Brooklyn Heights

After BQE panel report, city to start repairs and truck crackdown

Mayor promises to preserve the promenade, but future steps unclear.

January 31, 2020 Mary Frost
The Brooklyn Heights Promenade. Eagle file photo by Don Evans

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Friday that the city would begin cracking down on overweight trucks on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, and also immediately begin structural repairs on the disintegrating triple cantilever portion of the interstate highway.

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Read the full details about the panel’s report here.

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These were among the most pressing steps recommended by a mayor-appointed BQE panel, in a report the group released Thursday night.

The mayor said he was still mulling over the other panel recommendations, however. These included reducing the number of lanes on the 1.5-mile section of crumbling highway from six to four, and forming a joint working group with the state and the federal government to begin planning for a transformational re-envisioning of the entire BQE corridor from Staten Island to Queens.

The panel also came out strongly against using the landmarked Brooklyn Heights Promenade or Brooklyn Bridge Park as the sites of a temporary BQE bypass.

Though the panel was appointed by de Blasio, its recommendations are only advisory.

On the Brian Lehrer radio program on WNYC Friday, de Blasio was skeptical about cutting back on the number of lanes.


“We have to be careful … if we say, hey, let’s reduce the amount of lanes,” he said. “The problem I have with that is one, that’s not a guarantee that people get out of the cars. It is a guarantee of traffic jams and it is a guarantee of other challenges. So it’s worth looking at that and every other proposal. But I don’t want people to be euphemistic about this. Right now we all depend on the BQE.”

In a statement on Friday, the city said that the administration “has embraced the panel’s recommendation against building a temporary highway through the Brooklyn Heights Promenade and Brooklyn Bridge Park.”

When questioned by Lehrer, however, de Blasio seemed to dance around the question of preserving the promenade, saying, “For the future we have to make tough decisions about how we’re going to fix the overall situation. And again, the panel put forward a host of potential solutions. I want to make sure there’s a process to start acting on those solutions and figure out which one’s best.”

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson slammed de Blasio for his lack of commitment to his panel’s broader recommendations.

“It’s disappointing Mayor de Blasio isn’t endorsing his own panel’s suggestion to reduce lanes on the BQE,” Johnson told the Brooklyn Eagle on Friday. “I agree with the panel that we need to reduce traffic on the BQE. And I was hoping the mayor and DOT would rule out the highway on the promenade once and for all.”

Johnson said that the council will be holding a hearing in the coming weeks “to hear from all stakeholders and working with ARUP and we will be putting out a more detailed report in February.”

“It’s great that the city plans to enforce existing laws meant to keep overweight trucks off the BQE and local streets,” Lara Birnback, executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association told the Eagle.

“However, it’s extremely disappointing that the mayor seems to be on a different page than both his own panel and the community regarding reducing lanes on the BQE and a more full throated endorsement of other traffic demand management strategies,” Birnback said.

She added, “In terms of ‘not ignoring the issue’ we expect the mayor to work with his state and federal counterparts and ensure that something forward looking gets accomplished along the BQE corridor.”

As for the ambiguity between the administration’s statement indicating support for preserving the promenade and the mayor’s apparent fuzziness on the Lehrer show, BHA said they intended to hold him to his written statement.

The mayor’s spokesperson Olivia Lapeyrolerie clarified the administration’s promenade stance on Friday afternoon.

“As you know, the panel recommended against building a temporary highway through Brooklyn Heights Promenade and Brooklyn Bridge Park — and we embrace that,” she said. “We are focused on exploring the options they did put forward to begin implementing a long-term solution ASAP.” She added that there wasn’t a discrepancy between the two statements in intent, just a different way of saying it.

The city’s original proposal to build a BQE bypass atop the beloved promenade triggered a strong backlash from local residents, officials and environmentalists, who pointed out it would bring the noise and pollution of 153,000 vehicles a day up to the street level of the Heights.

In its report, the mayor’s panel called the promenade and Brooklyn Bridge Park “essential to New York City, especially to the surrounding neighborhoods and Brooklyn as a whole.” The panel also said the two destinations are “critical to the economic survival of local area businesses.”

Truck enforcement begins Monday

Starting on Monday, Feb. 3, the city’s new NYPD BQE Truck Enforcement Task Force will increase enforcement against the overweight trucks that are exacerbating the BQE’s serious structural issues. Penalties can range up to $7,000 per violation.

According to the BQE panel’s report, the presence of many overweight trucks, coupled with deterioration of the cantilever, could cause sections of the road to become unsafe within five years.

More than 11 percent of trucks on the shaky roadway exceed the 80,000-pound limit. Some trucks rumbling along the geriatric highway weigh 170,000 pounds or more, the panel’s study showed. Buildings next to the BQE shake when traffic is heavy, and many have developed cracks.

The city will also repair the Hicks Street Wall and other sections of the cantilever. Construction on the Hicks Street Wall will start in the spring, and be complete by the end of 2020, the city said.

Surface road work will also begin this spring, which will include milling and paving the roadway deck, repairing deck sections to prolong the life of the roadway, restoring defective pavement and fully replacing the mesh underneath the structure.

DOT will begin the design process on the most deteriorated portions of the cantilever starting this summer. Work is scheduled to be complete by the end of 2022.


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2 Comments

  1. Nomcebo Manzini

    Ms. Frost has done some excellent reporting in the past, but this is – sadly – not even close to adequate as a summary of the panel’s recommendations. Specifically, why is there no mention of the couple of points they made about the Brooklyn Battery (a/k/a Hugh Carey) Tunnel? Why no mention of congestion pricing? Why nothing about “planned”/proposed tinkering with entrances and exits – ostensibly to reduce traffic.

    “The devil is in the details,” and some of these – the panel was a lot more “courageous” than previous reports that they were mostly going to recommend impaneling another panel made many of us anticipate – are “provocative.”

    And missing from both the panel’s report and Ms. Frost’s reporting was the telegraphed “weekends are going to be nightmarish.” I honestly don’t know whether trucking is largely a Mon-Fri affair…. It had better be, because there’s next to no way ANY big truck can make it from the Verrazano’s Brooklyn end to anywhere in NYC if even part of the BQE is shut down for a full 2 days.

    And while we’ve never had what France and other European countries have had when a portion of the population is subjugated – their roadways are often central to national drama – it’s not out of the question here. Most New Yorkers (“down state”) are not gun fanatics, but many of them DO love their cars AND getting places in them. Mayor D. is right about as often as a stopped clock, but he knows the difference between 2 and 3. It might translate to an hour or more travel time during rush hours, and road rage may turn deadly!

    Last, “good luck” telling a big truck, “Sorry, you’re too heavy – hope your GPS can take into account how hard it is for you to make 90-degree turns as you make your journey on city streets.” (I didn’t realize that trucks are barred from the Belt Pkwy. Let’s see how non-highways hold up as 100,000+ lb. vehicles roll over them.)

    Again, the Mayor is right that if America runs on Dunkin, NYC now depends on trucks. Some, in effect, feed us; some enable stores to function; some are pivotal in JFK’s mammoth non-passenger operation. NONE of those things is “discretionary.”