Mayor Adams Wants New BQE Plan

Just a month ago, we cited an AMNY report that Mayor Adams wanted to slash the budget for repairs to the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, which are focused on the cantilevered portion that runs below Brooklyn Heights and the Promenade, “from $225.1 million to $44.6 million, with the reduction of $180.5 million preserved for use in later years.” Our post noted strong objections to this by the Brooklyn Heights Association and by City Councilmember Lincoln Restler. These funds were intended for a project to repair the structural defects of the BQE in order, along with a lane reduction and enforcement of a restriction on vehicle weight, to make it safe for use for another twenty years. During those years, it was thought that a permanent plan that might involve relocation or other measures could be developed and initiated.

Now, as reported by Mary Frost in the Eagle, Adams has stated his intention to scrap the twenty year fix-up plan developed under former Mayor Bill de Blasio “and instead take advantage of the Biden administration’s federal infrastructure funds to kickoff a massive renovation project within five years.” Last November, citing Streetsblog, we noted that federal funding might make this possible. We also noted that Carlo Scissura, who had served as head of de Blasio’s BQE advisory panel, said of the “decrepit” highway that had “destroyed many communities” that the best plan was to “get rid of it, start from scratch.”

What would this “massive renovation project” look like? According to the Eagle story, Adams “said his administration would initiate a community engagement process over the next six months to develop a proposal in advance of Spring 2023 federal funding deadlines.” Given the complexity of the issues involved, this seems a very ambitious proposal. Nevertheless, the Eagle quotes Councilmember Restler as being “hopeful we can build on the work that has already be[en] done” by various community groups. He also said that he wants the repair work to go ahead as scheduled because of safety concerns. The Eagle also quotes BHA Executive Director Lara Birnback saying “we aren’t starting from scratch” but that “[w]hile many are eager to move quickly, that should not mean sacrificing a quality process.”

Photo: Jim Henderson via Wikimedia Commons. Used with permission.

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  • Jorale-man

    There were several proposals with good ideas, and perhaps some flaws, but they should be revived as they’re looking at this. For a recap, Scott Stringer had a decent one:

    Another one that I liked:

    And there was talk of tunnel options, including one that went through downtown. Will anything ever get done? Who knows?

  • Arch Stanton

    Well now, things are looking hopeful for both the BQE and life under Adams!

  • nomcebo manzini

    There’s a “generous” amount of animus to our community expressed in the comments that the NY Times permitted in connection with its take on this story. BEWARE. I very much doubt that Mayor Adams “has our back.”

    It’s early days on this “round 6 of 15,” but CAN WE/SHOULD WE deal with crucial construction details by “having a vote?” It’s one thing for a community to say, “This will DESTROY our community or have such a large negative impact on quality of life that we’ll do everything we can to stop or delay it.”

    But should “the Heights” (or people/orgs like Restler and/or BHA) be able to “pick” between a partial closure or a complete shut down? Should “we” be able to “insist” that moving the roadways underground – at least in part – be the chosen approach? If most is done at night, who chooses the hours and where/how traffic is diverted?

    Simply put, what DOES “community input” mean? Especially when delays may risk the loss of humongous Fed. funds. I very much fear that since contractors are likely to get Adams’ ear much more than anyone else, anything “innovative” or “green” will be deemed impractical.

  • nomcebo manzini

    I, too, loved the proposal bruited by your 2nd link, but I fear that it – and anything like it – clearly shot down (ignored ?) by “the powers that be” – has the terrible optics that Brooklyn Heights gets a billion dollars of “beautification,” and all the rest of NYC gets is that its biggest transportation nightmare is solved. You think that’s gonna fly?

    The other 2 you mentioned ARE visionary, but each is even more flawed, i.m.o.

    Scissura’s plan – and you better believe that with a short decision-making timeline, it gets a bye all the way to the FINALS – boiled down to shunting most (from S.I., Bay Ridge, etc.) traffic to Manhattan via the Carey tunnel. His “tear the BQE down” got headlines, but if it wasn’t altogether sarcastic, neither was it realistic. From a political p.o.v., it was D.O.A. every bit as much as running 6 lanes of traffic on the Promenade!

    Last, Adams isn’t hated in Albany, I don’t think, like diBlasio. But he clearly – see the schools vote – is pretty marginal there. Cuomo’s relationship with NYC was complex, but Hochul clearly hardly has ANY. Watch Adams get boxed out when it comes to his “claim” on most of the BBB money!

    Prediction – “a little money” will be added to project *save-the-BQE,* so that the official timetable on remediation will be shortened and the estimated “useful life” will be lengthened.

    Oh yes, and Mayor Adams will boast that – unlike his predecessors – he didn’t just “kick the can down the road.” … Which, of course, is as phony as a three dollar bill.

  • Andrew Porter

    So the mayor proposes to throw out all the meetings, plans and proposals that were hammered out over the last few years and start all over again?

    I think he’ll announce something just before his term in office ends, and the charade can start all over again under the next mayor. Unless, of course, the BQE and Promenade suffer a sudden and disastrous collapse, killing hundreds, while he’s still in office. Then the finger-pointing will begin.

    I believe the expression, “kicking the can down the road,” is the operative one here.

  • A neighbor

    Another mayor kicks the can down the road. He wants to start construction in 5 years? Why not 3 years? Oh, because that would be during his term as mayor, and it would have to come out of his budget. Who knows if Biden infrastructure funds – or Biden – will be around in 5 years.

  • CassieVonMontague

    I am not optimistic about a non-existent plan starting within five years. The mayor shifted over $200 million away from the BQE in this year’s budget.

    Pray that he doesn’t convert all of the city’s cash into Bitcoin.

  • nomcebo manzini

    I think he DID announce that he was getting his salary paid to him that way. Hope he doesn’t feel that he HAS TO take bribes because his net worth has taken an extra big hit.

  • Jorale-man

    Agreed – it’s hard to imagine anything visionary and forward-thinking here. But these plans should be brought into the conversation, if only to remind politicians what should be possible (and would be rubber-stamped in other wealthy, developed countries).

  • Mark C

    However, if the B.I.G. proposal is the most cost effective solution, then the optics may be ok since it would be a win-win (??). I don’t recall seeing cost estimates for various different options, but I would think (yes, very likely naively) that the B.I.G. proposal could actually be the most cost effective in the long run since the proposal is an at-grade highway, which has got to be cheaper to construct than an elevated highway (or a tunnel) and cheaper to maintain. The cost of the park on top is probably minimal compared to the cost of the highway and could even generate revenue if mixed-use. Maybe the integration and repurposing of the cantilevers + promenade into BBP can come over time and from a different funding source?

    As a BH resident, I personally wouldn’t mind the Stringer proposal, but that one is going to have critics. It is truck only (car lovers will complain); the park on the decked-over Cobble Hill / Carroll Gardens trench would be great, but doesn’t seem necessary for the fix and thus will have critics; and it will still be an elevated highway and thus have high maintenance costs.

  • Mike Suko

    I’m pretty sure that the “numbers” are beyond squooshy. Everyone expects over-runs, but on a project this big … in the 2020’s (if we’re lucky), even the estimates are likely to be so high that we may see a repeat of 2011 (?), when work really seemed to be maybe about to begin, and the City (under Bloomberg) said there just wasn’t budget enough to proceed.

    Face it, nobody but the Mayor can/will control the “estimators,” and they will give him the figures that support his preferred choice.

    I’m not sure whether B.I.G. really DID “nail down” the 360 Furman issues, and I believe their schematics and planning pre-date the new buildings near Pier 6. Last, they DID contemplate lots of disruption in BBP. 5-10 years of work (because they DO it in phases) may not play well either with the Park and its fans OR!! with the many people with $2-$20MM apartments within it. If “environmental impact” slew the atop-the-Promenade plan, it’ll surely be a 2K pound gorilla here, too.

    I think Gutman, diBlasio’s pet DOT Commissioner, now lives in Pierhouse. A lawsuit that might derail a plan or set it back a couple of years gets very scary when the City’s on record as saying that 2026 is kind of a “do or die” moment.

    No easy answers, that’s for sure. But if they can do 4 lanes (rather than 6, as B.I.G. contemplated), what they call “pinchpoints” *might* not be fatal. Next time, you’re at Furman and Joralemon, ask yourself whether there’s room enough for even 4 big trucks next to one another! I’m sure that “breakdown lanes” would break any measuring tape!

    Sorry for the length of this. Another 2019 link, heavier on concept, lighter on details:

  • Mark C

    Also, re: tunnels, here is the link to the NYCC report that included discussion of the Arup study that said tunneling was actually feasible (before this, I believe the DOT said it was not feasible):

    While they still recommended the B.I.G. proposal (estimated cost of $3.2 billion w/ 6 years of construction… but primarily benefiting BH), the tunnel came in second (estimated cost of $5-11 billion w/ 7 – 10 years of construction but benefiting more neighborhoods).

  • Mike Suko

    Thank you for this link. I’d never seen it.

    2 problems with the tunnel. Either one seems like a killer:

    a) Bureaucracies HATE to risk a failure “just like” one that’s well-known. The Boston “dig” may now be deemed a successful solution to a somewhat similar problem, but it is still too soon to forget it “at its worst,” seeming to burn through $ to beat the band.
    b) Just try telling 6 neighborhoods in Bklyn – much less thousands of homeowners – that “the risk of collapse is something we can mitigate.”

  • TeddyNYC

    Sadly, it will take the forced closure either by inspectors, a deadline or by a collapse to finally provide enough motivation to actually do something other than talking about doing something “years” from now.