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City Council hires independent firm to review BQE rehab plan

September 16, 2019 Mary Frost
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson at a packed BQE Town Hall in Brooklyn in April. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane

The New York City Council is hiring its own engineers to review the city’s controversial plans for the upcoming $4 billion reconstruction of the BQE, Speaker Corey Johnson’s office told the Brooklyn Eagle on Monday.

The council has selected multinational engineering firm Arup to provide “independent, outside expertise” on the city Department of Transportation’s plans, according to Johnson’s office.

Arup will examine the project independently of both DOT’s own engineering contractor, Aecom, and the expert BQE panel assembled by Mayor Bill de Blasio in April.

The panel and DOT “are aware this is happening,” a council source said.

“Arup will provide technical expertise to the Council and community on this critical infrastructure project, reviewing engineering reports of the triple cantilever structure, and assessing the feasibility of the numerous public proposals from DOT and other groups,” the council said in a statement given to the Eagle.

The council pointed to Arup’s “extensive experience” in civil, highway and bridge engineering “and their visionary approach to urban transportation,” including their work on the Allston I-90 viaduct replacement project in Boston.

The mayor’s BQE panel is led by Carlo Scissura, president and CEO of The New York Building Congress.

“We were advised that the City Council was bringing in a firm. This is one of the most critical infrastructure projects in the region, so the more minds examining it the better,” Scissura told the Eagle on Monday.

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He added, “Our panel has been working diligently since April and will issue a report later this fall. We are happy to work with anyone to ensure we get this right.”

Uproar over city’s plan

The reconstruction of a 1.5-mile stretch of the interstate underpinning the landmarked Brooklyn Heights Promenade has had residents of the Heights in an uproar since DOT said it favored a plan — dubbed the “Innovative Plan — that would temporarily replace the promenade with the BQE.

Endorsed by the mayor before the public comment period was complete, the DOT’s plan would have destroyed a protected view plane and polluted neighborhood air with toxic particulates for six to eight years, its critics say. In June, community organizations heard that that plan may be off the table.

DOT did not respond to a request for comment.

DOT's "Innovative Plan." Photo via DOT
DOT’s “Innovative Plan.” Photo via DOT

“I’m very excited Arup has agreed to work with the Council to ensure that we don’t just rebuild a highway but look at our transportation infrastructure in a holistic way,” Johnson said in a statement.

Many compelling ideas have been put forward by the neighboring communities and we need to make sure the public understands all of our options and the tradeoffs associated with each of them before we can move forward with any plan,” he added.

Arup Principal John Karn said in a statement, “We’d like to thank the Council for selecting Arup. We’re excited about this opportunity to advise and support the Council in achieving their goal of a holistic and sustainable solution to improve this complex link in the city’s network of transportation infrastructure.”

In his first State of the City address in March, Johnson described the city’s BQE plan as the emblem of everything that’s wrong with the city’s transportation vision.

“We’re talking about spending $4 billion dollars to rebuild a mile-and-a-half of highway. That’s almost two Mars Rovers!” Johnson said at the time. “No one’s even talking about other options. That is a failure of imagination.”

At a blockbuster BQE town hall in Brooklyn Heights last April, Johnson told constituents, “I’m committed to making sure we get this project right.”

The council said on Monday that this independent review will help them make a “more informed decision about the future of the BQE and help to shape potential alternatives being analyzed in the [Environmental Impact Statement].”

Designed by BIG, one of many alternative plans to reconstruct the BQE, offered as an alternative to DOT’s “Innovative Plan.” Rendering courtesy of BIG
The “Brooklyn-Queens Park,” designed by BIG, is one of many alternative plans to reconstruct the BQE, offered as an alternative to DOT’s “Innovative Plan.” Rendering courtesy of BIG

Johnson is working closely with Councilmembers Stephen Levin and Brad Lander, who represent the areas affected by the BQE reconstruction plan.

In a statement on Monday, Levin said he applauded the selection of Arup.

“This project will leave a lasting impact on our communities for generations to come and it is vital that we thoroughly examine all options on the table and consider new alternatives as needed,” he said.

Lander also backed the independent review.

“I’m glad that we will have the benefit of Arup’s expertise as we consider the proposals on the table to address our critical infrastructure needs,” Lander said. “My hope is that we can make the process to repair this critical artery into an opportunity to reenvision our transportation options and build for our city’s future in partnership with neighboring communities.”

Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the Committee on Transportation, said, “It is important that with any major reconstruction projects in the City’s infrastructure, we take the appropriate steps and oversight to ensure all stakeholders are heard.”

Rodriguez said he was confident that Arup “will come with the expertise needed to help the city make better informed decisions about the BQE and that the city will consider all possible options to ensure the success of the BQE reconstruction.”

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  1. Rail Provocateur

    This is exactly what should be done to check and verify the prices Amtrak throws around over its various projects on the Northeast Corridor, rather than just accepting Amtrak’s assumptions of high costs due to labor contracts and construction costs.

    Amtrak should not be so singularly focused just upon developing the projects at Hudson and Sunnyside Yards, but rather, to have the motivation to ensure taxpayers derive the maximum benefit of their investments directed by Amtrak.