Brooklyn Heights

The most controversial BQE rehab plan may be off the table

June 28, 2019 Mary Frost
The Brooklyn Heights Promenade. Eagle file photo by Don Evans
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Brooklyn community organizations heard on Thursday that the mayor’s BQE panel has “very little chance” of approving two major BQE rehab proposals that involve building a temporary bypass.

These include the NYC Department of Transportation’s controversial preferred option, which would run a temporary highway along the Brooklyn Heights Promenade for six to 10 years during the $4 billion reconstruction project. This plan would destroy a protected view plane and pollute neighborhood air with toxic particulates for six to eight years, opponents said.

It also includes a plan put forward by the Brooklyn Heights Association, designed by Marc Wouters Studios, which would run a bypass over the edge of Brooklyn Bridge Park atop its sound attenuating berms.

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The panel, made up of 17 experts studying how best to deal with replacing the 1.5-mile decrepit section of the BQE, plays a purely advisory role. The mayor and the DOT have the ultimate say.

“There may be a need for a temporary alternative route during what could be a six to 10-year construction period, but the alternatives proposed by the city Department of Transportation present very serious issues with very little chance of being approved; other alternatives should be explored,” BQE panel head Carlo Scissura told the Brooklyn Eagle in an email on Friday.

He added, “The commission has serious concerns about the proposed highway and encroachment on the promenade (other than to renovate and upgrade the promenade) or major incursion into Brooklyn Bridge Park with a temporary highway.”

This opinion was shared with organizations from Cobble Hill, Fulton Ferry, DUMBO, Brooklyn Heights, Boerum Hill and others at a closed stakeholder meeting on Thursday night.

“The mood amongst the large groups of people in the room was one of considerable appreciation for what is clearly a thorough effort the panel is making,” Peter Bray, outgoing executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association, told the Eagle. Bray pointed out the difficulty the panel faces given the historical lack of cooperation between the city and other levels of government.

The direction the panel is moving “in examining the future transportation needs of the region and the role the BQE plays is in accordance with what the community has asked it to do,” Bray said.

Unified vision statement

The 1.5-mile section of the BQE which must be rebuilt includes 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 a tremendous outcry, multiple alternate plans were devised by the public, officials and professional designers. Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed the BQE review panel to review all the options and advise on what was possible.

The Cobble Hill Association, Brooklyn Heights Association and A Better Way NYC released on Thursday a Unified Vision Statement for the BQE reconstruction. The statement was sent to a dozen officials, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and every local official representing the area.

The groups’ vision includes, in part, a “forward-looking design” that incorporates future traffic requirements, enhanced public transportation and pedestrian access.” The design should integrate adjacent neighborhoods and parks and create new open space, maintain the historic character of the promenade, and minimize air, noise and visual impact.

The groups also expect “Significant community engagement” during the design and construction phases along with numerous environmental and historical protection measures.

[Read the full Unified BQE Statement here.]

The response from officials was largely positive.

“We don’t comment on any specifics on statements we receive. But we do appreciate all the community work and are thrilled to see community groups coming together during this process,” Scissura told the Eagle.

Hazel Crampton-Hays, press secretary to Comptroller Scott Stringer, said, “This forward-looking statement is in line with our office’s priorities, and we are very encouraged by this impressive show of coalition building.”

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson told the Eagle he shares the concerns expressed in the letter.  “I look forward to working with the residents of these neighborhoods and others to find a smart 21st-century solution to the BQE problem,” he said.

The groups behind the letter stressed the importance of collaboration in taking this vision to the next step.

“There is an opportunity to make the BQE a connector and not a divider as it has been historically,” said Amy Breedlove, president of the Cobble Hill Association.

“From the vantage point of the Brooklyn Heights Association, the tremendous focus brought by the community and the organizational efforts of the Brooklyn Heights Association and A Better Way NYC really paid tremendous dividends,” Bray said.

Friday was Bray’s last day on the job as executive director at the Brooklyn Heights Association. “It certainly makes it easier to leave at this point knowing we’re in a much better position than we were a year ago,” he said.

DOT spokesperson Alana Morales said, “NYCDOT is exploring all options and is not committed to any one plan at this time. We will determine next steps at the conclusion of the panel process, and look forward to receiving their recommendations.”

Update (5:45 p.m.) — This story has been updated with comment from DOT. 

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