Brooklyn Boro

‘Unacceptable rancor’ between Albany, NYC must stop before BQE traffic disaster strikes

Brooklyn officials seek to fend off ‘massive failure of government’

February 9, 2018 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Officials on Friday expressed outrage that political maneuvering in Albany could block the city’s efforts to fast track the $1.9 billion reconstruction of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE). Shown: Councilmember Mark Treyger called the maneuverings a political game. Photos by Mary Frost
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Brooklyn communities abutting the BQE will face local traffic calamities for years during reconstruction of Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE) and roadway under the Brooklyn Heights Promenade if Gov. Andrew Cuomo and others in Albany do not intercede immediately to allow a fast-track contracting process.

Officials at a rally in Brooklyn Heights on Friday said they are working now to head off the looming crisis.

The seven-year reconstruction, already in the planning stage, must be completed by 2026. If it’s not, the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT) says it will likely have to divert 16,000 trucks daily from the highway onto local streets, causing jams that will reverberate from Brooklyn to Staten Island and Queens.

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To get the job done in time, the city needs to use a streamlined bidding process called “design-build,” which would allow the work to be completed as many as two years faster and $113 million cheaper. But the city needs state approval to use design-build, and this approval has hit a brick wall in Albany.

‘This Is Insanity’

“Forcing trucks off the BQE and onto neighborhood streets isn’t a solution — it would be a massive failure of government,” state Sen. Brian Kavanagh (Brooklyn waterfront, lower Manhattan) told residents and reporters gathered on the Promenade overlooking the BQE’s triple-cantilevered portion, which must be replaced. The section of the BQE needing to be rebuilt falls in Kavanagh’s district.

Councilmember Mark Treyger (Bensonhurst, Coney Island) called the maneuverings a political game.

“So let me get this straight,” he said. “We have an opportunity to save over $100 million dollars, to save years in time from construction, an opportunity to get trucks off of the streets, to protect public health — and we’re not taking it? This is insanity to me.”

Treyger added, “One hundred million dollars could be used right now to address a subway crisis. One hundred million dollars could be used right now to address a heating crisis in NYCHA public housing. I find it outrageous and insulting that they would hijack over $100 million in public money that can go towards addressing public transportation issues, public housing issues and quality of life and public safety issues. But hijack it because of a high-stakes political game.”

Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon (Brooklyn Heights, Gowanus) said that if Albany doesn’t act, residential and business communities throughout Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens would be imperiled.

Without design-build, “massive trucks would be compelled to travel through Downtown Brooklyn – the city’s third largest commercial district – because the BQE would be unable to support their weight. These mandatory diversions would paralyze traffic throughout the corridor, damaging the region’s economy,” she said.

‘Rancor between Albany and the City’

Assemblymember Felix Ortiz (Sunset Park) said he was “calling for this outrageous governor to get things done and get it right.”

Six schools in Sunset Park are connected via the BQE, Ortiz said. “Those six schools have a seventy percent absenteeism rate, and it has to do with all the emissions hitting those schools.”

If design-build is not passed, Ortiz said, “We will see outrageous amounts of trucking — 55,000 tons of trucks passing through Sunset Park every day.” Pointing to a map showing truck traffic diverted onto Fifth Avenue, he added, “This will have a domino effect on communities throughout Brooklyn.”

Peter Bray, executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association, said that Albany has already authorized eight state agencies and authorities to use design-build on state projects.

“So the question is, why can’t New York City have that same authority?” he asked. “The fact is, there is simply no valid reason. The only obstacle that I can see to getting design-build passed is the fact that there’s this rancor between Albany and the city. And that’s just completely unacceptable.” He added, “Our communities should not be collateral damage to the political fighting, the personalities and the rivalries” in Albany.

The BQE rehab will be the topic of BHA’s annual meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 28.  In addition, BHA is chartering a bus to visit legislators in Albany on March 6. Representatives on the bus will divide into teams and visit Senators’ offices.

NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson (Greenwich Village, Chelsea) said the design-build process “keeps hitting a wall. Any further delay of this process will only clog city streets, impact businesses and turn an already congested area into a parking lot.”

Carlo Scissura, president of the New York Building Congress, and Kathryn Wylde, president of Partnership for New York City, said that design-build should be an option for city agencies in the future.

“New York must update its procurement tools to include design-build as an option for local agencies that are striving to carry out capital programs on a more timely and efficient basis. We cannot afford further delay,” Wylde said.

DOT needs design-build authorization by spring to begin procuring a design-build team. Governor Andrew Cuomo, however, did not include the authorization as one of his legislative priorities this session. In June, the state Senate ended its session having failed to authorize its use. The Assembly has passed the measure.

Other officials at the rally included DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Assemblymember Robert Carroll, representatives for Sen. Velmanette Montgomery, Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez and the Cobble Hill Association, along with many civic groups.

The BQE has not had a major rehabilitation since it was constructed seven decades ago, in the 1940s. According to DOT, the 1.5 mile stretch between Atlantic Avenue and Sands Street includes a series of 21 concrete and steel bridges over local roads, along with the complex “triple cantilever,” which stacks two roadways beneath the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.

Currently, this section of the BQE carries 150,000 vehicles per day, including roughly 15,000 heavy vehicles. During the midday rush, up to 300 tractor-trailers travel over the Atlantic-Sands section of the BQE every hour.

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