Brooklyn Boro

Pandemic slowed truck traffic on BQE, but also delayed solutions and repair

Weigh-in stations proposed

May 26, 2021 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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In Brooklyn Heights, one of the main issues has always been what to do about the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, especially the deteriorating cantilevered structure under the Heights Promenade.  All in all, the BQE now carries more than 153,000 trucks a day.

In 2019 and 2020, the Heights community was in an uproar about a plan to put a highway over the Promenade while the BQE was being repaired. Eventually, that plan was shelved, and a panel headed by Carlo Scissura of the New York Building Congress made several recommendations.

The first was that repairs to a 1.5-mile segment of the BQE, which includes the cantilevered segment as well as others, must begin immediately, especially since the cantilever may become unsafe within five years. The second was that the highway must be reduced from six to four lanes. The third was that planning for a transformation of the BQE must start immediately.

The COVID-19 pandemic put these plans on hold. However, patchwork repairs to the BQE are now under way, according to a neighborhood observer.

There have been many more sweeping proposals, according to Curbed. 

For example, Bjarke Ingels Group suggested burying the roadway and planting trees on top (the “tunnel option” was talked about as long ago as the 1990s). Comptroller Scott Stringer submitted a plan to keep a single trucks-only bottom section of the cantilever and cover the rest, resulting in a two-mile “linear park.” And a report from Arup that included an $11-billion bypass tunnel from the Gowanus Expressway to Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg. 

Partially because of the pandemic, “the BQE is still a jammed, deteriorating six-lane highway, and officials are not much closer to coming up with a real plan to resolve the situation for good,” Curbed said.

Repairs to two heavily damaged 50-foot-long spans of the cantilevered decks are now in  the design phase, and Scissura  said that these modifications should buy the city several years once completed. However, traffic is now almost back at pre-pandemic levels.

Enforcement against illegal trucks has not been consistent, Curbed charges. The NYPD says that since its BQE Truck Enforcement Task Force was created in early 2020, it has written 6,000 citations. However, there are many more overweight trucks traveling on the highway. 

Kavanagh and Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon have sponsored a bill that, according to legislative websites, “relates to establishing a demonstration program on interstate route 278 in Kings County to enforce vehicle weight restriction on such interstate by means of mobile or stationary weigh-in motion systems; relates to notices of liability and the adjudication of certain traffic infractions involving the use of photo monitoring devices.” 

In other words, it would more stringently enforce weight restrictions on the BQE by measuring weight electronically.

Some people want to eliminate the BQE. Curbed quotes Michael Lydon, a principal at the urban-planning firm Street Plans, as saying that “If you have less space for traffic, you get less traffic.” 

The DOT, which is currently headed by Brooklyn Heights resident Hank Gutman, is expected to make an announcement on the highway in the next few weeks. The Biden Administration’s new infrastructure bill should also get new funds into BQE repairs, local officials hope.

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