Faster, cheaper fix for BQE authorized in NYS Senate Bill, averting Brooklyn crisis
GOP Sen. Golden Credited by Dems After Add-Ons Disappear; Community Lobbying Worked
After more than a year of intense advocacy by elected officials and Brooklyn residents, the New York State Senate passed a bill early Saturday authorizing a bidding method that will shave two years off the upcoming $1.9 billion Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE) rehabilitation.
Officials said using the quicker, cheaper “design-build” bidding method on the massive repair job will save the city roughly $113 million, and keep hundreds of thousands of trucks from flooding local Brooklyn streets in 2026.
The authorization is “a major victory for Brooklynites, Staten Islanders, and anyone who drives on the BQE,” state Sen. Brian Kavanagh said in a statement on Saturday. Kavanagh and state Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon led the legislative efforts to get design-build authorization.
Kavanagh added, “We must do everything we can to ensure that while we’re rebuilding the BQE, we aren’t destroying our neighborhoods in the process. By authorizing design-build, we took a huge step forward to do just that.”
Kavanagh also credited Sen. Marty Golden, “who helped make sure design-build was a priority in the Senate.”
This language was buttery compared to his message to Golden on March 14 in Albany when, in a dramatic confrontation on the Senate floor, Kavanagh demanded that Republicans explain why they were holding the design-build bill hostage in the budget negotiation process.
Golden, as the sponsor of the Senate bill, included last-minute add-ons that were likely to doom its passage — requiring a police officer in every single school in New York City, and providing that the money saved using design-build be directed to fund the MTA.
John Quaglione, Golden’s chief of staff, told the Brooklyn Eagle at that time, “Both school safety and transportation (MTA funding) are by far two of the largest pressing needs facing Sen. Golden’s district and New York City.”
By the time the bill was passed in the Senate, however, those add-ons were dropped.
In a statement on the budget, Gov. Andrew Cuomo applauded design-build, saying, “… Closing the route traffic through downtown Brooklyn would be a nightmare. So this is going to be a very challenging road construction project.”
BQE Alarmingly Decrepit
The stretch of crumbling BQE from Sands Street to Atlantic Avenue will no longer be able to bear the weight of trucks by 2026. The stretch includes the triple-cantilever roadway under the famed Brooklyn Heights Promenade.
The Brooklyn Heights Association (BHA) organized a comprehensive advocacy campaign, joined by stakeholders from Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Boerum Hill, Gowanus and Park Slope.
“Design-build may not have happened without the Brooklyn Heights Association and other Brooklyn communities getting together,” BHA Executive Director Peter Bray told the Brooklyn Eagle on Monday.
“BHA’s role was to try to inform people of the importance of something apparently far off in the future, and make people understand it was an urgent matter that had to be dealt with right away. The community responded in an amazing way,” he said. “I received emails from people saying they called their senator and signed the petition.”
Bray added, “I think legislators do pay attention when they hear from their constituents. They did hear our collective voice, and they responded by doing the right thing for Brooklyn Heights and Brooklyn as a whole.”
Franklin Stone, a former Cobble Hill Association board member and president, was one of those who volunteered to advocate for design-build.
“Much of the credit goes to Peter Bray and the BHA who informed the community about this issue and rallied support for a lobbying effort,” she told the Eagle via email. “The right result was never a given here. The rally at the Promenade, the post cards and the phone calls, plus the trip to Albany (an eye-opening experience!) all kept the pressure on. It was a great example of Brownstone Brooklyn residents working together. We should do more of this.”
Design-build is not a cure-all, however. Even though two years of construction has been eliminated, the BQE reconstruction will cause neighborhood disruption and traffic agita for four to five years, Bray said.
“As significant as this is, it is, in a way, the start of a process,” he said. “Planning and design of the BQE project will gather steam in the coming months.”
BQE workshops are coming up, and the community’s voice needs to be heard on how the environmental impacts can be mitigated, Bray said.
“It’s important to be involved as a community every step of the way before the first shovel is turned over,” he said.
Design-Build Also Authorized for New Jails, NYCHA Repairs
The state budget also allows the city to use design-build for the construction of new, modern jail facilities in the boroughs to replace Rikers, a priority of Mayor Bill de Blasio. This includes enlarging the Brooklyn House of Detention on Atlantic Avenue.
In addition, the budget includes $250 million for the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) to make capital repairs, including replacing and updating heating equipment, and it allows NYCHA to use the design-build procurement process.
In a statement, Cuomo bypassed de Blasio, crediting the New York City Council and the new Speaker Corey Johnson on impressing him with the importance of NYCHA repairs. Johnson “has been very helpful, and we’ve met a few times,” Cuomo said.
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