OPINION: Bite the bullet, start the rebuilding of the BQE now
We feel for the people who live in the luxury homes that line the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. If the proposed plan to repair the Brooklyn Queens Expressway goes forward, their lives will be disrupted for as long as six years. Some may have to temporarily relocate.
But we also have concern for the drivers of the 153,000 vehicles that crawl along the BQE each day on their trek from the Verrazano Bridge to the eastern boundary of Queens and back. Under current conditions, that 27-mile ride can easily take two hours or longer on a good day.
More importantly, we are concerned about the potential for a disaster if the aging, crumbling portion of the highway now under consideration should suddenly collapse. Bear in mind, this is not a parkway. Eighteen-wheelers and other large trucks share this highway with passenger vehicles. In addition, there are large stretches with no shoulder where a car or truck can pull over. A fender-bender or flat tire can and often does tie-up traffic for hours.
The city’s Department of Transportation (DOT) is backing a plan under which the rehab of the crumbling 1.5-mile stretch of roadway would be completed in about six years, as opposed to eight or more years using the typical incremental, lane-by-lane repair approach.
Last Friday, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg took reporters on an unprecedented tour of the structure below supporting the highway. If one picture is worth a thousand words, then the dozens of photos posted by the Daily Eagle and other media and television footage speaks volumes about the need for this rehab.
DOT Project Manager Tanvi Pandya pointed out the cracks, rust, exposed rebar and stalactites made of calcium leeched from the highway by years of salt spreading, hanging like icicles from the ceiling of the BQE’s many interior vaults.
As the rebar gets exposed it starts corroding, she said. “As it corrodes and the concrete and the rebar work separately, that’s when you start losing capacity of the structure. Every 50 feet or so we have joints like this and most of them are leaking or showing deterioration.
“Another issue we have with the structure is everything you see is concrete. There are no steel girders to provide separate support. If you need to remove a section of that deck to repair it … there’s no superstructure to hold the rest of it in place,” she said.
There may be differing opinions about the timetable and plan for this rehab project, but we don’t see how anyone can deny that it needs to be done — now.
Fortunately, we have an example to look at that shows how a project this big can be done in a timely fashion on the BQE with limited disruption. The building of the new Kosciuszko Twin Bridges further north on the BQE, connecting Greenpoint in Brooklyn with Maspeth in Queens, is proof that with good planning and preparation, construction can be undertaken without paralyzing traffic on this important highway.
Trottenberg called the current proposal an “epic challenge. We know there are going to be huge community concerns and we recognize that the impact of a project like this is very big. It also has huge implications for traffic and the economy of the whole city,” she said.
But she also noted that Route 278, which includes the BQE as well as other highways, is basically the major interstate of New York City “We don’t see a way to function without this roadway.”
The Eagle doesn’t for a minute want to minimize the inconvenience that the reconstruction of the highway will cause. And we note that the city and state appear committed to making the disrupted residential areas even better than they are now. We also note that DOT Commissioner Trottenberg welcomes community input. She made that clear when she invited the media on a tour of the underpinnings of the highway.
We look forward to the day when drivers no longer grimace when they mention the BQE and when it no longer competes with the Cross Bronx as the “most dreaded highway” in New York City. That’s a title we have no desire to share with the Bronx.
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