TV (Channel 11), Barnes said the following:
Now, how can you assign a highway Interstate number to a highway that nobody's ever discussed is beyond me, and you can't assign one to a highway until the City Planning Commission, my department and everyone else agrees it should be built.
Moses responded that "there was nothing new" about the Astoria Expressway proposal, and that it had been developing for years. This only provided more ammunition for Mayor John Lindsay, who removed Moses from his post as New York City arterial coordinator in July 1966. In 1968, the Astoria Expressway proposal was removed from Interstate eligibility.
This 1975 aerial image shows the elevated highway connecting the Grand Central Parkway (on the left) with the Van Wyck and Whitestone expressways (on the right). The elevated highway replaced a ground-level parkway, and was planned to be part of the Astoria Expressway. (Photo by New York State Department of Transportation, provided by Nathan W. Perry.)
TRUCKS ON THE GRAND CENTRAL? Meanwhile, Governor Nelson Rockefeller had for years recommended building four truck lanes along the Grand Central Parkway, a plan that was similar to his proposal for a "truckway" along the Belt Parkway in southern Brooklyn. While Rockefeller stated that he sought to relieve truck traffic through western Long Island, another reason why the governor sought to include trucks on the aforementioned sections of parkway was to make them eligible for Interstate funding. Upon completion of the expansion projects, the upgraded sections of the Grand Central and Belt Parkways were to become part of the Interstate highway system.
Plans for a truckway through northwest Queens remained alive into the early 1970's. During a community board meeting held in early 1971, residents of Corona and Jackson Heights complained that the "truckway" proposal through their communities was "vague." Amid community opposition, Rockefeller reversed his recommendation for the truckways later that year. After this defeat, the I-678 designation was reassigned to the Van Wyck Expressway, between the Whitestone Expressway and Kennedy Airport.
A VESTIGE OF WHAT WAS TO BE: Beginning in 1961, a one-mile elevated section of Northern Boulevard was constructed near Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and Shea Stadium. The elevated section, which was to connect to the Astoria Expressway, replaced a section of the old Whitestone Parkway connection to the Grand Central Parkway, and also connects to the Van Wyck Expressway and Astoria Boulevard. The $23 million section was completed in 1963, in time for the opening of the 1964-1965 World's Fair and Shea Stadium.
Along this section, an I-678 shield - perhaps affixed in anticipation of the Astoria Expressway - appeared on a directional sign for the westbound Astoria Boulevard. While the shield was removed years ago, the directional sign (dating back from 1963) remains standing today.
These 2002 photo shows the westbound elevated highway section between the Whitestone Expressway (I-678) and the Grand Central Parkway. Note the sign above the ramp for Astoria Boulevard. The space above the Astoria Boulevard sign was to be for an I-678 shield, and at one time had an Interstate shield. (Photo by Jon Lebowitz.)
SOURCES: "Expressway Plans," Regional Plan Association News (May 1964); Arterial Progress 1959-1965, Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (1965); "Phantom Highway a Puzzle to Barnes," The New York Times (4/10/1966); Transportation 1985: A Regional Plan, Tri-State Transportation Commission (1966); "US Agrees To Aid Lindsay Proposal for Linear City" by Richard Madden, The New York Times (6/29/1968); "Rockefeller Agrees To Drop Plan To Construct Truck Lanes," The New York Times (5/21/1971); The Power Broker by Robert A. Caro, Vintage Books-Random House (1974); Ralph Herman; Stephen Summers.
I-678 and NY 25A shields by Ralph Herman. Lightposts by Jeff Saltzman.