Interstate 678 / Van Wyck Expressway

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Interstate 678 follows the Van Wyck Expressway northward from John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) to Flushing and the Whitestone Expressway. From there the highway continues north to the Whitestone Bridge and Hutchinson River Parkway before ending at the Bruckner Interchange with Interstates 95, 278, and 295. The Van Wyck Expressway is one of the most heavily traveled freeways within New York City and it is not uncommon to find lengthy delays and congestion on Interstate 678 outbound from Kennedy Airport.

The Van Wyck Expressway derives its name from Van Wyck Boulevard, the road which it replaced, and the first mayor of Greater New York, Robert Van Wyck. Van Wyck, a Columbia University Law School graduate and chief judge of the city court, rose to power as mayor of the city in 1897 by a margin of 80,000 votes. Consolidation of the city removed the mayors of Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Long Island City from power and thus began a tumultuous tenure for Van Wyck. He lasted just one term (1897-1901) in a scandal riddled reign in which the state legislature at one point concluded Van Wyck was a "dictator". Robert Van Wyck's greatest legacy was the awarding of the first subway contract in New York City at $35 million. He died in Paris in 1918.1

Initial planning for the Van Wyck Expressway began after World War II under transportation mogul Robert Moses. Moses touted a freeway to connect the Kew Gardens area with New York International Airport (JFK Airport) to provide access between the airport and midtown Manhattan via the pre-existing Grand Central Parkway and Queens-Midtown Tunnel. The new freeway replaced Van Wyck Boulevard from the Belt Parkway north to the Grand Central and Interborough (Jackie Robinson) Parkways at Kew Gardens. Constructed below grade, the freeway cost $30 million and opened in 1950 between the airport and GCP.2

Roadwork continued on the Van Wyck Expressway segment between the Grand Central Parkway and Northern Boulevard (New York 25) between 1961 and 1963. The $40-million extension opened in time for the 1964-65 World's Fair at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and the freeway tied into the Whitestone Expressway. The Interstate 678 designation was not applied to the freeway until the 1970s. Earlier plans for Interstate 678 saw the designation applied to the unconstructed Astoria Expressway and Grand Central Parkway.2

The Whitestone Parkway was constructed to link the Bronx Whitestone Bridge, opened in 1939, with Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, site of the 1939-1940 World's Fair. The roadway featured 12 foot travel lanes with a wide grassy median and low stone arch bridges. In 1955 the idea of upgrading the parkway arose to connect the Bronx Whitestone Bridge to proposed freeways along Astoria and Horace Harding Boulevards. Work commenced in 1961 to upgrade the roadway to accommodate commercial truck traffic with eight overall travel lanes and paved shoulders. Part of the work included building a new span to parallel the existing Flushing River draw bridge. The new span carries southbound traffic and northbound motorists use the old span. The draw-span never opened again after the completion of the $16 million Whitestone Expressway upgrade that was completed by 1963.2

The Interstate 678 designation for the Whitestone Expressway was applied to the freeway in April of 1959. At that time Interstate 678 was to travel the unconstructed Astoria Expressway west through Queens to Interstate 278 (Brooklyn-Queens Expressway). The cancellation of the Astoria Expressway eventually led to the southward extension of Interstate 678 onto the Van Wyck Expressway in 1971. Initial numberings for the Whitestone Expressway included Interstate 595 in June of 1958 and Interstate 695 two weeks later. Interstate 695 was chosen because the route would act as a loop between Interstate 95 (Cross Bronx Expressway) and Interstate 278 (BQE).2

Interstate 678's original plan included the Astoria Expressway concept from the Whitestone Expressway at Flushing Meadow-Corona Park west through northwest Queens. Two alternatives were devised for the east-west freeway: the first alternate followed Astoria Boulevard west from Northern Boulevard to Interstate 278 south of the Grand Central Parkway, the second alternative continued west along Northern and Jackson Avenues to the Queens-Midtown Tunnel. Unfortunately both routes traveled through heavily populated and well-established communities. The economic and social costs were too much for the concept and the Astoria Expressway officially was withdrawn from the planning boards in 1968.3

Interstate 678 Highway Guides


Sources:

  1. NYC 100 -- NYC Mayors - The First 100 Years, NYC.GOV.
  2. Whitestone Expressway (I-678), NYCRoads.com.
  3. Astoria Expressway (I-678, unbuilt), NYCRoads.com.

    Connect with:
    Interstate 278

    Page Updated 02-16-2012.