That was proven on August 4, when Karina Dominguez, a 31 year-old Forest Hills resident, and her husband were pushing their baby carriage, and she found herself in the middle of the road. Dominguez fell into a small sinkhole on the northeast corner of 68th Road and Queens Boulevard.
The fall cut one of her legs, and paramedics at the scene said she fractured her ankle, but a medical examination at a local hospital determined she sustained a major sprain. A passerby said that another injury occurred at the same location a few days earlier.
A week later, on August 11, I discovered a one-foot-wide sinkhole in the middle of a crosswalk on the north side of 69th Avenue and Yellowstone Boulevard. My call to 311 was redirected to 911, and the operator claimed that an appropriate worker would be sent to the site as soon as possible. After waiting for 45 minutes, no one arrived. Two days later, a traffic cone covering the hole alerted pedestrians and drivers.
There is no doubt that our roads are unsafe, and sinkholes and hazardous potholes seem to be on the rise. Residents point fingers at the Department of Transportation (DOT), and question its ability to fix the sinkholes within a reasonable timeframe.
Repeated requests by email and phone for a statement from the DOT went unanswered.
A day after the Dominguez accident, she filed a report on the sinkhole with 311, and then filed another complaint on August 14, questioning why the site was not repaired. During her first call, an operator transferred her to a DOT official, who said the agency would send her an accident report; she never received it.
“Our city is irresponsible, and I feel I am alone,” said Dominguez. “The city cares about other things, and not the community. When politicians need our vote, they are here, but where are they when we really need them?”
The accident could have been more extreme.
“Imagine if I walked with my baby and something worse happened, or if an elderly person had an accident,” Dominguez, who lost one week of work and had to hire a babysitter, said. “It’s the consequences of accidents which are most troubling.”
“I am deeply disheartened about the woman’s injury, and I will be working with the DOT to ensure that the condition is resolved immediately,” said Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz. Koslowitz confirmed that two sinkhole were reported to 311 earlier this month, and said her office received a similar complaint in August 2012. It was resolved the following October.
Robert Rauschenbach recalled a sinkhole that swallowed a Florida man while in bed last spring. “It’s scary when you think how they can swallow cars and buildings,” he said. “I wonder if there’s an open space under our roads.”
Greg Jones of Forest Hills spotted a large sinkhole near a storm drain on the east side of 67th Road, south of Austin Street. “Do you know how many times I've tried to call 311?” he said. “Each time I was ignored, and a few times they blindly transferred me to 911 because I said it’s a danger. Like the cops are going to fill in a sinkhole!”
He said there is a traffic cone inserted upside down in the sinkhole, but that it was larger. “I bet if this was Midtown, they would be on it like white on rice,” he said.
Lisa Hakim of Rego Park has also filed reports with 311. She remembered a deep sinkhole outside 98-22 63rd Drive that was fixed...for now.
“They fill it, it opens, they fill it again,” she said. “I can always hear traffic hitting the dip in the road. Once it opens, it becomes a deep hole on a very busy street.”
Reports of sinkholes are more widespread than Forest Hills and Rego Park. Maspeth resident Marianthy Karantzes recalls an incident on July 4. “My sister’s father-in-law did not know about the sinkhole on 53rd Avenue between 68th Street and 66th Street, and he drove right into it,” she said. “We called 311 who told us the police were on their way with a tow truck, but they were nowhere in sight. A good samaritan helped us out.”
Herself and members of her family have filed numerous complaints with 311, but no action has been taken to date.
In Ridgewood, Maryanne Bile noticed a sinkhole near a manhole on 76th Street between Myrtle and 78th avenues. She called 311 on July 6, and the DOT referred her complaint to the Department of Environmental Protection on July 16. After calling various agencies, the DEP tarred a plate over it, but the problem is still not resolved.
Sinkholes or those on the verge of forming need to be repeatedly reported to elected officials, 311, and the DOT.
“There is a record of the calls, so make them public, and hold the DOT professionally responsible,” said Jones. “I don’t care if the DEP, EPA, FBI, or CIA takes care of it, but as long as they’re repaired so no one gets killed.”