Brooklyn Heights

Congestion pricing’s improved odds give hope to BQE opposition in Brooklyn Heights

Cuomo’s last-minute L-Train save draws comparisons

January 14, 2019 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Opponents of the city’s plan to replace the scenic Brooklyn Heights Promenade with a six-lane highway during reconstruction of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway see new hope for congestion pricing, which will reduce traffic on the highway and allow alternate options to be considered. Eagle photo by Don Evans
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The stars appear to be lining up for congestion pricing in New York City, and that could have a major effect on the city’s controversial Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE) reconstruction plans.

In a release on Sunday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Director of the Budget Robert Mujica made clear the governor’s support for congestion pricing, linking it to the crumbling subway system.

“If congestion pricing does not pass this legislative session, the system’s decay over the past decades will continue. The legislature should act responsibly and pass it,” Mujica said. In the interim, he added, “Governor Cuomo will work very hard to pass congestion pricing and a reorganization plan for the MTA.”

A state panel backed congestion pricing, for the most part, in December as a way to fund subway repairs. The plan is estimated to bring in a billion dollars annually.

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Albany followers say the outcome of the mid-terms and leadership change in the state Senate could ease the way for congestion pricing, which has been on the legislative back burner since the Bloomberg administration.

Part of an Alternative BQE Approach

While the governor looks to congestion pricing as a way to fund subway repairs, Brooklyn Heights residents see it as a way to help save their neighborhood from the devastation caused by the city’s plan to rebuild one and a half miles of the BQE, including the triple cantilevered section underpinning the landmarked Promenade.

NYC DOT has proposed to replace the Promenade, long considered the jewel of the neighborhood, with a six-lane superhighway during the 6- to 10-year reconstruction. The plan would run 153,000 vehicles a day along homes and yards in a small neighborhood, bringing high amounts of pollution up to ground level. The Promenade BQE plan was endorsed by Mayor Bill de Blasio before any environmental study or community input, infuriating the neighborhood.

The Brooklyn Heights Association and A Better Way NYC, two community organizations fighting the proposal, say that congestion pricing would reduce the number of traffic lanes required on the BQE, making alternative construction approaches more feasible.

The Brooklyn Heights Association has placed an alternative plan on the table with DOT. This plan would run a temporary BQE replacement along the edge of Brooklyn Bridge Park, far below the Promenade, which overlooks the harbor.

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg has said that the department is studying this plan, along with other alternatives.


Related: ‘Brooklyn Heights Promenade rally draws hundreds to protest BQE rehab plan’


Sees Hope in the L Train Debacle

A Better Way NYC sees positive augurs in Gov. Cuomo’s recent end-run around the MTA’s plan to shut down L train service for repairs, and hopes for similar rethinking of the BQE plan.

“While Governor Cuomo is bringing in outside help to avoid the devastating consequences of closing L-Train service, Mayor de Blasio is ramming through a closed-door plan that will increase pollution and traffic,” group member said Hilary Jager said in a statement.

The group said on Friday that it is partnering with the Regional Plan Association to conduct a study that will evaluate the effect of congestion pricing and HOV lane (High Occupancy Vehicle) restrictions on the BQE. An HOV lane currently exists on another portion of the same interstate, on the Gowanus Expressway section.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams has joined elected officials including Councilmembers Justin Brannan and Carlos Menchaca to call on the state DOT to release its HOV lane impact analysis immediately, as it transitions management and oversight of the Gowanus Expressway and Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge HOV lanes to the city.

Congestion Pricing

With congestion pricing, a fee would be charged to vehicles traveling into or within the Manhattan central business district. Fees would vary based on time of day, and would be collected via open road tolling technology, meaning vehicles wouldn’t be forced to slow down.

The toll was not included in the state budget that was passed in March 2018. (A fee was levied on taxi and ride-share trips in Manhattan below 96th Street, however.)

Critics point out flaws in the congestion pricing plan floated so far. According to the New York Post, none of the East River crossings would receive any congestion pricing revenue for maintenance. Second, the city would not receive revenue, even though it is in charge of maintaining the streets.

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