Interchange of the Week
Monday, 7 May 2001
Kew Gardens Interchange, Queens, New York
I-678, Grand Central & Jackie Robinson Parkways

Orientation: The Van Wyck Expressway carries the I-678 designation, and runs top to bottom in this photo. The Grand Central Parkway runs left to right. The Jackie Robinson (formerly Interboro) Parkway begins at the interchange, and runs toward the lower left. Union Turnpike, a major surface artery, enters at bottom left, its two roadways running along either side of the Jackie Robinson Parkway. These two roadways continue along the outside of the interchange, and reconverge at top right.

Exit numbers: On the Van Wyck Expressway, Exit 7 is the southbound-only exit to the Jackie Robinson Parkway, while Exit 8 southbound is for Union Turnpike. Exit 8 northbound, for Main Street and Union Turnpike, is some distance to the south. Northbound, Exit 10 is for the westbound Grand Central Parkway. Interestingly, northbound Exit 10 is south of southbound Exits 7 and 8, but north of northbound Exit 8 (and 9). Since there is no Exit 9 or 10 southbound, exits are all encountered in the correct order in either direction of travel.

On the Grand Central Parkway, Exit 13 is for the Jackie Robinson Parkway, and (eastbound only) for I-678 southbound. Exit 14, eastbound only, is for Union Turnpike and for Main Street, which intersects Union Turnpike just east of here. Westbound only, Exit 15 is for Queens Boulevard (just to the west); this ramp also serves Union Turnpike.

On the Jackie Robinson Parkway, Exit 7 is for I-678 northbound, while Exit 8 is the parkway's terminus at the Grand Central Parkway.

The interchange: This is arguably the most intricate interchange in New York City, if its complexity is considered in relation to its compact size. It also includes several generations of road construction, and combines aspects of a few different interchange forms.

Originally, the interchange consisted of the junction between the Grand Central and Interboro Parkways. Today, this connection exists as a compressed "trumpet" interchange at the ground level. It is helpful to think of the Grand Central Parkway west of the interchange as the "leg" of the trumpet, while that part to the east plus the Jackie Robinson Parkway forms the "through" route. This junction lies entirely between the separated roadways of Union Turnpike. From the "head" of the trumpet, a ramp serves as Exit 14 from the Grand Central Parkway to Union Turnpike eastbound. Similarly, a westbound ramp from the Grand Central enters westbound Union Turnpike. Also, a U-turn exists inside the trumpet "head", but is not available to general traffic.

To this original junction, a connection to the Van Wyck Expressway was added in 1952. At that time, the Van Wyck ran only southward from the Kew Gardens Interchange. The Van Wyck was connected to the Grand Central Parkway only, resulting in a directional-Y split serving eastbound-to-southbound and northbound-to-westbound movements. On Steve Anderson's Grand Central Parkway page, the second photo down shows the interchange in this stage, in 1955. The photo looks westward from above the eastbound Union Turnpike. The foremost overpass carries the Interboro Parkway nearing its terminus at the Grand Central. Its connector to the westbound Grand Central is seen at bottom right. Note that in Steve's photo this connector splits, to intersect either the Van Wyck connector to the left, and the Grand Central Parkway proper, to the right. This is redundant, as the two roadways merge soon afterward. This redundancy no longer exists; only the left-hand branch remains. The next overpass, a four-arch structure still extant today (see photo below), carries Union Turnpike westbound over the Grand Central-Van Wyck split (note the crossover between the two arch overpasses). In the background is a spur track of the IND subway connecting to a yard just north of the interchange. (The yard and spur track are partially visible at top left in the aerial photo at top.)

Click to enlarge
Here, a ramp from the Jackie Robinson Parkway joins the westbound Grand Central Parkway, just in front of the four-arch overpass carrying westbound Union Turnpike.

Finally, in 1963, the Van Wyck Expressway was extended northward. It was connected to its southern segment as well as to the Interboro Parkway and westbound Union Turnpike by means of flyover ramps, identifiable as such in the aerial photo. This created two new semi-directional splits: one where the new northward Van Wyck diverges from the older Grand Central Parkway connector, and another between the Van Wyck extension and the Interboro Parkway. The former is interesting because the older connector appears as the mainline, while through traffic seems to exit the main highway to continue northward.

Union Turnpike: It is worthwile to examine the path of Union Turnpike through the Kew Gardens Interchange. Close inspection of the bottom left corner of the aerial will reveal six individual roadways at the photo's edge. The middle two roadways are the Jackie Robinson Parkway, while the next pair outward carries through traffic on Union Turnpike. These four roadways share an extremely narrow underpass of Queens Boulevard (NY 25), which is just off the left edge. The outermost lanes carry local traffic for Union Turnpike; these actually intersect Queens Boulevard. Following the eastbound roadway of Union Turnpike, a slip ramp enters the through lanes from the local. Farther east, a split connects both through and local lanes to the Grand Central Parkway service road (straight right) as well as an entrance ramp to the parkway proper. At this same point, Union Turnpike's through and local lanes converge and are met by Exit 14 from the parkway. Union Turnpike now crosses over the Grand Central, and a U-turn provides parkway access to Union Turnpike westbound. The eastbound and westbound roadways converge at upper right, at the intersection with 141st Street.

Running westbound now on Union Turnpike, there are again through and local lanes, which diverge at 141st Street, but the local roadway does not rejoin the through lanes. From the through lanes, a ramp exits to the westbound Grand Central Parkway, then another ramp enters from the same (Exit 15). After being met by the Van Wyck Expressway ramp (Exit 8), Union Turnpike crosses the four-arch overpass and splits again into local and express lanes for its connection with Queens Boulevard.

Van Wyck Expressway,
Grand Central Parkway and
Jackie Robinson Parkway at Steve Anderson's

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