Exploring the History of New York’s Most Famous Highway: The Long Island Expressway

I-95 Sign
Photo: Wikimedia Public Domain

The Long Island Expressway is rich in history and has been a defining feature of New York’s landscape since it first opened in 1938. Built to ease the burden of heavy traffic on the Northern State and Southern State Parkways, and the local roads that commercial traffic had to use, the LIE quickly became an iconic symbol of New York City’s and Long Island’s hustle and bustle. 

The expressway stretches 66.38 miles from the Queens Midtown Tunnel in Manhattan to Riverhead, covering four of lower New York State’s counties – Manhattan, Queens, (where it is known as the Horace Harding Expressway), Nassau, and Suffolk, but mostly encompasses the counties of Nassau and Suffolk.

The construction was a major undertaking and its impact on Long Island’s development was immense. This article will explore the history of the Long Island Expressway, from its conception in the late 1930s to its role in contemporary life. It will also look at how the highway has helped shape the Island’s economy, culture, and environment.

Conception and Construction 

The LIE was conceived as early as 1935 when New York State started comparing plans for a new road that would connect New York City with Long Island. In 1938, construction began, which, at the time, was called the Northern State Parkway Extension. Indeed, for the first few years, the road was just a continuation of the Northern State Parkway. It connected Northern Boulevard in Queens to the Southern State Parkway in Nassau County, using the path of the Meadowbrook State Parkway as a detour around the barrier posed by the Hempstead Plains. The Northern State Parkway Extension was completed three years after it began, and the road was formally rebranded as the Long Island Expressway.

Impact of the LIE on Long Island’s Economy

Cars on Long Island Expressway
Traffic on the LIE is more of a rule than an exception. Photo: SS

Although the LIE was built to ease traffic on the region’s other roads, it has also contributed to the economic development of Long Island. Many businesses have opened along the highway, offering goods and services to the people who pass by. The LIE also links Long Island with the rest of the New York City region and the other parts of the state. This has contributed to the growth of the Long Island economy by helping to draw people to live and work in the region. Additionally, the expressway has also made it easier for people to visit the island. This has meant more tourists coming to the area and more revenue for the local economy. It has also made it easier for people to go to the beach, especially Jones Beach. 

Environmental Impact 

Of course, there are pros and cons to everything. In this case, the LIE has hurt the environment. It has meant that there have been more cars and trucks on the road and more pollution in the air and the LIE is no exception to the number of traffic accidents that occur in Long Island.


The Long Island Expressway has had a huge impact on the evolution and economy of Long Island. By providing a truck route straight through the center of the island, the impact on the economy has been substantial. One wonders what Long Island would have been if the LIE did not exist.




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