Brooklyn Heights

Albany’s failure to approve faster, cheaper fix for BQE ‘a disgrace,’ say Brooklyn officials

June 26, 2017 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The state Legislature in Albany failed to approve a money- and time-saving method known as design-build to expedite the Brooklyn Queens Expressway’s long-overdue $1.9 billion rehabilitation. Officials called the failure “a disgrace.” Photo by Mary Frost
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In another of Albany’s epic misses, the state Legislature ended its session last week having failed to authorize the city’s use of the “design-build” bidding process to expedite the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway’s (BQE) long-overdue $1.9 billion rehabilitation.

“It’s a disgrace,” said Peter Bray, executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association (BHA).

Albany’s failure to approve the use of design-build for the BQE project is “so emblematic of the dysfunction in Albany and the dysfunctional relationship between the mayor and the governor,” Bray told the Brooklyn Eagle. “The residents of Brooklyn Heights are being held hostage to this test of political wills.”

The massive, seven-year project will restore the crumbling 1.5 mile stretch of the BQE between Atlantic Avenue and Sands Street, a segment that includes the triple cantilever underpinning the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.

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This section of the highway is in appalling shape. Concrete on the BQE’s walls is missing in places, exposing reinforcing bars that are completely rusted.

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 roadways and ramps.

Without design-build, the work will disrupt traffic not only in the Brooklyn Heights area but across the entire region for up to two years longer than necessary, and cost as much as $300 million more, according to the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT).

The design-build process works by merging the design and construction bids, usually bid separately on large projects. When bid separately, two firms have to try to work together.

Without design-build, “There’s often a flurry of change orders, disputes and even lawsuits,” DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg explained at a June 2 press conference, where roughly a dozen Brooklyn officials and organizations backed the use of design-build.

Peter Bray, executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association, at a June 2 press conference. Photo by Mary Frost With design-build, there is one entity doing the work and one contract. Using the design-build method would trim the duration of the BQE rehab from seven years to about five, Trottenberg said.The state must specifically delegate to the city the authority to use this approach, however.

State Sen. Daniel Squadron said in a statement on Friday, “We could cut out years of headaches and millions of dollars if Albany got out of the way. It’s another example of Albany inaction having real consequences — it’s urgent we pass design-build as soon as the Legislature reconvenes.”

The Legislature’s inaction is particularly galling, says BHA, since New York state agencies are increasingly using design build throughout the state. The state DOT completed the recently opened Kosciusko Bridge in just three years using design-build, saving millions of dollars, and is currently using design-build to construct the new Tappan Zee Bridge.

“This should be a nonpartisan issue,” Bray said, “particularly because this is a period when we’re talking about the need to fund infrastructure projects.”

BHA will do whatever it can to build support for this legislation, Bray said. “We’re just one small voice in Albany, but whatever we can do, we will do.”

The organization submitted a letter to the governor, the state Senate majority leader, the speaker of the state Assembly and the entire Brooklyn and Queens legislative delegation advocating for passage of the bill, Bray said. It was signed by BHA and 14 other organizations.

Bray speculated that design build may be being held hostage to the larger battle over mayoral control of the schools.

Albany “makes Byzantium look simple,” he said.

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