Utility crews were already visible on New Hempstead Road when the Rockland County Highway Department announced on Wednesday that work was going to start on rebuilding the key local road from Main Street in New City to the Palisades Interstate Parkway.
Crews were surveying, trimming trees and running replacement utility lines in preparation for the 28-month-long, complicated $28.5 million project that will create detours and traffic woes during construction.
"This is not a simple paving project," said Charles "Skip" Vezzetti, the county's superintendent of highways. "This is a complete reconstruction."
New Hempstead Road's existing pavement will be removed down to the sub base, the current drainage system will be taken out and culverts will be removed. All of those items will be replaced along with additional features.
"We'll be replacing and installing new sidewalks and granite curbs," said Vezzetti. "We'll be installing turning lanes at primary intersections so traffic goes more smoothly."
Additional turning lanes will be added at Little Tor Road, West Clarkstown Road and Main Street.
The project which is receiving funding from multiple sources has been in the works for a long time. It was initiated in 2001.
"I've been busy with this project for the past nine years," said Joe Pyzowski, capital projects manager for the county's highway department.
The project is funded in part with $22.1 million from the Federal Highway Authority and New York State Department of Transportation; $4.4 million is being paid by utility companies and Rockland County is paying $2 million. Besides securing the funding, the county had to acquire property from 60 homeowners. In some cases there were property purchases and in other situations temporary easements were required.
"Orange & Rockland gas and United Water are replacing their lines throughout the whole project. Orange & Rockland is installing underground conduit from the parkway to West Clarkstown Road," said Pyzowski. Additionally, Orange & Rockland will replace almost all of its pole lines.
One of the challenges faced with planning the project is the fact that New Hempstead Road is one of the Rockland's few east-west thoroughfares. Traffic delays will be unavoidable.
Pyzowski said the more than 400 page project design includes 54 pages of traffic control plans to minimize delays. If possible, drivers are advised to use Phillips Hill Road to the north or Collyer Avenue to the south and avoid New Hempstead Road as much as possible.
But there are limitations Vezzetti concedes. "If they're coming downtown to the county center, there's no way they can avoid it," he said.
Either in the project, the road will be closed completely near the county office building and traffic will be rerouted through a parking lot so the bridge over the Demarest Kill — a creek that runs between the County Courthouse and the Allison-Parris County Office Building — can be replaced. The county determined it would allow the road to be closed through the summer until October. However, the contractor, Montesano Brothers Inc. of New Rochelle, has the ability to decide whether to possibly do that work later this year or next year.
The former County Clerk's office building will be demolished so the existing "S" curve on the New Hempstead Road hill can be removed and the road can be realigned to conform to current standards.
Other features include replacing several culverts, installing five-foot wide safety shoulders and building retaining walls and guardrails.
It gets more complicated for drivers because the Town of Clarkstown continues to work on the revitalization of downtown New City and construction is ongoing along Main Street and Congers Road.
Vezzetti said the two entities have met and are trying to coordinate their work to reduce the extent of the inconvenience.
The public needs to be aware
"Sections of the roadway will be shut at times," Vezzetti said. "It's unavoidable. It's best the people are advised and forewarned."
Emergency service providers will be sent e-mail updates to notify them about the status of the project. The road's new traffic lights will be adapted to allow emergency services to change them to green so they can pass quickly through intersections. New City is providing the same feature.
The county and town are also working together on the new look of the streets. Pyzowski said the sidewalks and lighting on New Hempstead will be similar to what is being installed on Main Street.
That has several benefits including continuity of appearance. "Between both projects, it will be more pedestrian friendly," said Vezzetti. Additionally there will be cutouts for buses to pull into instead of blocking traffic when they need to stop for passengers.