By David Brand
Trucks loaded with tons of dirt excavated from a massive Bayside water main replacement project are rumbling along a formally quiet stretch of Underhill Avenue in Flushing and, naturally, residents aren’t happy with the new traffic pattern.
Their complaints reflect the issues many New Yorkers have whenever a construction project appears on their block, heightening concerns of vehicle collisions and disrupting quiet areas.
The $75 million project to replace tens of thousands of feet of water mains, distribution pipes and sewer systems along 33rd, 37th and 38th Avenues is scheduled for completion in the summer of 2021, according to the city’s Department of Design and Construction.
From 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. each weekday, trucks carry the excavated dirt along Underhill Avenue, across from the Kissena Golf Course, to a lot owned by the city’s Department of Environmental Protection where it is sifted and processed before being returned as fill to the project site trenches.
Residents say the trucks are traveling along the route as early as 5 a.m., however.
“Just today alone the trucks were idling in front of our homes for over a half hour waiting for the site gates to open at 7 a.m.,” resident Bebe Rohani told the Eagle on Feb. 6. “My neighbors counted the trucks passing over 35 times.”
Rohani said that, in addition to emissions and the noise from the industrial dirt sifting equipment, she and other neighbors worry about the trucks colliding with prospective drivers taking their divers exam a few blocks away.
“The area is already burdened by having the Department of Motor Vehicles giving the driver's road test to new drivers on our streets,” she said. “One day, and I hope it never happens, one of these unlicensed drivers might be involved in an accident with one of the very large trucks frequenting the street causing massive property damage and possibly injuries or deaths to one or more members of this community.”
The community complaints are not unique to Eastern Queens. A 2017 audit by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli found that construction noise complaints called into the city’s 311 system more than doubled from 14,259 in 2010 to 37,806 in 2015.
From Jan. 1, 2014 to June 30, 2016, 311 received 90,861 construction-related noise complaints. More than 67,000, or 74 percent, were for construction noise occurring before or after permitted hours
The firm contracted to sift the excavated dirt said it understands the community’s concerns — indeed, they hear the same issues raised across the city.
“It’s hard for people on Underhill to get it but this is a lot less of an impact to the community overall than not having it here,” said Michael Capasso, the owner of C.A.C. Industries. “Pretty much any job you get, you encounter complaints from the community.”
“Unfortunately, with all development that has gone on in last 20 years there is diminished empty land,” Capasso continued. “Give me a yard in Kissena Park and I’d use that.”
The portion of Underhill Avenue approaching 170th Street is actually an a less disruptive route than other local roads because there are only homes on one side of the road, Capasso said, adding that trucks were not lining up outside the yard at 5 a.m.
“We’ve been monitoring the streets,” he said. “We’re not starting at 5 in the morning. We rent trucks and I called every company and they said we’re not arriving that early.”
Perhaps a lone truck from out of state arrived early, he conceded, but it is not the norm.
“The job only pays for eight hours,” he said, adding that no driver would arrive early for unpaid hours. “It’s a logical decision.”
Scott Seiber, a spokesperson for Councilmember Peter Koo said the city, contractor and residents could work out a compromise to reduce noise and disruption to the community. Koo is drafting a letter to the city asking that they consider another site or “make some common sense considerations.”
“Underhill is a narrow street and they’re driving up and down all day long and it’s a nuisance,” Seiber said. “The sifting equipment causes a ruckus and dust. It’s a nuisance and we don’t feel it’s a location for heavy industry.”
At the very least, he said, the sifting could take place deeper in lot, further away from homes.
“The location is right by the entrance so at bare minimum, what they can do is push it away from homes so it has less of impact,” he said.
In a statement, the DEP said that dust and noise levels at the site were “satisfactory.”
“DEP has inspected the site and found that dust control was satisfactory and that construction noise was within the allowable limit of 80 dB(A),” said a DEP spokesperson. “We will continue to monitor the site as this important project progresses.”