EAST HARLEM — A project to repair the 125th Street exit of the Harlem River Drive that's set to begin early next year will reroute highway traffic onto residential streets for more than three years, according to they city’s Department of Transportation.
But the detours — which will direct cars from Harlem River Drive to 116th and 135th streets — come as a surprise to many in the community, because the DOT hasn't widely released the information for fear it will "confuse people," officials said.
“Wow, I did not know about this,” said Connie Lee, who lives on Fifth Avenue, along one of the detours, who learned about the closures when the DOT presented the project at an October community board meeting. “Routing more traffic onto Fifth Avenue does not seem like a good idea.”
The $125 million project, which is expected to last 39 months, will take place so crews can rebuild the 127th Street viaduct and make the Third Avenue exit a left-side exit, according to information obtained by DNAinfo New York. The closure was not listed on the "current projects" portion of the DOT’s website as of Thursday.
DOT officials said they have not released the report about the project to the public because it is very technical and it may "confuse" people, the spokesman said. The department is working on an alternative version of the report for their website, he added.
A start date for the detour has not yet been determined, officials said.
When it begins, both sides of Harlem River Drive’s 125th Street exit will be closed. The northbound exit will be closed for 33 months and the southbound exit will be closed for 10 months, according to the DOT.
Northbound motorists looking to go to 125th Street will be redirected to the 135th Street exit, and sent south along Fifth Avenue until they reach 125th Street.
Southbound motorists looking to exit at 125th Street will be redirected to the 116th Street exit, then sent north along Third Avenue until they reach 125th Street.
“A traffic study was performed during the initial design stage and the detours were found to be feasible,” a DOT spokesman said. The spokesman did not say how the detours will impact traffic and street congestion. The contract for the project was submitted in October.
Although the DOT does not know exactly when the detours will begin, they said they will “advise the public” long before they go into effect and are developing a brochure, the spokesman added.
The project will address several structural deficiencies and safety concerns on the Harlem River Drive, specifically at the 127th Street viaduct and the area between the Second Avenue and Third Avenue exits, according to the DOT's report.
Currently, the steel-beam design of the 127th Street viaduct means drivers have very limited visibility, and should only drive a maximum of 25 mph even though the speed limit is currently 50 mph, according to the report.
The DOT’s plan is to replace the steel structure with a concrete one that allows vehicles to travel the speed limit safely.
In addition, poor exit design forces traffic currently headed onto the Harlem River Drive from the Third Avenue entrance ramp to compete with traffic trying to get off the highway via the Second Avenue exit, according to the DOT.
The DOT plans to relocate the Second Avenue exit to the left side of the road, to clear up the traffic lanes, they said.
Locals reacted to the changes with mixed emotions.
“It will be a ridiculous amount of traffic, we already get a lot of traffic from the [East River Plaza] mall,” said Laurena Torres, who lives nearby.
Still, she added, "this is something that is needed at the Harlem River Drive.”