Leaked plans for patch job on BQE draw mixed reactions from locals
Locals are fretting about the latest leaked plan for the BQE rehab project, which could be an emergency patch job starting as early as 2021.
Members of a panel appointed by the mayor to study the $4 billion reconstruction of a 1.5-mile section of the highway leaked the possible outcome of their report to the Wall Street Journal on Saturday.
This course of action, one of several being studied, would require night and weekend closures and the diversion of tens of thousands of trucks through local streets, but it could give the city more time to come up with the visionary transformation of the BQE demanded by community groups, transportation advocates and local officials.
Or, locals fear, it could allow the city to once again blow off the massive and extremely difficult reconstruction for a few more decades.
The head of the mayor’s panel, Carlo Scissura, told the Brooklyn Eagle on Monday that despite these leaks, the final report about what to do with the deteriorating section of the highway has not yet been finalized.
“The BQE panel has spent the past seven months working diligently, focused on the future of the triple cantilever and the entire BQE corridor,” Scissura said in a statement. “We look forward to issuing a report in early January that will reflect our commitment to those principles. As of now nothing has been finalized.”
An insider with knowledge of the panel assured the Eagle that Scissura was not behind the leaks.
The unnamed panel members told the Journal that sensors placed in the roadway found that the cantilever was deteriorating faster than the city initially believed.
If rapid repairs are deemed necessary, the report would likely recommend imposing restrictions in 2020 on the largest and heaviest trucks that use the BQE, the panel members said. This could send tens of thousands of trucks through local streets during the work.
The city’s Department of Transportation is remaining tight-lipped about their course of action. “We will review the external panel’s report when final,” DOT spokesperson Olivia Lapeyrolerie told the Eagle on Monday.
Some members of a coalition of a dozen community organizations pushing for a total transformation of the highway worry that the patch job might allow the city to kick the can down the road on the visionary redesign ideas that have transfixed Brooklyn for the past two years.
“We understand that there are serious issues with the triple cantilever that must be addressed, but this can’t prohibit a full transformation of the entire corridor,” Amy Breedlove, president of the Cobble Hill Association, told the Eagle on Monday. CHA is a member of the (as yet unnamed) community coalition.
“Doing a repair in isolation of transformation would fail to address the multitude of important issues this coalition has outlined,” Breedlove added. “Decreasing the number of lanes is promising and they should go one step further to cover them with green spaces and pedestrian walkways. We cannot just repair the roadway but we need to implement a solution that prioritizes communities over cars.”
Martha Bakos Dietz, president of the Brooklyn Heights Association, another member of the coalition, was more optimistic
She said that BHA “is encouraged to read that the panel seems to be on the same page as our coalition, in urging the city to design a transformative replacement for the BQE throughout the entire corridor, including both the triple cantilever and the Cobble Hill-Carroll Gardens trench.”
She added, “We hope that the panel will also recommend significant traffic management measures to deal not only with the diverted truck traffic mentioned in the article but also with any other traffic changes required by a repair to the BQE triple cantilever. We also expect that the necessary safety repairs will occur at the same time as the planning and implementation of these more transformative ideas.”
State Sen. Brian Kavanagh, who has been working with Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon to get more state involvement in the project, told the Eagle, “I do not want to comment on the specific assertions unnamed sources have made, but of course we all expect the city to do what is necessary to ensure that the BQE is safe in the short term. And I hope the panel will release its report as soon as possible, so we can benefit from its findings and recommendations.”
DOT has been saying for years that the section of the BQE from Sands Street to Atlantic Avenue is so decrepit it needs to be replaced before 2026, or trucks would have to be rerouted through Brooklyn’s residential streets. The agency’s original target for starting construction was 2023.
Mayor Bill de Blasio received overwhelming criticism last year after backing a controversial proposal from DOT to run a temporary BQE bypass over the Brooklyn Heights Promenade for a minimum of six years during construction. The plan would have brought the pollution and noise of 153,000 vehicles a day to neighborhood level for six to 10 years.
Opposition to the city’s favored plan reached a fever pitch over the past two years, with levels of community organizing not like anything seen in recent memory in Brooklyn.
The city’s plan would have done nothing to address the city’s increasing traffic woes, critics pointed out. Feeding into their design decisions is the implementation of congestion pricing, which could cut back on traffic traveling over the BQE.
At least seven additional plans were designed and offered to the city by organizations, individuals and officials, and in April the mayor appointed the BQE panel to sort it all out. The panel is not only attempting to sift through proposals that have appeared out of the woodwork, but is making decisions that could set a course for the city’s transportation future.
Since de Blasio appointed the panel, the City Council under Speaker Corey Johnson hired their own engineering consultants to double check the work of the mayor’s panel and DOT.