VIDEO: Community faces DOT in first town hall on BQE rehab plan to replace Brooklyn Heights Promenade
Packed into a gymnasium, hundreds of residents furled their brows, shook their heads, yelled out in opposition or took to the microphone last week to challenge city Department of Transportation (DOT) representatives on the agency’s proposed plan to replace the Brooklyn Heights Promenade with a 6-lane highway to repair the ailing BQE.
The DOT previously proposed two plans to be discussed first during the two-year environmental study of the highway’s repair: fix it using the typical lane-by-lane approach over eight years, or finish it in six by replacing the promenade temporarily between Atlantic Avenue and Sands Street.
“Please hear us out, I understand a lot of people are going to hate what we propose, but I guess I just want to suggest, as much as you hate what we propose, I think what we found when we looked at it was none of the alternatives are … very lovable,” DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg told the crowd at the Ingersoll Houses Community Center.
Peter Bray, executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association, said community members likened the choice to Dante’s Inferno.
“I think in many ways we’re facing a decision about which level of purgatory we want to be in — and hopefully in a higher level than a lower level,” Bray said. “We believe that the most responsible approach that we can take is to listen to the alternatives that you present tonight, to listen to the options that we know that our community are going to express tonight and our hope is that DOT will give a thorough consideration of all alternatives.”
The proposed plan would bring the roughly 153,000 daily vehicles that travel on the highway past the back doors of some of the most valuable real estate in Brooklyn. The temporary roadway could take about a year and a half to install.
With the highway suddenly so close to Heights residents, community members raised questions about air quality, noise, a blocked view and whether they can trust the city to abide by whatever plan it chooses.
“This community has gone through a decades-long planning for Brooklyn Bridge Park and we have seen that the government for our city did not live up to the promises that it made to us,” local resident Susan Rifkin said. “I’m concerned with how we will trust you.”
Project Manager Tanvi Pandya rebutted the DOT would be strictly bound to all plans within a written contract.
Pandya also assured residents that the agency is not intending to tear down any buildings, but when asked about the highway rising above the windows of nearby residents, she confirmed the highway would rise but could not yet give an exact solution to blocked views.
In addition to proposing the roadway be built out to the west by Brooklyn Bridge Park, one woman asked why the city can’t tear down the structure and dig a tunnel.
“We will consider every option,” Trottenberg said. “We will look at the tearing down and we will look at the tunnels,” however, she cautioned, “Tunneling through urban areas … is very hard. If you don’t do it well you can destroy your subway lines, you can destroy the buildings above.”
Trottenberg also mentioned that help from the state would be necessary in any tunneling or tolling policy.
Multiple residents spoke on the importance of the promenade, a structure that was put in place after the Brooklyn Heights Association originally pushed back on power broker Robert Moses’s construction of the BQE.
“The innovative approach of putting an elevated roadway and closing the promenade is something that is unfathomable to many of us,” said Stephen Levin, councilmember for the area. “The Brooklyn Heights Promenade is a jewel and a gem of our city.”
The town hall was the first of multiple to come in the next two years as a final plan is set in place. Trottenberg assured the crowd multiple times that there are more plans and other options can be discussed, but the agency now backs the first two proposals.
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