NYC DOT: The clock is ticking on BQE repairs in Brooklyn Heights
Agency Is Planning to Fix Crumbling Bridges Now to Prevent Major Roadway Shutdowns in 10 Years
The fix is in, but it will be quite a while before it will begin.
The clock is ticking for the crumbling, triple-decked Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE) bridge that runs under the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, city Department of Transportation (DOT) engineers conceded to concerned Heights residents at a briefing this week.
If the agency doesn’t get busy making much needed fixes to the bridge that has been heavily trafficked since it was opened in 1949, it may be forced to impose lengthy roadway shutdowns that would dump traffic — including large trucks — and wreak potential noise and congestion havoc on the neighborhood’s narrow streets.
The team of DOT engineers assigned to the BQE Atlantic Avenue to Sands Street rehabilitation project shared what they learned from a series of drillings into bridge structures performed over the summer with an audience gathered in NYU Tandon School of Engineering’s Pfizer Auditorium Tuesday night.
“The structures have been out there 60-some years, and their starting to show their long life now,” said senior program manager Tanvi Pandya. “We are at the point where we need to start planning, otherwise in 10 to 12 years we can expect to have to shut down a lane, day and night, because we can’t put traffic on it.
“That’s going to mean major disruptions,” Pandya added. “If traffic is not able to go on the BQE, that means traffic will be going onto the local streets. So, we want to be able to avoid that.”
Pandya and DOT Deputy Commissioner of Bridges Bob Collyer said the summertime tests revealed that while there were no drastic problems, the bridge’s concrete construction showed significant wear from the effects of the freezing and thawing, as well as salt erosion, wrought by hard winters.
“There are no immediate concerns; the bigger concern is the durability,” Pandya said. “If we have several winters with lots of snow, we’re looking at quicker deterioration.”
Residents who attended the briefing, several of them of them longtime Heights property owners, peppered the DOT representatives with a litany of questions about traffic noise, congestion and speeding; pavement deterioration; possible street closings; reports that the proposed Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX) streetcar might run along a portion of the BQE route and even which government agencies would be funding the rehab work — and when it would start.
Regarding traffic noise, Pandya said simply: “Part of the reason you have the noise is because it is an old structure.”
Asked what could be done to slow down traffic going past the Heights or through its streets, they said imposing a 30 mph speed limit or installing speed-monitoring cameras is something that would have to be taken up with the NYPD or with local elected officials.
In response to concerns about Furman Street — the main thoroughfare that runs at the base of the triple-decked highway as it passes through the Heights — Collyer said “there is no plan to shut Furman Street as of now. Nothing is going to be shut down, we’re looking to keep traffic flowing.”
He also said Heights residents wouldn’t have to worry about BQX construction, adding: “The BQX had a proposal to run along York Street and along Furman Street and along Columbia down towards the tunnel, and I told them you’d better stay away from the BQE or we’re just going to stop [the BQE bridge rehab project] right now.
“I’m not sure where they’re going [with the BQX],” he added. “If they’re getting to Atlantic [Avenue] and [then] going down Court Street, I don’t care, that’s far enough away from this project.”
Collyer explained that the bridge rehab project would be funded by the city, with some federal contribution, because state officials decided that the BQE job “didn’t have the same urgency” as other necessary repair projects on the Kosciuszko Bridge or the Cross Bronx Expressway.
As of now, the DOT reps said, work on the BQE Atlantic to Sands project is expected to start in 2024 and end in 2029. However, the repairs could begin as soon as 2021 and be finished by 2026, Pandya explained, if the state passed legislation that would let the city DOT use the same contractor to do the design and construction, as opposed to the current practice of hiring different contractors for each task.
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