Brooklyn Heights

In BQE rehab, DOT considers ‘more modest repairs’ to spare promenade, panel says

The light at the end of the tunnel?

July 9, 2019 Mary Frost
The BQE Panel appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio is nearing the end of its study, and a wide range of options are being considered. Above, the northbound lane of the BQE can be seen below the Brooklyn Heights Promenade walkway. Eagle photo by Todd Maisel

The expert panel appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio in April to study options for the $4 billion reconstruction of 1.5 miles of the BQE says it is “headed towards the end” of its work and won’t be reviewing any more concepts.

The options the panel is examining range from visionary transformations of the triple cantilever underpinning the Brooklyn Heights Promenade to modest repairs that might eliminate the need for a temporary BQE bypass altogether, leaving the landmarked promenade intact.

The panel’s chairperson, Carlo Scissura, said in a June 27 release that the group “will begin drafting recommendations” as it continues to meet this summer. There will be one more community meeting to discuss the panel’s findings, and the final report will likely be issued in the early fall.

Could more modest repairs eliminate need for Promenade Highway?

In a surprise reveal, Scissura said that the city’s Department of Transportation is “re-examining options for construction techniques that may be faster and less disruptive” than completely replacing the triple cantilever.

DOT’s original proposal “assumed complete replacement of the current structure with a highway of equal or greater capacity that would have a 100-year life. It also incorporated upgrading of access and egress points to improve safety and efficiency,” Scissura said.

However, there may be a way around a complete replacement of the highway, including the triple cantilever. “There are tests underway now to determine whether more modest repair is justifiable and would reduce the need for a temporary replacement highway,” he said.

Numerous alternate proposals

The 17-member panel was appointed by the mayor in early April after the city’s preferred reconstruction plan provoked a furor that threatened to derail the entire project.

The city’s preferred plan would have temporarily replaced the promenade with a six-lane BQE bypass for roughly eight years, destroying a protected view plain and polluting neighborhood air with toxic particulates.

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In reaction, civic groups, design firms, officials and individuals developed their own BQE reconstruction proposals — including some that would transform the triple cantilever highway into parkland.

Scissura said the panel has reviewed a number of the alternate proposals. He made it clear last month, however, that the job of the BQE panel was not to specifically evaluate alternate proposals, but to look at the realities of the BQE and decide what “can actually be built there.” He described it as a “daunting task.”

Over the past three months, the panel — which includes engineers, builders, labor experts, urban planners and others — has done a deep dive into structural analysis, traffic data, site conditions, land use and politics, and has consulted with DOT, consultants and numerous stakeholders.

The panel is looking at a number of “concept frameworks,” Scissura said, and is also reviewing the three main underlying assumptions restricting DOT’s design options: that the BQE should maintain its existing traffic capacity; that the BQE should be rebuilt in the same general footprint; and that the project should be based around city/DOT’s existing right of way.

The 1.5-mile section of the BQE from Sands Street to Atlantic Avenue needs to be replaced before 2026, or risk requiring tens of thousands of trucks to be rerouted daily through Brooklyn’s residential streets.

To get a better understanding of the structural situation, the panel is working with DOT to investigate the sizes and weights of trucks using the roadway. They have partnered with panelist Professor Hani Nassif of Rutgers to use Weigh-In-Motion sensors to figure out the “remaining life” of the existing structure, Scissura said.

Some of the solutions would require managing demand using strategies including congestion pricing and high-occupancy vehicle lanes, allowing a reduction in capacity from six to four lanes.

The DOT did not respond to a request for comment. Check back for updates.

The full release from the BQE Panel can be found here. Those interested in attending a meeting or receiving emails from the panel should sign up here.

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