Brooklyn Boro

Time to bury the Gowanus Expressway and build a tunnel?

Chuck Otey's Pro Bono Barrister

July 2, 2018 By Charles F. Otey, Esq. Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A young Vito Fossella (second from right) signs a Gowanus Tunnel petition under the watchful eye of Regional Plan Association Senior Director Al Appleton and activists Jo Anne Simon and Charles Otey (left to right). ​Photo courtesy of Charles Otey
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Time to Bury the Gowanus and Build a Tunnel?

Well-Developed Plan for Razing Rotting Expressway Once Again Takes Center Stage

Maybe it’s a city infrastructure dream — especially for those of us who have cursed, avoided and endured the elevated Gowanus Expressway for decades — or just fate. Call it what you will, but since Bay Ridge’s favorite son Carlo Scissura has ascended to the presidency of the powerful New York Building Congress, there is again a good chance that this rusting nightmare will be replaced by a tunnel.

Scissura, who just bought a new home in Bay Ridge, served as chief deputy to Borough President Marty Markowitz, then headed the now dynamic Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce for five years before taking the very vital job of heading the Building Congress, with hundreds of clients whose job it is to build a new New York.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

Scissura is a lifelong resident of Bay Ridge and knows from daily misfortune the hardship that the Gowanus inflicts on those who have to use it to get to and through Downtown Brooklyn.

The underground Gowanus Tunnel, which has been in the works for two decades, has received a lot of critical support over the last 20 years or so, receiving the strong backing of the Regional Plan Association (RPA), Transportation Alternatives and officials such as the late Assemblymember Eileen Dugan. Dugan, along with RPA Senior Director Al Appleton and then-Borough President Howard Golden, led a campaign that prevented the state DOT from carrying out a foolish scheme that would have required (1) the razing of the entire Gowanus and (2) reconstruction of a virtual replica of the civic and health hazard.

The tunnel would free hundreds of acres of taxable prime real estate that has long been held captive underneath a virtual environmental prison that endangers the lives of those who travel on it as well as the tens of thousands working and living within its polluting shadow.

The Gowanus Coalition, which involved leaders and elected officials from the community of Bay Ridge (where the prestigious Bay Ridge Community Council loaned its important backing to the tunnel) all the way through Brooklyn Heights (where the concept was hailed by local leaders), experienced notable success when Jo Anne Simon — now an assemblymember — took the reins.

Simon worked alongside Appleton, Carroll Gardens civic leader Buddy Scotto, attorney Ben Meskin, UPROSE’S Elizabeth Yeampierre, Tony and Renee Giordano and various Bay Ridgeites, including this writer (for the first several years), Anthony Ceretti and Bob Cassara.

U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez was a strong supporter, as was U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler — once he was assured, by this writer and others, that the Gowanus Tunnel could only enhance his longstanding and sensible proposal for a cross-harbor tunnel.

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Gowanus: Elevated Relic Ruining Our Neighborhoods

The Gowanus Tunnel (let’s call it the Eileen Dugan Tunnel) would create thousands of jobs in the process of eliminating the elevated relic that has hung over and damaged the lives of all who live nearby for decades.

An early report of the newly energized Gowanus Tunnel initiative came recently in Crain’s New York Business article by Joe Anuta, which we liberally quote from as follows:

“A group of Brooklynites [the Gowanus Expressway Coalition] who came close to securing a $10 billion infrastructure project by suing the Federal Highway Administration in the late ’90s is quietly reuniting. Their plan is to revive a proposal they say will transform the southwest corner of the borough by burying 6 miles of the Gowanus Expressway, a widely reviled stretch of the BQE that runs from the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

“Backers of the plan argue that the time is ripe to fix this notorious traffic bottleneck, reduce pollution and knit together waterfront neighborhoods isolated for decades by the aging highway. The federal government appears willing to dole out infrastructure cash, and advances in the construction industry have made boring a tunnel beneath Red Hook, Sunset Park and Bay Ridge even more feasible than the last time it was proposed. Plus, elected state officials looking to grab their share of those federal dollars might be more amenable to such an undertaking.

“While government officials are planning crucial transit projects such as the new rail tunnel beneath the Hudson River and the next phase of the Second Avenue subway, lawmakers are not thinking seriously about other grand projects. Carlo Scissura, the new head of the New York Building Congress, says these officials need to start working further ahead, laying the groundwork now for the next wave of big infrastructure improvements even though they won’t be shovel-ready until long after their terms in office have expired.”

(Columnist’s Note: The preceding is only part of the Gowanus Tunnel story. In future columns we will talk about the role of numerous organizations — including the Brooklyn Heights Association; the Cobble Hill Association, led by Buddy Scotto; and UPROSE, led by Elizabeth Yeampierre — in the impressive achievements of the Gowanus Coalition.)


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