Brooklyn Heights

Rehab of BQE and Heights Promenade: New gateways to Brooklyn Bridge Park below

DOT: ‘Everything on the table,’ as public hearings air out design & reconstruction

June 29, 2017 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Wednesday night’s town hall kicked off the preliminary design phase of the massive BQE rehabilitation project. Shown: The crumbling, triple-decked cantilever underpinning the Brooklyn Heights Promenade is included in the project. Eagle photo by Mary Frost
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“Everything is on the table,” engineers from the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT) told concerned Brooklyn Heights residents at Wednesday night’s town hall kicking off the preliminary design phase of the massive BQE Atlantic Avenue to Sands Street rehabilitation project.

The team of DOT engineers and consultants assigned to the project, which includes rebuilding the crumbling, triple-decked cantilever underpinning the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, discussed what inspections of the roadway and its 21 bridges have turned up, the scope of the project and its timeframe.

One option is not on the table, however. Tanvi Pandya, program manager for the project, discussed why DOT has ruled out an idea that captured the imagination of some attendees: digging a tunnel to carry BQE traffic instead of rebuilding the highway.

A tunnel would mean drivers couldn’t make any intermediate connections, Pandya said.

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“We need to address the situation we have in our hands, which is 140,000 vehicles traveling every day and at least half of them need this corridor because they are headed to places that come off this corridor,” she said.

Another limitation is the size of the boring machine needed to dig a tunnel. “The best diameter we could get is 54 feet, which only allows two lanes of traffic. There are three now. We certainly cannot handle a reduction,” Pandya said.

On top of that, a tunnel requires fire safety, vent buildings and other features, she added. “There’s a lot of historic, protected areas. It’s not like we can just plow through there and say we’ll knock down a couple of buildings.”

DOT expects construction to begin in 2021 or 2022 and be completed in roughly five to seven years, depending on whether the state Legislature approves the use of a more efficient bidding process called design-build. The measure failed to pass in the Senate last week.

“The failure of design-build in the state Senate won’t delay the start of the project, it just makes the timeline longer,” she said.

“If we do design-build, in two years as we’re coming up with a few concepts we are comfortable with, we can move into some early construction aspects. If we don’t get design-build, then we have to wait till we are fully done with our design … then you go out and get a contractor.”

The BQE most likely will not be completely closed down during the rehab project, said Maria Bruschi, deputy project manager on the BQE Consultant Team.

“Our two-year project includes a lot of traffic studies to determine where we put the traffic when we work,” she said. “One alternative may put the traffic here, another may put it another way… We haven’t started the design. Everything is on the table.”

“We’d like to get feedback from the public at this point,” said Tom Spoth, project manager for the BQE Consultant Team. “The more we learn, the better we’ll be able to serve.”

Attendees Wednesday night said they were concerned about including access to Brooklyn Bridge Park from various points, including Montague Street and the DUMBO BID area. Others worried about the impact of the construction on adjacent buildings. One person was concerned on the effect of the BQE project on Concord Village.

Brooklyn Heights Association weighs in

“The quality of the project or results from this rebuild of the BQE depends in some measure on how active the community is in conveying its concerns, and pushing the city and this consortium that’s going to be designing the project to build a project that meets our needs,” Peter Bray, executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association, told the Brooklyn Eagle.

“We know that when they’re done we’re going to have a more resilient highway but there’s more to the BQE than just moving cars,” he said. “It has to contribute in important ways to the life of the community and in ways that it’s not now doing.”

“For instance,” Bray said, “There’s still going to be a lot of people coming along Jorelemon Street and that underpass that they have to go through to cross Furman to get into the park is a tragedy waiting to happen. There is so little refuge for pedestrians as [they] want to cross the street, and somebody is going to get killed. And I think that’s something that, given the mayor’s priority on Vision Zero, is a known hazard that this project needs to address.”

Bray says he’s also concerned with improving the pedestrian experience coming down Atlantic Avenue. “If there’s any hope in there being a real attractive gateway to Brooklyn Bridge Park, from Atlantic Avenue, you have to deal with now this massive disincentive. Who wants to walk down Atlantic Avenue in that no-man’s land that exists with the on-ramp to the highway and the overpass? You can’t even see the park through that structure.”

Bray acknowledged that DOT is “obviously hemmed in by all sorts of constraints — financial, physical and how vehicles have to operate — but within those constraints, they certainly have options to consider. One of the important things tonight was starting that conversation about, ‘We want you to consider x, y and z.’”

Architect Lorraine Bonaventura said, “We need to lobby for the state and federal government to contribute, because it’s not just a city road — part is a state highway.”

She was also concerned how the rehab would affect traffic on Atlantic Avenue.

“Atlantic Avenue is busier than it used to be,” she said. “Traffic backs up the length of Atlantic to Boerum Hill almost every day now, particularly from 8 to 11 [a.m.]. I can only imagine it’s going to get worse.”

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