Today’s news:

MTA doles out $109M in contracts for Whitestone Br. work

MTA Bridges and Tunnels has awarded a $109 million contract to two construction firms to complete an overhaul of the Queens approach to the Whitestone Bridge.

The work, which will take 3 1/2 years, includes reconstruction efforts, widening the 1,010-foot-long roadway structure on the Queens approach, adding emergency breakdown lanes and moving and rebuilding a local playground.

The project was originally expected to cost $179 million, but because of a favorable bid climate, the final amount was 35 percent below the initial estimate. The contract was jointly awarded Friday to E.E. Cruz of Manhattan and Tully Construction Co. of Queens. Bidding for the contract closed April 5.

“The original 1930s bridge, with its narrow lanes and lack of emergency lanes, was not designed for today’s traffic,” MTA Bridges and Tunnels Chief Engineer Joe Keane said in a statement. “But this work, along with the Bronx approach project, will go a long way in transforming this 1930s-era bridge into a modern, viable regional link for decades to come.”

Similar to ongoing work on the Bronx approach, expected to be completed by 2012, the project will require a permanent lane closure for 378 days, and the Third Avenue exit off the Whitestone Expressway will be closed for up to two years while the work is underway, according to Bridges and Tunnels. For most of that period, only one lane will be shut down at a time in order to allow crews to replace the bridge’s 72-year-old roadway decking.

Three lanes will head into the Bronx and two into Queens from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., and on weekends there will be three Queens-bound lanes and two Bronx-bound ones, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said. A moveable barrier will allow workers to shift the lanes according to this schedule.

Working with the city Parks Department, the MTA will relocate the playground now located below the Whitestone Bridge at Francis Lewis Park to a grassy area just past the current bocce courts there, Bridges and Tunnels said. The new playground will have separate play areas for 2- to 5-year-olds and 6- to 12-year-olds, a spray shower, a sensory play area, new swings, a climbing boulder and new benches.

“We’ve always had a strong relationship with the community, and we hope that this new and improved playground shows our commitment to be good neighbors,” said Bronx-Whitestone General Manager Ray Webb.

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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