State lawmakers, city officials and industry representatives rallied in Brooklyn Heights last week to urge Governor Andrew Cuomo and the State Legislature to pass legislation authorizing the city to use “design-build,” an expedited process that allows one firm to handle both design and construction.
Officials said design-build would speed up the $1.9 billion project by two years and save at least $100 million. If the authority is not granted, the repairs would go beyond 2026, and trucks would have to be banned because of a weight restriction.
State Senator Brian Kavanagh said Cuomo can include the provision in his 30-day budget amendments.
“The governor has an opportunity this coming week,” Kavanagh said. “We are asking the governor to include for this project this authorization.”
The portion of the BQE in question was built on a triple cantilever 75 years ago. It carries 150,000 cars and trucks daily, and has gone decades without maintenance.
Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon called the BQE a “critical link” in the interstate highway system, so the status of the highway should matter to all New Yorkers.
“Right now, the cantilever is on life support,” Simon said. “Without the ability to employ design-build procurement for this reconstruction, the welfare of our residents and businesses throughout Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens is in peril.”
She noted that if trucks are banned from the roadway, tractor-trailers and other large vehicles will have to go through the Downtown Brooklyn commercial district, or get off the BQE in Bay Ridge and go down Fourth Avenue in Sunset Park.
“We know that this will increase our environmental burdens,” she said. “It will increase the particulate matter all of our kids will be breathing.”
Council Speaker Corey Johnson and other elected officials urged state officials to “put politics aside,” particularly between Mayor Bill de Blasio and Cuomo, to get it done.
“If design-build is good enough for the Kosciuszko Bridge, and it’s good enough for the new Mario Cuomo Bridge, why is it not good enough for the BQE?” he asked. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
Comptroller Scott Stringer, who arrived late to the rally because of heavy traffic on the highway, warned that congestion will get worse throughout Brooklyn if design-build is not granted. He said not expediting the project would be a “colossal waste of money.”
“We could see overruns of hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said. “In a day and age when we have to watch every dollar and make every dollar count, this is fiscally irresponsible.”
Neighborhood groups and business advocates also joined the rally last Friday. Peter Bray, executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association, said not only would diverting trucks onto local streets be an environmental hazard, but it would damage the region’s economy.
He also pinpointed the ongoing feud between de Blasio and Cuomo as “not a valid reason” for the lack of action.
“The only obstacle that I can see to getting design-build passed is the fact that there’s this rancor between Albany and the city. That’s just completely unacceptable,” Bray said. “Our neighborhoods deserve better. Our communities should not be collateral damage to this political fighting.”
Bray announced that on March 6 the Brooklyn Heights Association will send local residents and stakeholders to Albany to meet with legislative leaders on the issue.
Leaders from the Partnership from New York City, New York Building Congress and Trucking Association of New York also spoke in favor of design-build.
Polly Trottenberg, commissioner of the Department of Transportation, acknowledged that even with design-build, there will be inevitable traffic impacts. She said the goal is to maintain a few lanes of traffic in each direction to keep traffic flowing.
“We understand this project is necessary and critical,” Kavanagh said. “What we’re saying is, let’s set it up so we can do it in the most effective, efficient way possible and minimize the impact on this community.”
DOT will begin the bidding process for the job this spring, the state lawmaker said, so they need to know if they can contract it out to one firm.
“That’s why we want this done by April 1,” Kavanagh said.
In a statement, Cuomo spokesperson Peter Ajemian said the governor is the “single biggest proponent” of expanding design-build because it saves time and taxpayer money.
“His budget proposal includes design-build for state agencies to fund the state’s capital plan,” Ajemian said, “and we will have discussions with the legislature about expanding it to all local governments.”