By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Divine Miss M is helping Bay Ridge residents get more ZZZZs.
The New York Restoration Project, the non-profit environmental group founded by actress-singer Bette Midler, donated 15 trees that were recently planted in a grassy area next to the exit ramp of the Gowanus Expressway at 92nd Street.
The 92nd Street exit is the first Gowanus Expressway exit in Brooklyn for drivers coming off the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.
The idea is to have the trees block some of the noise from the expressway, said US Rep. Michael Grimm, who visited the area on Monday with officials from the MTA's Bridges and Tunnel division to talk to residents.
“Hopefully, there’ll be a little less noise at night when you’re trying to sleep,” Grimm (R-C-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Staten Island) told the residents. “Little things like trees and noise reduction make a big difference,” he added.
Residents, frustrated by the noise and exhaust fumes, had reached out to Grimm’s office for help earlier this year. Grimm’s staff contacted the MTA and offered a solution: plant more trees next to the exit ramp.
“Congressman Grimm initiated everything,” said Brendan Bolger, whose house is located next to the expressway. “At first, Bridges and Tunnels said they didn’t have any money for trees,” he said.
The New York Restoration Project heard about the noise pollution problem and stepped in, donating 15 trees (10 American Hornbeam trees and five Black Gum trees) which were then planted by the MTA.
“We are thrilled to contribute Black Gum and American Hornbeam trees to improve this stretch of the Gowanus Expressway,” said Amy Freitag, executive director of the New York Restoration Project.
Founded by Midler in 1995, New York Restoration Project is a non-profit organization dedicated to transforming open spaces in overlooked communities into gardens to create a greener city. The restoration project is the only conservancy that works citywide, rather than dedicating itself to a specific area. The goal, according to the organization’s website, is to bring private resources to spaces that lack adequate municipal support.
The restoration project also sponsors environmental education programs.
The organization is the major partner of the Bloomberg Administration’s MillionTreesNYC program, an initiative to plant one million new trees throughout the five boroughs.
Residents living on Dahlgren Place, the street next to the Gowanus Expressway exit ramp, said the highway noise has been a problem for a long time. “The trees will help a lot,” said one resident, Pat O’Dwyer.
Other residents, like Joe Ahearne, said neighbors do their best to block out the noise. “You get used to the noise after a while,” he said.
The area next to the expressway exit ramp did have a few trees, but residents said more noise absorbers were needed. Ahearne said he and his neighbors are grateful for the trees. “They could have put up barriers,” he said, referring to the high walls that are often erected next to highways to block noise.
“This is the way it’s supposed to work,” Grimm said as he stood next to William McCann, director of bridges south for the MTA, Daniel Fortunado, the MTA’s maintenance supervisor for the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. “We’re all supposed to be working together. They (the MTA) can’t always accommodate but when they could, they should. Sometimes, there’s restrictions but we should try to come up with solutions,” the congressman said.
The trees will not only block some of the highway noise. They will also improve the quality of life by giving residents something to look out outside their windows, Freitag said.
“These are spectacular native species that will not only dazzle their neighbors with their gorgeous fall color, they will help absorb the carbon and noise of this infamously busy roadway,” she said.