Faster, cheaper, better fix proposed for BQE in Brooklyn
City pushes Albany to expedite Brooklyn-Queens Expressway rehab using design-build process
With the crumbling Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE) triple cantilever underpinning the Brooklyn Heights Promenade as the backdrop, city officials, industry experts and community leaders on Friday called on Albany to allow the city to use the design-build bidding process to expedite the roadway’s long-overdue $1.9 billion rehabilitation.
Design-build saves time and money by merging the design and construction bids, usually bid separately on massive projects.
Using the design-build method would trim the duration of the BQE rehab from roughly seven years to about five, Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and Department of Design and Construction Commissioner Feniosky Peña-Mora told reporters at a press conference in Brooklyn Bridge Park.
While being used successfully in projects around New York, the state Legislature has been reluctant to extend design-build authority to city agencies, Trottenberg said.
She called the BQE between Atlantic and Sands “an incredibly critical piece of infrastructure” for our economy.
“It’s now known for backups, having no shoulders and having one of the highest collision rates in the state.” While currently safe, “we know it’s going to need a rehab it, and that’s going to be a process that has to get done in the next ten years,” she said.
Besides $1.9 billion in DOT finds, the rehab will also cost $200 million in Parks funds, all of which the mayor has added to the city’s 10-year capital plan, Trottenberg said.
The current process requires a bid from a design firm, then another bid from a separate firm to construct the project, which adds more time.
“The two firms have to try to work together. There’s often a flurry of change orders, disputes and even lawsuits,” Trottenberg said. “Design-build could save us as much as $300 million and two years’ construction time on this single project.”
Design-build used successfully in state projects
“Police precincts, highways and public hospitals could be built with shorter construction times at lower cost if the city had the design-build process that agencies such as the state DOT and State Thruway Authority have already employed on projects such as the new Tappan Zee Bridge,” Peña-Mora said.
Design-build was also used by the New York State Department of Transportation for the BQE’s Kosciusko Bridge fix.
The city seeks design-build contracts for several other major infrastructure projects as well, including the Rodman’s Neck Training Facility for the NYPD in the Bronx and the Crossroads Youth Facility in Brooklyn, Peña-Mora said.
The 1.5-mile section of the BQE between Atlantic Avenue and Sands Street, which includes the triple cantilever, is in appalling shape. Concrete on the BQE’s walls is missing in places, exposing reinforcing bars that are completely rusted. Netting has been installed under the decks to prevent concrete from falling.
The roadway’s rehabilitation is the largest of several infrastructure projects planned by New York City. Constructed in the 1940s, the narrow roadway, which carries 140,000 vehicles on an average workday, has never been upgraded despite growing increasingly congested and decrepit.
Trucks are a large share of that traffic, Trottenberg said. The BQE serves not only as a major access point to East River bridges to Manhattan but also as a major means of moving freight within the five boroughs.
The work will rehabilitate 21 bridges and other structures, and will improve deficient roadway and ramp configurations.
Trottenberg said that the idea that design-build was unfriendly to organized labor was false. The contracts would be subject to applicable federal, state and local requirements for disadvantaged business enterprises and minority and women-owned business enterprises, and include Project Labor Agreements (PLAs).
State Sen. Marty Golden urged his colleagues and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to approve design-build for the city’s major capital projects before the end of this legislative session in three weeks.
“We need design-build authorization right now to begin work on two projects that are the highest priority for me: the reconstruction of the BQE and the Rodman’s Neck training facility,” he said.
Squadron: Why is the city not being given design-build?
“We’re not looking forward to the BQE reconstruction, but we’re looking forward to it being over,” state Sen. Daniel Squadron said. “And with design-build it would be over years earlier than it would be without it. And like so many things we need in this city, it is getting caught up on the shoals of Albany.”
The BQE rehab is not a partisan issue, Squadron said, noting that the entire tri-partisan Brooklyn delegation supports design-build for this project and some others in the city.
“Why is the city not being given design-build? Why are we sitting here needing to fight to take up to two years and $300 million off this project is another issue. It’s unacceptable,” he said.
Impact on Brooklyn Heights
Brooklyn Heights will bear the brunt of the project, and the Brooklyn Heights Association (BHA) has been engaged with DOT over the course of many years as the process has proceeded in fits and starts.
“It’s my understanding that any design they come up with is going to require a temporary structure that will enable traffic to move in both directions throughout the life of the project,” Peter Bray, executive director of BHA told the Brooklyn Eagle.
“So we can imagine there will be a lot of construction taking place to put in the new, temporary highway,” he said. “And once they are able to start working on the existing cantilever, there’s going to be a lot of noise and dust and trucks coming in and out, and cars honking.”
Bray had positive things to say about DOT’s responsiveness.
“DOTs been very good in dealing with this reconstruction. They have to maintain this roadway during the interim and they’ve been responsive to that. We had a lot of complaints from 1 Brooklyn Bridge Park and last summer DOT got out here at midnight and peeled back the asphalt layer, patched the concrete and repaved it,” he said.
DOT is coming out to meet with some residents along Columbia Heights next, he added.
Linda DeRosa, president of the Willowtown Association, said an open house with the BQE design team is slated for 5:30-7:30 p.m. on June 28 at the NYU-Poly-6 MetroTech Center in Downtown Brooklyn.
Also speaking at the press conference were Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon; Assemblymember Felix Ortiz; Councilmember Stephen Levin; Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City; Peter-Bray, president of the Brooklyn Heights Association; Carlo A. Scissura, president & CEO, New York Building Congress; Jonathan Bowles, executive director of the Center for an Urban Future; Hannah O’Grady, vice president of the American Council of Engineering Companies of New York; and Richard Thomas, director of State and Local Legislative Affairs at the Design-Build Institute of America.
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