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Brooklyn officials push DOT for concrete answers to BQE questions

August 26, 2019 Mary Frost
Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane
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Elected officials in Brooklyn are pressing the city Department of Transportation to give them more information about the upcoming $4 billion reconstruction of the BQE.

In a letter fired off to Commissioner Polly Trottenberg on Friday, officials including U.S. Rep Nydia Velazquez, U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, Comptroller Scott Stringer and more listed a number of concerns about the project’s timeline, scope, the involvement of the state and other questions.

The reconstruction of a 1.5-mile stretch of the interstate has had residents of Brooklyn Heights in an uproar since DOT said it favored a plan that would temporarily replace the landmarked Brooklyn Heights Promenade with a six-lane BQE bypass for roughly eight years, bringing toxic pollution into the neighborhood.

Civic groups, design firms, officials and individuals developed their own BQE reconstruction proposals in response, including some that would transform the triple-cantilever highway into parkland.

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“The residents and businesses around the BQE need to hear concrete details from DOT about the next steps of the BQE rehabilitation plan, because the pace of this project has been too slow and lacking clear detail,” Comptroller Scott Stringer, who presented his own BQE reconstruction plan, told the Brooklyn Eagle on Monday.

Mayor Bill de Blasio in April appointed an expert panel, headed by Carlo Scissura, to examine options for the reconstruction.

Timeline, costs, parks, bridges

Given Commissioner Trottenberg’s comment in late June that the project has experienced “timeline slippage,” officials asked what stabilization measures are being considered for the rapidly deteriorating triple-cantilever highway running under the promenade.

They also want to know why the city has taken on the burden of responsibility — and costs — for the massive project, given that the state also shares jurisdiction over the roadway.

“Why has the city — and not the state — taken the lead on this project and shouldered primary responsibility for design and construction costs? Has NYC DOT requested additional support and resources from NYS DOT?” the group asked.

Other questions surround a study for DOT’s “Unified Van Voorhees Park” plan, as yet unseen, and potential bridge and ramp connections to the BQE.

The pols also want to know if DOT believes that the BQE could shrink from six lanes of traffic to four that might fit on a single level along the current triple cantilever, as opposed to two levels carrying the current six lanes.

“We intend to meet with the elected officials to discuss their questions,” DOT spokesperson Scott Gastel said on Monday. “In terms of discussing timeline, we await the recommendations of the panel.”

Since it was put together, the BQE panel — which includes engineers, builders, labor experts, urban planners and others — has studied reams of traffic data, structural analysis, site conditions, land use and policies, according to panel chairperson Scissura.

“The panel is continuing its efforts and gathering feedback from experts,” Scissura told the Brooklyn Eagle on Monday. “We will meet with elected officials and community groups again in September and will release the report in the fall.”

The options the panel is examining range from total transformations of the triple cantilever to modest repairs that might eliminate the need for a temporary BQE bypass altogether.

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.

Elected officials in June released a unified vision statement of what they hope the reconstruction achieves. The groups’ vision includes, in part, a “forward-looking design” that incorporates future traffic requirements, enhanced public transportation and pedestrian access.”

The design should also integrate adjacent neighborhoods and parks and create new open space, maintain the historic character of the historic promenade, and minimize air, noise and visual impact.

Signatories of Friday’s letter (other than Velazquez, Jeffries and Stringer) include State Sen. Brian Kavanagh, U.S. Rep. Velmanette Montgomery, Assemblymembers Jo Anne Simon and Walter Mosley, and Councilmembers Stephen Levin and Brad Lander.

See the full text of the letter here

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