This 2000 photo shows the Wantagh State Parkway at EXIT W3 (NY 24 / Hempstead Turnpike) in Levittown. At this location, the parkway retains its original four-lane configuration. Note also that unlike the other Long Island parkways (where davit replacement lightposts were used), crookarm replacement lightposts were installed. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)
THE FIRST PARKWAY TO JONES BEACH: In 1927, ground had broken on one of the earliest of the Long Island parkways, the Wantagh State Parkway. Two years later, the initial five-mile segment of parkway from EXIT W6 (Merrick Road) in Wantagh south to Jones Beach State Park was completed. The completion of this section of the Wantagh State Parkway coincided with the opening of Jones Beach, which was named after Major Thomas Jones, an Irish immigrant and privateer who in 1692 established a whaling station in the area.
Originally known as the "Jones Beach Causeway," the initial section of the Wantagh State Parkway was constructed on hydraulic fill across the islands of Great South Bay and marshes on lands donated to the state by the Town of Hempstead. The forty-foot-wide pavement carried two northbound and two southbound lanes, with no separating barrier.
Along the causeway, there are three bridges that cross navigable channels. The northernmost (Seaman's Creek) and southernmost (Sloop Channel) bridges are fixed-span structures providing 17 feet of vertical clearance. The middle bridge over Goose Creek is a bascule bridge with a closed vertical clearance of 24 feet above mean high water. When opened, this bridge was a 75-foot-wide unobstructed horizontal clearance.
PARKWAY EXTENSIONS: The Wantagh State Parkway was extended north from Merrick Road to the Southern State Parkway in 1932. This section, which provided a direct express route from the Queens-Nassau border to Jones Beach, continued the original, four-lane undivided roadway of the initial section.
In 1938, the Wantagh State Parkway was extended north to the Northern State Parkway in Westbury. Upon completion of this segment, and of the Northern State Parkway segment between Glen Cove Road and the Wantagh State Parkway, Sidney M. Shapiro, the assistant chief engineer of the Long Island State Park Commission (LISPC), said the following:
The Northern State-Wantagh State Parkway is the final link in a forty-three mile express road from the Triborough Bridge to Jones Beach. Those parkways built ten years ago for example are in some respects obsolete... (The new design) includes every device and detail experience has shown to be effective. Included among them are grade-separated crossings, dark-colored pavement (for contrast with light-colored acceleration and deceleration lanes), funnel entrances, sloping curbs and wide level shoulders. These details have been used before, extensively, or in trial installations. They are all brought together for the first time in the Northern-Wantagh Parkway.
The 1938 section reflected state-of-the-art highway design, setting the standard for future parkways on Long Island. It was constructed with two 25-foot-wide roadways carrying two lanes in each direction, each roadway separated by a nine-foot grassed median. Mountable three-inch-high allowed disabled motorists to move easily move off the parkway onto the shoulders. Uncolored acceleration and deceleration lanes, which contrasted with the dark-colored, through travel lanes, guided motorists through interchange areas.
This 2002 photo shows the Wantagh State Parkway at the Jerusalem Avenue overpass (NY 105), just south of EXIT W4 (Southern State Parkway). (Photo by Jon Lebowitz.)
IMPROVEMENTS TO THE PARKWAY: Between 1955 and 1967, the Wantagh State Parkway was widened to three lanes in each direction between Jones Beach and the Southern State Parkway. To comply with the safety standards implemented on the other parkways, the two opposing roadways were now separated by a ten-foot-wide grassed median. This expansion was financed by Jones Beach State Parkway Authority bonds.
In 1977, maintenance of the Wantagh State Parkway was transferred from the LISPC to the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), although ownership remained under the jurisdiction of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (NYSOPRHP). To accommodate the increase in traffic volume and speed, and to address the accident history, the NYSDOT began to modify the parkway in accordance with Federal and state traffic safety guidelines. Soon thereafter, tolls were removed for motorists using the Wantagh Causeway in the area of Jones Beach.
During the late 1970's, the NYSDOT installed a new concrete median ("Jersey") barrier and new lighting along the Wantagh State Parkway from the Southern State Parkway north to the Northern State Parkway. This work continued south of the Southern State Parkway in the 1980's. Toward the end of the 1980's, the NYSDOT installed new MUTCD-compliant signs along parkway.
More on these changes from Ralph Herman, frequent contributor to nycroads.com:
When the NYSDOT installed the "Jersey" median, they also installed the new high-pressure sodium lighting at the interchanges only, since the wide spaces between interchanges on the Wantagh fall below the minimum NYSDOT warrants for lighting.
Along the Wantagh State Parkway south of EXIT W6 (Merrick Road), fewer changes to the original design have been made due to its designation as a "Robert Moses National Register Parkway." Many facets of the original parkway design, including the guardrails and landscaping, have been protected. The NYSDOT plans to install new replica timber lightposts along this southerly stretch of parkway by 2006.
According to the NYSDOT, the Wantagh State Parkway handles approximately 65,000 vehicles per day between the Northern State and Southern State parkways, approximately 25,000 vehicles per day south to EXIT W6 (Merrick Road), and approximately 15,000 vehicles per day south of Merrick Road.
REPLACEMENT OF THE WANTAGH CAUSEWAY BRIDGES: During a 1998 inspection of the Goose Creek Bridge, the NYSDOT discovered six-foot underwater holes adjacent to two piles supporting the bridge. The heavy rains during the first three months of 1998 washed sand away from the supports of the bridge, prompting NYSDOT to immediately close the parkway south of Merrick Road. Work crews quickly filled the underwater hole with large stones, while state engineers conducted sand tests and inspected for additional damage to the bridge supports. Soon thereafter, the NYSDOT embarked on a $75 million project to replace the Goose Creek and Sloop Channel spans.
At the Goose Creek Bridge, all but the bascule draw span of the structure was replaced in two stages during 1998 and 1999. First, the existing bridge was demolished and a temporary bridge was installed. During 2000, the new bridge was constructed, and the temporary bridge was dismantled. The NYSDOT replaced the draw span four years later.
The Sloop Channel Bridge is being replaced in similar fashion. A temporary bridge is carrying traffic at the site of the old bridge. The NYSDOT is building a new permanent draw span for the replacement Sloop Channel Bridge, in order to provide more direct east-west access for marine traffic using the state boat channel. Originally scheduled for completion in 2004, the project now will be completed in late 2006.
THE PEDESTRIAN AND CYCLING PATH: When the Jones Beach Causeway opened in 1929, a pedestrian and cycling path was constructed along the northbound lanes of the causeway from Jones Beach north to Merrick Road. This path was eventually extended all the way north to the Northern State Parkway in 1938, when the remainder of the Wantagh State Parkway was completed.
Over the years, subsequent roadway widening projects have severed the original path north of Merrick Road. However, the NYSDOT has recently committed to restoring the path by allocating $4.2 million to restore and expand the existing path through 2006.
THE ABANDONED: Part of the original parkway contract involved the construction of a gas station in the median of the parkway just north of Jones Beach. Unlike the stone-motif gas station commonly found on the other Moses parkways, this station featured brick walls and a shingled roof, matching the design of the Jones Beach bathhouses. The gas station was abandoned in 1985.
This 1999 photo shows an isolated section of the Wantagh State Parkway within Jones Beach State Park. The overpass ahead carries Bay Parkway between the boat basin and Jones Beach Marine Theatre. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)
PROPOSED EXTENSION TO OLD WESTBURY: In the late 1950's, New York State Department of Public Works (NYSDPW) acquired the right-of-way for an extension of the Wantagh State Parkway north to the Long Island Expressway (I-495), where it would meet between EXIT 39 and EXIT 40 in Old Westbury. According to the 1959 Nassau County Master Plan, the Wantagh Parkway extension was to include a full "diamond" interchange at NY 25 (Jericho Turnpike) in Westbury. At the LIE, there was to be a partial interchange (EXIT 39A) where the northbound Wantagh Parkway exits onto the westbound LIE, and the eastbound LIE exits onto the southbound Wantagh Parkway.
Later, in its 1970 master transportation plan, the Nassau-Suffolk Regional Planning Board recommended the northward extension of the Wantagh State Parkway to Old Brookville, near the intersection of NY 25A and NY 107. The planning agency intended the parkway extension to serve SUNY-Old Westbury, the New York Institute of Technology at Old Westbury, and the C.W. Post campus of Long Island University in Old Brookville.
In its 1975 report Maintaining Mobility, the Tri-State Regional Planning Commission recommended that the parkway extension be constructed as a priority route for completion by 1985 as follows:
The Wantagh State Parkway extension, which will be a short connection from the Northern State Parkway to the Long Island Expressway, will distribute traffic more efficiently between the two parallel radial routes.
WANTAGH EXTENSION REDUX? In 1990, the Long Island Regional Planning Board proposed a short extension of the Wantagh State Parkway north to the Long Island Expressway (I-495). A decade later, the NYSDOT reintroduced the proposed extension as part of the "LITP 2000" long-range plan. The proposed extension, which would be constructed along state-owned right-of-way purchased decades earlier, awaits environmental study and public review.
This 2001 photo shows the northern terminus of the Wantagh State Parkway at the Northern State Parkway in Westbury. Since the late 1950's, attempts to extend the Wantagh State Parkway north into Old Westbury and Old Brookville have been met with stiff resistance. (Photo by Mike Tantillo.)
The Wantagh State Parkway should be widened to six lanes between the Southern State Parkway in Wantagh and the Northern State Parkway in Westbury. In some locations, older, tighter cloverleaf interchanges should be replaced with four-ramp diamond interchanges. New lighting should be installed along the length of the parkway.
Daniel T. Dey, Long Island contributor to nycroads.com, suggests extending the Wantagh State Parkway north to the Long Island Expressway (I-495), with a diamond interchange at Jericho Turnpike (NY 25).
SOURCES: "New Highways Across Long Island To Link North and South Shores," The New York Times (11/15/1936); "Master Plan for Nassau County," Nassau County Department of Public Works (1959); "Long Island Regional Transportation Plan," Nassau-Suffolk Regional Planning Board (1970); The Power Broker by Robert A. Caro, Vintage Books-Random House (1974); Maintaining Mobility, Tri-State Regional Planning Commission (1975); History of the Long Island State Parkway System, New York State Department of Transportation (1985); "Ways To Go" by Alison Mitchell, Newsday (9/21/1986); "Jones Beach Causeway Bridge" in Historic American Engineering Record, National Park Service (1987); Robert Moses: Single-Minded Genius by Joann P. Krieg, Heart of the Lakes Publishing (1989); "LI's Roads in a Big Jam" by Tom Morris, Newsday (2/22/1990); "Extension of Three Expressways Urged" by Monte R. Young, Newsday (2/22/1990); "Wantagh Parkway Detours" by John M. Gonzale, Newsday (4/08/1998); "Wantagh Parkway Beach Route Closed" by Irving Long, Newsday (4/13/1998); "Tidal Scour at a State Highway Bridge," U.S. Geological Survey (1999); "Ask Dr. Conehead" by Kim Nava-Fiorio, Newsday (2/25/2001); "Ask Dr. Conehead" by Kim Nava-Fiorio, Newsday (12/21/2003); "Bridge Engineer Contends with Troubled Water and Much More" by John Valenti, Newsday (6/12/2005); New York Metropolitan Transportation Council; Cynthia Blair; Daniel T. Dey; Ralph Herman; Nathan W. Perry; Dan Salomon; Mike Tantillo; Jim Wade.
Wantagh State Parkway shield by Ralph Herman. Lightposts by Jeff Saltzman. Bike route sign by Richard C. Moeur.