Repairs to Brooklyn Heights BQE & Promenade hit home at BHA Annual Meeting
Waterfront tunnel not option, dire local traffic scene feared; Bus trip to lobby Albany
NYC Department of Transportation Deputy Commissioner and Chief Bridge Officer Robert Collyer was the featured speaker at the Brooklyn Heights Association (BHA) Annual Meeting Wednesday night at St. Francis College.
A near-capacity crowd filled Founders Hall to hear the latest on the upcoming reconstruction of Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE) and other news of interest to residents of Brooklyn Heights.
The BQE’s disintegrating 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 above Furman Street beneath the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.
With out-of-standard, 70-year-old structures, the $1.7 billion reconstruction is a daunting and challenging task, Collyer told the crowd.
Components that were specified in the original plans have proven nonexistent — perhaps disintegrated or never installed — and the whole job must be completed by 2026. If it’s not, the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT) will likely have to divert 16,000 trucks daily from the highway onto local streets — an outcome local officials and residents have called unacceptable.
To prevent that outcome, 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 substantially cheaper, Collyer said. (Estimates put the savings at more than $100 million.)
But the city needs state approval by this spring to use design-build, and this approval is stalled in Albany. Gov. Andrew Cuomo 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.
Collyer would not comment on why Albany is blocking the bidding process it has used successfully on other major projects across the state.
“I’m not a politician, I’m an engineer,” he told the crowd. “I have my own opinion, and I keep it to myself.”
Replace BQE with Tunnel?
Collyer also offered a detailed explanation about why DOT is not enthused about the idea of replacing the affected stretch of the BQE with an underground tunnel.
Seven tunnel options were studied by the agency, and five were found to conflict with an existing water tunnel, he said. Even if a tunnel were built following one of the two remaining options, only two lanes of traffic in each direction could run through each tunnel, perhaps necessitating two tunnels.
If a tunnel were built, there would still be a need for the existing BQE to connect to bridges, Collyer said. On top of this, a tunnel would cost several billions of dollars.
Money is available for 2020 construction, Collyer said, but work may be pushed off to 2021.
The project is now in the environmental study phase, aiming for a draft Environmental Impact Statement in August, and the design process is “ramping up,” he said. Interested residents can visit www.bqe-i278.com for details (and to comment on the Draft Scope of Work through March 12).
Peter Bray, executive director of BHA, told the Brooklyn Eagle that he was “very pleased by the extensive turnout and gratified that the BHA achieved its goal of making the community better informed about a project that will greatly affect the neighborhood in a few short years. The large audience demonstrates how much this community cares about its quality of life and the importance of maintaining the safe use of its streets.”
BHA has been running an extensive campaign to get design-build legislation passed, Bray said.
“I was told that virtually our entire supply of postcards on this subject, which are to be sent to Gov. Cuomo, Speaker Heastie, and Majority Leader Flanagan, were picked up by attendees at the meeting. The elected officials will know where Brooklyn Heights stands on this issue.”
BHA is sponsoring a bus to Albany this Tuesday to lobby for the legislation.
Highlights of the Year in Brooklyn Heights
Other business at the meeting included a financial report, delivered by Kevin Reilly, BHA treasurer; the President’s Annual Report by Martha Bakos Dietz; and the annual Community Service Awards.
Dietz said BHA was concerned with the increased volume of traffic and vibrations the BQE rehab would cause. BHA is also advocating that the BQE project’s final design improve access to Brooklyn Bridge Park, making entrances easier and safer. Another priority is protecting the landmarked Promenade and its storied views.
She also discussed a grant from Borough President Eric Adams to install 10 surveillance cameras in homes along Joralemon Street. The street has seen an increase in violent criminal incidents since it became a high-volume entrance to Brooklyn Bridge Park.
The first-ever Brooklyn Heights Designer Showhouse, which replaces the Brooklyn Heights House Tour, was a great success, bringing in $80,000 net revenue. Startup costs of $58,000 were a driver of loss in 2017, Reilly said.
Attorney Richard Ziegler and the law firm Jenner & Block received a big round of applause for $2 million in pro bono work over three years on BHA’s lawsuit attempting to block development on Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park.
“Unfortunately, the judge dismissed the lawsuit,” Dietz said. “It is a huge disappointment. We believe the city and state violated a commitment to the community.”
Other priorities of BHA this year include the construction of the proposed BQX streetcar line while BQE construction is going on; school capacity; and the planned expansion of House of Detention.
Community Service Awards
WNET Channel 13 announcer and Heights resident Tom Stewart presented the BHA’s Awards for Outstanding Community Service. This year there were three award recipients:
Ellen Hamilton, a well-known Brooklyn interior designer, brainstormed and organized the first-ever Brooklyn Heights Designer Showhouse, a critical and financial success. The event replaces the Brooklyn Heights House Tour, a victim of the times.
Hamilton recruited 15 highly recognized, talented designers to transform the rooms of a classic 1860’s Neo-Grec house into a stunning design showcase. She received BHA’S 2018 Award for Creative and Inspired Fundraising.
Jennifer LaRusso-Leung enthusiastically took on the responsibility to both organize events at Brooklyn Heights playgrounds and expand the mission of the Playground Committee. Last year, the committee sponsored a new Schools Out! Event in June and is now contemplating an indoor winter event so that every season of the year will offer something for families to do.
LaRusso-Leung was honored as the Community Organizer of the Year.
Serhiy Mshanetskiy was honored for his volunteer work with the Promenade Garden Conservancy and Cadman Park Conservancy. With pro bono assistance from his Brooklyn Heights Garden firm, Mshanetskiy trains volunteers who plant bulbs (every year he oversees the planting of 10,000 daffodils and 2,00 tulips) and maintain the gardens. He personally maintains the Promenade’s flagpole garden at the foot of Montague Street.
Mshanetskiy was dubbed “Brooklyn Heights Master Gardener.” (His photo is at top of story.)
Updated on March 2 to reflect that BHA is also advocating that the BQE project’s final design improve access to Brooklyn Bridge Park, making entrances easier and safer, not just during construction but permanently.
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