Brooklyn Heights

Head of BQE panel describes ‘daunting task’ ahead

June 12, 2019 Mary Frost
Carlo Scissura. Photo courtesy of Carlo Scissura
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Carlo Scissura, chair of the 17-member panel appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio to evaluate options for the massive, $4 billion reconstruction of the BQE, said on Tuesday that the scope of the project “is much deeper and more intricate than I think anyone ever imagined.”

Scissura made it clear that the job of the BQE panel is not to specifically evaluate the numerous alternate proposals submitted by community organizations, officials and design firms, but to look at the realities of the BQE and decide what “can actually be built there.”

“Our job is not … to review any plans that are out there,” he told the Brooklyn Eagle.

“We may look at them, we will be happy to think about them, but we were not brought together to review plans. We were brought together to look at facts, to understand the roadway and come up with ideas of what realistically can happen in this roadway,” Scissura said.

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Scissura said panel members have spent many hours working on the problem since the mayor appointed them two months ago. “There’s a daunting task ahead of us on this,” he said.

“I can tell you I’m spending about a third of my week on this project. The panel has been meeting every week since we were brought together by the mayor,” Scissura said. “We’ve done several tours of the project site. We have met with dozens of experts, reviewed traffic studies, reviewed the actual documents structure. So we’ve been working very hard going through documents and statistics and numbers.

“I think we’re now ready to start thinking about what are the next steps. What should we be doing to make sure that this project is done right?” he added.

Scissura’s explanation could dampen the expectations of some who believed the panel’s job is to evaluate the many alternate rehab proposals and render some sort of concrete decision.

The plans range from a sweeping new Brooklyn Queens Park, unveiled by DUMBO’s Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), to plans recently revised by the Brooklyn Heights Association that would reroute the bypass west of the current BQE, to a Cross Downtown Brooklyn Tunnel.

A press release from the Mayor’s Office introducing the panel on April 3 may have set up this expectation.

“Mayor Bill de Blasio today announced the formation of a new expert panel to evaluate options for the replacement of the aging Brooklyn-Queens Expressway,” the release read in part. “They will consult community groups and elected officials, and evaluate all suggested concepts — as well as provide their own perspectives.”

The release added, “This outside expertise is expected to find new perspectives and ask probing questions on how best to design and implement the BQE reconstruction, one of the largest and most complex infrastructure projects in the entire country.”

Not so simple

The controversial project would rebuild a 1.5-mile section of the triple cantilever underpinning the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. This section is so decrepit it needs to be replaced before 2026, or tens of thousands of trucks daily will be rerouted through Brooklyn’s residential streets.

After the original plan floated by the city Department of Transportation caused an outcry because it would replace the landmarked Promenade with a six-lane BQE bypass for years, multiple alternate plans were devised by the public, officials and professional designers. The city’s plan would destroy a protected view plane and pollute neighborhood air with toxic particulates for six to eight years, opponents said.

The Department of Transportation announced its plans to reconstruct a segment of the BQE last fall. Eagle file photo by Don Evans
The Department of Transportation announced its plans to reconstruct a segment of the BQE last fall. Eagle file photo by Don Evans

After protests, standing-room-only meetings and threats of a lawsuit, the mayor appointed the advisory panel.

Scissura shared some of the complexities the panel is facing.

“What can you actually build here? What are the space constraints? What is the reality of MTA tunnels, and substations, and fan stations, and DEP sewer pipes?” he asked.

“You have the R-train tunnel and the 4-train tunnel, the DEP sewer running along Furman Street and you have a park called Brooklyn Bridge Park. There are a lot of pieces to this puzzle that we need to work on. And our job is to say we are looking at everything, and the realities of the project site, its scope and its magnitude.”

Some of the alternate plans would require MTA fan plants to be moved, he said. “And given the capital plans and needs of the MTA, it is in my mind doubtful that they want to spend a hundred, two hundred million dollars when they have other needs that they have to address.”

The BQE is also part of the federal and state highway system — another constraint. “The federal government will have a role in determining what happens here. This is the only highway truck route in Brooklyn that moves goods and merchandise across the corridor,” Scissura said.

The panel also must consider that there will be construction for several years. “How will that affect the surrounding communities, and the communities stretching into northern Brooklyn and Queens and southern Brooklyn and Staten Island?” he asked.

“So there’s so much here that we’re looking at, and to just say, you’re going to review some plans, it’s solely not what we’re doing,” he explained.

Scissura added, “Our job is to review the state of the BQE, understand the traffic patterns of who’s using it, understand the realities of the issues surround construction and engineering and design around this roadway, and this corridor, and then with real facts and real understanding and real evidence, come together as a panel and offer ideas and suggestions on what should happen next.”

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