BQX streetcar’s future could be in President Trump’s hands
The city needs $1.4 billion in federal funds.
The future of the Brooklyn-Queens Connector streetcar (the BQX, for short) relies on roughly $1.4 billion in federal funding — and the willingness of whoever sits in the White House in 2021 to sign off on it, according to officials.
That figure is more than half of the entire cost of the $2.7 billion trolley, said Seth Myers, the executive vice president of the city’s Economic Development Corporation. Myers was one of several people who testified on Thursday at the City Council’s first BQX Task Force public hearing.
Myers said the project’s remaining $1.3 billion would be raised through value capture, a financing scheme that recaptures the cost of infrastructure investment through property tax revenues. This method depends on property values rising as a result of the investment.
The task force was formed by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Councilmember Carlos Menchaca to scrutinize the planning process for the proposed streetcar and to provide a venue for public feedback.
In addition to Menchaca, who serves as the task force’s chairperson, its members include Brooklyn Councilmembers Antonio Reynoso and Stephen Levin, and Queens Councilmembers Costa Constantinides and James Van Bramer, all of whom represent districts along the trolley’s route.
The group will make recommendations to the full City Council, whose approval is required before construction can begin on the 11-mile trolley that would run from Red Hook to Astoria.
But even with the City Council’s approval, the project would still need to acquire federal funds, which Van Bramer said would be a very daunting task given President Donald Trump’s fractious relationship with New York City.
“While I will hope and pray and work to make sure there is a different occupant in the White House in two years, the current occupant is not necessarily the most friendly to New York City,” Van Bramer said, noting that federal funds were not in the BQX’s initial funding plans.
“How do you anticipate overcoming that barrier if in fact we continue to have a hostile occupant in the White House and yet we require federal funding to actually make this a reality?”
Myers contended that the city is following all requisite processes to make the project “qualifying and competitive” in securing federal funds, including conducting a federally compliant Environmental Impact Statement, which evaluates the potential impact of a project on the surrounding area.
“I don’t pretend to be an expert on either the Trump administration or Washington, D.C.,” Myers said. “Obviously there are challenges there. I think we have a lot of merits for the project and will be continuing the conversation with them.”
Van Bramer replied, “No one fully understands the Trump administration — not even the people within the Trump administration.”
The city will also need to work in tandem with the state government in order to see its project come to fruition. Jessica Schumer, executive director of the Friends of the BQX, a nonprofit founded to organize support for the trolley, said that a free transfer to the state-run MTA subway system would be crucial.
“If there’s no free transfer, I don’t think this works,” Schumer said.
Menchaca noted that without the free transfer, the BQX is a standalone piece of infrastructure. He asked, “How do you get the mayor and the governor to talk? Literally, what is the strategy?”
Schumer replied, “We’re still obviously thinking that through. We’re not there yet. Hopefully we will be soon.”
Just an hour before the hearing, more than 150 people, including Hector Batista of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and Regina Myer of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, rallied in support of the streetcar. Many of them entered City Hall’s Chambers wearing stickers and hats with the BQX logo.
Mayor Bill de Blasio awarded a $7.2 million contract to a consulting firm in February to conduct an environmental impact statement of the BQX, which is slated to begin in the fall.
The EIS is expected to be released in September 2020. Its completion is required for the project to move forward in the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, the process that determines how city land can be used.
Following public hearings, the streetcar plan will go in front of the City Council.
Follow reporter Scott Enman on Twitter.
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