The BQE is collapsing. There is still no plan to fix it.


The Brooklyn-Queens Freeway is slowly crumbling from road salt and moisture that has weakened its concrete and steel foundation, and from all the overweight trucks it was ever designed to haul .

But six years after New York City officials sounded the alarm over the BQE, there’s still no consensus on what to do with this vital but years-obsolete highway. 1940, which transports 129,000 vehicles per day.

At least half a dozen plans have been floated, rowdy public meetings and rallies have taken place, and a mayor’s panel has worked for more than a year to come up with more options.

“It took a lot of effort not to make it worse, but we weren’t able to make it any better,” said Jake Brooks, 47, a law professor, whose building is next to the BQE and shakes due to vibrations. of cars and trucks hitting potholes and bumps.

Now, the BQE saga takes another twist as Mayor Eric Adams aims to begin construction within five years on a yet-to-be-developed plan to repair the freeway. It upends a proposal made in 2021 by Mr. Adams’ predecessor, Bill de Blasio, to temporarily shore up the freeway for 20 years at a cost of more than $500 million to give the city more time to find a permanent solution.

“Our moment is right now,” Mr. Adams said in a statement. “I will not wait decades and wastefully spend hundreds of millions of additional taxpayer dollars when we can and must begin to rebuild this vital transportation artery today.

Fast-tracking the project, the mayor added, will allow the city to potentially tap into billions in new federal infrastructure funds that were released by the Biden administration and use them to help pay for one of the projects. most expensive transport in the city. Under federal legislation passed last year, cities can apply for grants each year through 2026.

“We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to access the federal funding needed to reimagine and rebuild the BQE that a post-pandemic economy and city demands, and we are seizing it,” Adams said.

The mayor — who has a closer working relationship with Gov. Kathy Hochul than Mr. de Blasio has with former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo — is also in “active discussions” with state officials about revising the law. The entire freeway, which stretches for about 18 miles, rather than just focusing on the city-controlled 1.5-mile section, city officials said.

But some elected officials, community leaders and residents have questioned whether the city can really implement a new plan in just five years and have expressed concerns that major repairs will be cut back to shore up the existing structure in the meantime.

“There are no easy solutions; if there had been, we would have done it many years ago,” said Brooklyn Councilman Lincoln Restler, who criticized the Adams administration for failing to carry out aggressive repairs. “It was dropped because it’s so difficult.”

Hank Gutman, a former transport commissioner under Mr de Blasio who was a member of the BQE panel, said it was ‘wishful thinking’ to believe a new plan could be passed, approved and built before the structure was built. becomes dangerous. “They ran out of time and options without using the measures we announced and passed last year,” he said.

The BQE was built in sections between 1944 and 1948 during the era of Robert Moses, the influential urban planner who expanded the city’s roads. Long known for its narrow lanes and potholes, the freeway also has a beloved feature: a pedestrian walkway in Brooklyn Heights with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline, suspended above traffic by a structure unusual triple cantilever.

The roadway is supported by steel reinforcing bars inside the concrete. They corrode from road salt seeping through the cracks, which have widened from freezing and thawing and moisture.

In 2016, city officials announced they would rehabilitate the 1.5-mile section between Atlantic Avenue and Sands Street in Brooklyn, warning that if nothing was done they would have to restrict trucks by 2026 to reduce weight on the highway.

The BQE panel later concluded that the highway was deteriorating even faster, in part due to all the trucks exceeding the 40-ton federal weight limit. At the committee’s request, two of the six lanes were removed last August, reducing vehicle traffic.

In 2018, city officials presented two options to rebuild the freeway, which were dismissed by critics including Mr. Adams, then Brooklyn Borough President. One plan called for the Brooklyn Heights boardwalk to be closed for up to six years and the construction of a temporary freeway over it to redirect traffic while work proceeded below.

Many of these critics envisioned a city with fewer cars and saw the BQE redesign as an opportunity to do something about the worsening traffic that has choked neighborhoods with traffic jams and pollution and made the streets more dangerous for people. pedestrians and cyclists.

Counter-proposals have been launched. The city council weighed in with an $11 billion plan to tear down the freeway and replace it with a three-mile-long tunnel. Scott Stringer, the former city comptroller, proposed limiting part of the highway to trucks and converting another part into a two-mile-long park.

There will be no consensus on the BQE, said Samuel I. Schwartz, a transportation engineer who worked on the highway. He recommended that Mr. Adams and Ms. Hochul just set a deadline to come up with a new plan – and then go ahead with it despite almost certain opposition.

“City and state need to be together on this,” he said. “If they’re ready to commit to a decision in a year, then that’s a good plan.”

Hazel Crampton-Hays, spokeswoman for the governor, said, “The state stands ready to support the city in the rehabilitation project, including securing federal infrastructure funding.”

City officials said they would continue to carry out necessary road repairs, including some under Mr. de Blasio’s 20-year plan. They have set aside $100 million for a dedicated contractor to carry out repairs identified by regular inspections. Sensors were also installed on the cantilever last year to monitor its vibrations and movements.

Next year, the city will begin rebuilding parts of two deteriorating sections of bridge near Grace Court and Clark Street in Brooklyn, which will delay restrictions on trucks until 2028. An automated ticketing system to enforce truck weight limits is due to enter service early next year.

Because Mr. Adams wants to launch a more permanent solution to the BQE within five years and is committed to repairing the highways underway, city officials said longer-term repairs, such as major work on bridge decks and joints will no longer be needed.

But in recent months, many community leaders and residents have grown increasingly frustrated and concerned about what they see as the city’s lack of transparency and urgency regarding the freeway.

Pia Scala-Zankel, a writer whose family brownstone in Brooklyn Heights overlooks a section of the freeway, said she hasn’t seen any repairs made under her house in the past year. She repeatedly asked the city transit agency for an update on the repairs, but heard nothing. “It’s like a slap in the face,” she said.

Mr Restler, the councilman, said any BQE plan would require “a significant degree of community consensus”, given the complex government approvals and environmental reviews required. “No plan can be imposed on us by the town hall or anyone else,” he said.

Administration officials said they have taken the time to review the BQE project and will begin public meetings this month to work with the community on a new, accelerated plan.

Lara Birnback, executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association, a leading voice in the neighborhood, said local residents and drivers would welcome a plan as soon as possible, although she noted, “There are so many caveats and ifs there – all the pieces would have to line up in the right way for this to be doable.

She added that many in the community are hopeful the city will do more than just repair the aging highway.

“We went beyond that,” she said. “People would be upset not to see something more transformative, greener and more 21st century.”


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