This 2002 photo shows the westbound Staten Island Expressway (I-278) at EXIT 9 (NY 440 / Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. Expressway). (Photo by Jim K. Georges.)
PROVIDING EXPRESSWAY SERVICE FOR STATEN ISLAND: As early as the 1930's, New York City officials saw the need for an express highway that would provide local and through-traffic service through Staten Island. Unlike the Willowbrook and Richmond parkways proposed elsewhere in the borough, the new route was to allow cars, trucks and buses. All three routes were to provide access to the proposed Narrows Crossing, as well as to the existing Port Authority crossings between Staten Island and New Jersey.
The 1941 master plan described the expressway route as follows:
Cross-Richmond Express Highway: This is an express connection linking the Goethals and Bayonne bridges, and the industrial areas at their plazas, with the south shore of Staten Island, and the Stapleton piers and docks. When the proposed Narrows Crossing is constructed, this route will form a principal part of its approach highway system and will be an essential link in a through express route from southern New Jersey to New York.
Development of design and engineering plans for the expressway and the Narrows Crossing were postponed until after World War II. By that time, the anticipated development of the island required a borough-wide network of expressways and parkways to relieve congested local roads. In late 1945, New York City arterial coordinator Robert Moses adopted the route of the "Clove Lakes Expressway," as the Staten Island Expressway then was known, in the city's arterial development program. Over the next several years, Moses and Robert Crosson, the borough's chief highway engineer, said before civic groups that the expressway would be the best to handle potential traffic problems caused by a future Narrows Crossing.
The 1955 Joint Study of Arterial Facilities, which was overseen by Moses, recommended the route of the expressway as follows:
The principal Staten Island connecting highway would be the seven-mile long Clove Lakes Expressway across the northern part of Staten Island, from the Goethals Bridge to the Narrows Bridge. The expressway would ultimately comprise eight express lanes and four flanking service lanes extending nearly three miles from the Narrows Bridge with the future Richmond Parkway. From that point, eight express lanes would be carried four miles to an intersection with the future West Shore Expressway (NY 440). The short remaining distance to the Goethals Bridge approaches would consist of four lanes.
In the first stages of construction, the stretch of expressway between the Narrows Bridge and the West Shore Expressway would be six lanes wide, although property would be acquired for the ultimate eight lanes. Approaches in Staten Island to the upper level of the Narrows Bridge would also be deferred.
Staten Island traffic would have ample connections to the Clove Lakes Expressway and the Narrows Bridge. Access would be provided to South Beach and to Tompkins Avenue, Fingerboard Road, Hylan Boulevard, Richmond Road, Victory Boulevard, Jewett Avenue, and Richmond Avenue. Local Staten Island traffic not using either the Narrows or Goethals bridges would thus be able to make use of this new arterial highway.
City and state officials approved the Staten Island Expressway in April 1957, paving the way for Interstate designation and the promise of 90 percent Federal funding. The expressway was designated I-278 in October 1958. For a short segment between EXIT 5 (West Shore Expressway) and EXIT 9 (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Expressway), the expressway is designated as both I-278 and NY 440.
LEFT: This early 1964 aerial photo shows the Staten Island Expressway under construction near Wagner College, looking east toward the unfinished Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. RIGHT: This 1965 aerial photo shows the completed Staten Island Expressway, as shown at the interchange with the unfinished Korean War Veterans (Richmond) Parkway. (Photos by Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority.)
DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION: From the West Shore Expressway east to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge toll plaza, the expressway was constructed with six 12-foot-wide lanes, three in each direction. A 36-foot-wide grassed center median was designed to prevent head-on collisions, as well as to accommodate an additional lane in each direction in the future. The Interstate-standard Staten Island Expressway also features a 10-foot-wide breakdown shoulder throughout its entire length. As originally planned, the expressway was to be flanked by continuous one-way service roads.
Construction of the Staten Island Expressway took place over five years at a cost of $47 million, and required the demolition of some 400 buildings, displacing about 3,500 residents. The initial 2.4-mile-long section of expressway from the Goethals Bridge east to EXIT 9 was completed on January 30, 1964. The remaining 5.3 miles of expressway were completed on November 19, 1964, just two days before the opening of the six-lane upper deck of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.
One unique feature of the expressway is a set of "ramps to nowhere" in the Todt Hill section of Staten Island. The Sunnyside interchange, a "semi-directional T" interchange, was to be EXIT 12A for the Korean War Veterans Parkway extension. The parkway was never completed north of Richmond Avenue.
David Zarkewicz, contributor to nycroads.com, added the following about the unused Sunnyside interchange on the SIE:
If the Korean War Veterans Parkway extension does some day get built, the interchange with the Staten Island Expressway would be a mess, as there are just small exit and entrance ramps leading off the parkway and onto the expressway. The Staten Island Expressway would have to be reconstructed between the Korean War Veterans Parkway and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.
Up to two additional lanes in each direction were to be added to the Staten Island Expressway when the lower deck of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge opened to traffic in 1969. Evidence of planned expansion to a possible quad-carriageway configuration can be found at the two underpasses at Hylan Boulevard, where right-of-way exists beyond the right shoulders.
This 1998 photo shows the eastbound Staten Island Expressway (I-278), just west of EXIT 13 (Clove Road). In the background are the "ramps to nowhere" that would have connected the expressway to the unfinished portion of the Korean War Veterans (Richmond) Parkway. The unfinished interchange -- what was to be EXIT 12A -- eventually may be integrated into a proposed park-and-ride facility. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)
According to the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), the Staten Island Expressway handles approximately 130,000 vehicles per day (AADT) through western and central parts of the island, rising to 170,000 vehicles per day near the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. In comparison, the expressway carried approximately 50,000 vehicles per day in 1965, the first full year of operation.
As early as 1970, the NYSDOT studied the feasibility of adding a fourth travel lane in each direction from the West Shore Expressway east to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and a third travel lane from West Shore Expressway west to the Goethals Bridge. A subsequent study in 1982 estimated the cost of expansion - which would entail widening and strengthening bridges - at $25 million, 90% of which would be borne by the Federal government. The state ultimately deferred the issue of widening the expressway until the 1990's.
EXPRESS BUS LANES (XBL) ON THE SIE: To facilitate planning along the Staten Island Expressway corridor, the NYSDOT developed computer models that forecast not only traffic conditions, but also land use patterns along the expressway (the first application of its kind in the country). The models provide planners with hard data, including how many people would use HOV and/or bus lanes, whether such a lane would draw more people to mass transit, what effect the lanes would realistically have on traffic, and whether vehicle emissions would rise substantially.
Officials from the NYSDOT considered, but later dropped a light-rail alternative along the SIE corridor. Since there was no other system for it to connect to and it is not as cost-effective as a bus-only lane, the NYSDOT called the proposal impractical. Another proposal for congestion pricing, advocated by the mass transit advocacy group Tri-State Transportation Campaign, also was dropped from consideration.
In the late 1990's, the NYSDOT began building dedicated bus-only lanes that one day may extend along the length of the expressway. In December 2000, it opened these XBL lanes extending one-half mile west from the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge toll plaza. The NYSDOT extended the bi-directional bus lanes one mile west to EXIT 12 (Todt Hill Road / Slosson Avenue) in November 2005. To date, the XBL lanes cost $27 million to build. According to NYSDOT estimates, about 150 buses carrying a total of 13,000 passengers use the bus lanes.
In 2006, the NYSDOT published a study to extend the XBL lanes in each direction west to the Goethals Bridge toll plaza. To maximize lane use while not degrading bus service, the study recommended extending usage of the lane to all passenger cars with three or more occupants (HOV 3+) for 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As with the previously built section (as well as with the Long Island Expressway HOV lanes), a 4.5-foot-wide buffer would separate the HOV lanes from general traffic, while entrance and exit would be restricted to designated points. The NYSDOT estimates it would cost an additional $113 million to extend the HOV lanes west and convert the existing bus lanes.
In January 2008, the NYSDOT opened up the westbound XBL to passenger cars with two or more occupants (HOV 2+) as part of a traffic mitigation measure tied to ongoing work on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. The agency expects to repeal the temporary allowance for HOV 2+ in September 2008.
OTHER IMPROVEMENTS: The NYSDOT completed the installation of a $2.5 million motorist information system in 2005. The system relies on a network of variable message signs and traffic cameras.
The state plans an additional $500 million worth of projects in the next decade:
The NYSDOT plans to build new EXIT 14 ramps in the eastbound and westbound directions to serve Hylan Boulevard. Currently, there is no way to enter or exit the expressway for nearly two miles in either direction between Clove Road and Lily Pond Avenue. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2010 and is scheduled for completion two years hence.
The NYSDOT plans to rehabilitate 18 bridges along the expressway, build truck-climbing lanes within the existing right-of-way, and implement other safety and operational improvements (including longer ramps and reconfigured interchanges). The $200 million project is scheduled to begin after 2016.
There is an ongoing $14 million study to redesign EXIT 5 (NY 440 / West Shore Expressway). Ultimately, the ("semi-directional T") interchange may be reconstructed so that the stream from both expressways will be made more favorable to the predominant traffic flow. According to Peter King, supervisor of planning and development for the NYSDOT, the left two westbound lanes at the SIE-West Shore interchange would be directed toward the West Shore Expressway, while the right two lanes will be directed toward the Goethals Bridge. The interchange also may be reconfigured to provide a high-speed truck link directly to the Howland Hook Marine Terminal.
Studies are being undertaken to build an additional lane in each direction from EXIT 12 west to EXIT 5. Most likely, the two additional lanes from would be open exclusively to buses, but possibly be open to all traffic during off-peak hours. Once completed, the expressway would have eight lanes from the West Shore Expressway to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.
The NYSDOT plans to close the gap in continuous service roads between EXIT 12 and EXIT 13 (Manor Road), through the site of the incomplete EXIT 12A (Korean War Veterans Parkway) "Sunnyside interchange" connection.
The ramps at the Sunnyside interchange may be used for a proposed park-and-ride facility, allowing residents and commuters to access both the SIE bus lane and the Staten Island Greenbelt. An alternative proposal advanced by City
Councilman Michael McMahon would extend the ramps at the unbuilt EXIT 12A south to Ocean Terrace.
In 2006, City Councilman Michael McMahon proposed building a new westbound entrance ramp onto the expressway just west of Hylan Boulevard to alleviate traffic on the westbound service road, which runs through a mostly residential area. He also proposed extending the ramps at the unbuilt EXIT 12A south to Ocean Terrace to alleviate congestion through local streets.
This 2008 photo shows the westbound Staten Island Expressway (I-278) at Hylan Boulevard. The wide underpasses of Hylan Boulevard were built to accommodate additional lanes between the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and the unbuilt extension of the Korean War Veterans Parkway. Today, they accommodate the newly extended bus-only lanes, which were expanded to HOV 2+ use in the summer of 2008 as shown in this photo. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)
HOV ON THE SIE: The newly opened bus lanes should be extended west to the Goethals Bridge. The restrictions should be modified such that vehicles with three or more occupants could use the lanes around the clock per NYSDOT recommendations.
SOURCES: "Master Plan: Express Highways, Parkways and Major Streets," New York City Planning Department (1941); Joint Study of Arterial Facilities, The Port of New York Authority and the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (1955); "Span Approaches Approved by City" by Charles G. Bennett, The New York Times (6/20/1957); "Staten Island Link to Sister Boroughs Is Opening Today" by Gay Talese, The New York Times (11/21/1964); "Hour Will Be Cut for Some Trips" by Joseph C. Ingraham, The New York Times (11/21/1964); Arterial Progress 1959-1965, Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (1965); The Power Broker by Robert A. Caro, Vintage Books-Random House (1974); "Push Is On for Varied Road Tolls," New York Daily News (11/23/1998); "State Weighs Several Fixes To Help Expressway" by Michael Wagner, The Staten Island Advance (8/01/2000); Six Bridges: The Legacy of Othmar H. Ammann by Darl Rastorfer, Yale University Press (2000); "Expressway Fix Caught in Technical Jam" by Michael Wagner, The Staten Island Advance (5/22/2001); "Staten Island Expressway Needs Big Fix" by Mary Engels, New York Daily News (4/21/2002); "Park-Ride Facility Still Has No Ride" by Michael Wagner, The Staten Island Advance (7/15/2002); "New Bus Lanes Earn Cheers, Jeers from Motorists" by Seth Solomonow, The Staten Island Advance (11/27/2005); "City Councilman Proposes Changes To Speed Up Traffic On Staten Island Expressway" by Amanda Farinacci, NY1 News (1/05/2006); "Staten Island Expressway Bus Lane / Priority Lane Study," New York State Department of Transportation (2006); "Staten Island Expressway Bus Lane Open to HOV Starting Monday," The Staten Island Advance (1/11/2008); New York Metropolitan Transportation Council; Tri-State Transportation Campaign; Hank Eisenstein; Ralph Herman; Mark Rivlin; David Zarkewicz.
I-278 and NY 440 shields by Ralph Herman. Lightposts by Jeff Saltzman. HOV lane sign by C.C. Slater.