Brooklyn residents consider next steps for BQE
by Benjamin Fang
Mar 03, 2020 | 2941 views | 0 0 comments | 168 168 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Although the mayor’s BQE Expert Panel did not recommend one single solution to fix the crumbling portion of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE) in Broklyn Heights, it made clear that any solution must be comprehensive and will require the cooperation of city and state officials.

After the panel released its final report last month, the city announced immediate action to repair sections of the triple cantilever and the Hicks Street wall. The NYPD will also create a new truck enforcement task force to increase enforcement against illegal and overweight trucks.

These measures are intended to keep the current highway safe and extend its lifespan.

On February 21, five elected officials, including Comptroller Scott Stringer, penned a letter to the Department of Transportation (DOT) asking for detailed information about the project, including a timeline of work, plans to monitor construction activities and more.

The officials also asked the city to create a new task force, comprised of the area’s community boards, civic organizations, local institutions, elected officials and city agencies, to meet regularly during BQE reconstruction work.

“While we understand the urgency of these repairs, we are concerned about the lack of readily available information about the scope of the current and upcoming work,” the letter read.

As for the future of the BQE, several plans are still on the table, including Stringer’s plan to convert the 1.5-mile stretch from Sands Street to Atlantic Avenue into a truck-only thruway. The proposal calls for building a linear park connection from Brooklyn Bridge Park down to Carroll Gardens.

The DUMBO-based design firm Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) has its own plan, the Brooklyn-Queens Park (BQP), which would build an at-grade roadway along Furman Street and cover it with a deck.

The deck would then be a platform to add eight new acres of parkland that would connect to DUMBO and Red Hook.

Other proposals include the “Tri-Line” plan, which is similar to the BQP, and a plan by Marc Wouters Studios, which would create a separate two-lane temporary highway parallel to the existing triple-cantilever on the BQE.

Last week, the City Council and Arup, an engineering and design firm, released a report called “The Future of the BQE.” Hired by the City Council to provide “independent, outside expertise,” Arup conducted its own study and provided recommendations.

Arup proposed two possible solutions: a capped highway or a tunnel bypass.

The capped tunnel, similar to the Tri-Line and the BQP, would create a street-level roadway with a deck built over it, followed by an expansion of Brooklyn Bridge Park. It could cost $3.2 billion.

The tunnel bypass, which would run from the Gowanus Expressway all the way to South Williamsburg, would cost more, but would be a “more transformative project,” according to the City Council.

It would remove the expressway running through Cobble Hill, Brooklyn Heights, DUMBO, Fort Greene and Clinton Hill.

Additionally, the City Council-commissioned report, like the BQE Expert Panel’s report, recommended a governance strategy with city and state partnership, as well as community engagement and a shared vision for the future.

“This is not just about rebuilding a highway,” Speaker Corey Johnson said in a statement, “this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build the city we deserve and need in the future.”

Trent Lethco, a principal at Arup, added that projects like this have been successful in Boston, Dallas, San Francisco, London and Barcelona.

“If it can happen elsewhere, why can’t it happen here?” Lethco asked. “Let’s find a BQE solution that creates a lasting legacy of positive change for many generations to come.”

All of these proposed solutions were discussed last Thursday night at the Cobble Hill Association’s monthly meeting at PS 29. Amy Breedlove, the group’s president, recapped the fight to transform the BQE and the neighborhood groups involved in pushing for a solution.

She was applauded by dozens of attendees when she announced that the DOT’s initial plan to build a temporary highway on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade was “now dead.”

Breedlove said the coalition of neighborhoods groups is now advocating for a comprehensive plan for the BQE corridor, which must include protecting affected neighborhoods, enhancing pedestrian connections, and adding green space.

“We can’t fund a neverending cycle of patchwork repairs,” she said. “Buying another decade, in hopes that someone else will take on the systemic issues that have prevented a permanent solution in the past, would just continue.

“We need to look at this holistically and find out what we can do to transform this,” Breedlove added. “We are united in fighting for a visionary plan that reverses the environmental, safety and health hazards associated with urban expressways.”

Stringer called for creating a “new paradigm” for the BQE that isn’t just replacing “a super-highway with another super-highway.”

“We can’t afford to let the moment pass,” he said. “We have to act now and be decisive.”

The comptroller also called for strategizing politically on how to get a BQE transformation plan accomplished, including involving the state and working with other Brooklyn neighborhoods.

While Stringer said all ideas should be considered, he noted that a bypass tunnel would be a “very expensive proposition.”

“There is an issue of do we want to attract more cars, or do we want less cars?” he said. “There’s a powerful argument that the tunnel could actually bring more cars.”

Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon said her office is already brainstorming and researching governance models for an entity or authority that will manage any future rehabilitation plan. She noted that by law, the state DOT has to be the lead agency if any federal money is used.

Other considerations include how to assess fines for overweight trucks, how to have robust community engagement, and how congestion pricing and split tolling on the Verrazano Bridge factor into traffic.

“This is going to take some time,” Simon said. “Nothing’s going to happen unless we have a coordinated effort and agreement.”

While there is still uncertainty about which plan would best serve the future of the BQE and its surrounding neighborhoods, all parties agree that government officials must act urgently.

“The wins were taking the losers off the table,” Breedlove said. “Now, we have to get a winning plan on the table.”
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