This 1998 photo shows the northbound Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. Expressway at EXIT 10 (I-278 / Staten Island Expressway). One-quarter mile south of this point, the Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. Expressway ends at Victory Boulevard. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)
CONNECTING THE SIE WITH THE BAYONNE BRIDGE: The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Expressway, formerly known as the Willowbrook Expressway, connects Victory Boulevard and the Staten Island Expressway (I-278) with the Bayonne Bridge in the northern part of Staten Island. The four-lane expressway, which carries the NY 440 designation between I-278 and the Bayonne Bridge, was recommended in the 1955 Joint Study of Arterial Facilities as follows:
A four-lane section of the Willowbrook Parkway would also be included in the Clove Lakes (Staten Island) Expressway construction. It would be necessary for this section to be designated an expressway in order to make it available to all types of vehicles.
Construction of the $14 million Willowbrook Expressway, which began in the spring of 1962, was completed in November 1964. The opening of the north-south expressway coincided with the opening of the east-west Staten Island Expressway, providing quick access from the northern part of the borough to points east and west. In 1990, the New York State Legislature renamed the Willowbrook Expressway after the slain civil rights leader.
Built with matching state and Federal funds, the Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. Expressway was constructed with two 12-foot-wide lanes in each direction, 10-foot-wide paved shoulders and a 36-foot-wide grassed median. At the southern terminus of the expressway, there are stubs that would have continued the route of expressway south to Great Kills Park as the Willowbrook Parkway.
CURRENT AND FUTURE IMPROVEMENTS: According to the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council, the NYSDOT is undertaking a $10 million project to resurface the Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. Expressway. In the coming years, the NYSDOT plans to realign the southern terminus of the expressway at Victory Boulevard. The new exit ramps are planned to line up with the main entrance of the College of Staten Island, just east of the original right-of-way of the Willowbrook Parkway.
According to the NYSDOT, the Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. Expressway carries approximately 20,000 vehicles per day (AADT).
This 2001 photo shows the northbound Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. Expressway (NY 440) at EXIT 13 (Richmond Terrace.) (Photo by Mike Tantillo.)
CONTROVERSY THROUGH STATEN ISLAND GREENBELT: Planning for the Willowbrook Parkway began as early as 1930, when Robert Moses presented his master plan for the New York City parkway system before some five hundred civic leaders. The parkway, which was to connect the Bayonne Bridge with the South Shore of Staten Island, was to be part of a network of controlled-access highways serving Staten Island. Right-of-way acquisition, which was to provide the "ribbon parks" for the parkway, was completed in 1947.
In 1955, the Joint Study also recommended the construction of a highway network for the rapidly growing borough. One of the recommended routes was an extension of the Willowbrook Parkway, whose use was to be restricted to passenger cars south of the Staten Island Expressway.
The proposed Willowbrook Parkway was to bisect Latourette Park, from northwest to southeast, and continue to Great Kills Park on Staten Island's south shore. Interchanges were to be constructed at the following locations:
Victory Boulevard (partial cloverleaf) Forest Hill Road (diamond) Korean War Veterans (Richmond) Parkway (cloverleaf with unbuilt parkway extension) Manor Road / London Road (partial cloverleaf) Richmond Road (diamond) Amboy Road (diamond) Hylan Boulevard (cloverleaf) Shore Front Drive (cloverleaf with unbuilt parkway)
In 1966, the Tri-State Transportation Commission recommended construction of the 5.0-mile, four-lane parkway, citing that it would "serve recreational areas" and "address cross-island traffic needs."
The cost of the parkway, which was estimated at $45 million, was to be financed by state and Federal matching funds. Completion of the parkway was scheduled for 1974. However, by the early 1970's, environmental and fiscal concerns doomed construction of the Willowbrook Parkway.
As the 1990's drew to a close, the Willowbrook Parkway remained on the New York City official planning map. In 1998, a coalition of nine environmental and civic groups on Staten Island mounted a campaign to persuade Governor George Pataki and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to de-map the long-planned, but unbuilt Willowbrook and Korean War Veterans parkways. Guy Molinari, the borough president of Staten Island, favors de-mapping the routes, provided that there are ways of handling the traffic that the parkways would have handled.
The right-of-way for the Willowbrook Parkway survives today as the Amundsen Trailway, a north-south nature trail connecting Willowbrook, Latourette and Great Kills parks. Together, the unbuilt parkways form an integral part of the Staten Island Greenbelt, a 2,500-acre city park of woodland and serpentine hills in the middle of the borough.
The Willowbrook Parkway Extension should be constructed from Victory Boulevard south to Great Kills Park as a four-lane, limited-access parkway. The parkway will provide for safer, less congested travel from the Bayonne Bridge to South Shore communities.
David Zarkewicz, contributor to nycroads.com, added the following comments:
The right-of-way to the Willowbrook Parkway should also be constructed as some sort of roadway. Getting through the middle of Staten Island is reduced to a couple of narrow, winding roads such as Manor Road, Forest Hill Road, Rockland Avenue, and Richmond Hill Road. Building the Willowbrook Parkway would provide for a faster cross-island journey.
SOURCES: Joint Study of Arterial Facilities, The Port of New York Authority and the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (1955); "Shore Front Drive," New York State Council of Parks (1962); "Hour Will Be Cut for Some Trips" by Joseph C. Ingraham, The New York Times (11/21/1964); "A Tour of Staten Island Improvements, and the Next Steps," Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (1965); Arterial Progress 1959-1965, Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (1965); "Richmond Parkway Location Report," New York City Department of Highways (1966); Transportation 1985: A Regional Plan, Tri-State Transportation Commission (1966); Public Works: A Dangerous Trade by Robert Moses, McGraw-Hill (1970); "Greenbelt Fans Want Routes off the Maps" by Jim O'Grady, The New York Times (11/22/1998); "State Weighs Several Fixes To Help Expressway" by Michael Wagner, The Staten Island Advance (8/01/2000); New York Metropolitan Transportation Council; Hank Eisenstein; Ralph Herman; David Zarkewicz.
NY 440 and Willowbrook Parkway shields by Ralph Herman. Lightposts by Jeff Saltzman.