Brooklyn Boro

BHA, Councilmember Restler, stunned over postponement of BQE repair funding

Pledge to battle ‘inexplicable’ delay

May 15, 2022 Mary Frost, Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Local officials and the Brooklyn Heights Association (BHA) say they are shocked at the city’s plan to eliminate most of next year’s budget to repair the dangerously decrepit Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE).

A quarter of a billion dollars had been earmarked for BQE emergency repairs for the Fiscal Year 2023 budget, which begins in July of this year. Officials were aghast, however, to hear in a City Council meeting on Thursday that most of that money had been “shifted” out of the 2023 budget.

According to the Finance Committee report, Mayor Eric Adams and his Department of Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez  reduced the Fiscal Year 2023 BQE repair budget from $225.1 million to $44.6 million.

The city says the missing $180.5 million will be moved into later years of the nine-year repair plan. Overall, the total planned capital spending on the project remains unchanged, at $1.5 billion. But advocates say putting off the work on the 70-year-old roadway is “reckless” and “inexplicable.”

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The Eagle has reached out to the NYC Department of Transportation to ask which, if any, of the repairs listed on the construction timeline issued in August will not be carried out this year as planned. DOT has not yet responded.

NYC Department of Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez.
AP photo by Mary Altaffer

BHA: Don’t let this be another ‘Surfside’

A coalition spearheaded by BHA fought tirelessly for years to get the city and state to repair the deteriorating highway. They also successfully fended off the city’s plan to replace the landmarked Brooklyn Heights Promenade with a superhighway during the renovation of the Triple Cantilever section of the BQE.

“This news is shocking and deeply concerning. It is completely irresponsible for NYC DOT to delay moving full speed ahead with the emergency repairs they outlined last August,” said Lara Birnback, BHA’s executive director.

“Those repairs, including waterproofing to protect against salt and water corrosion, are absolutely critical to ensuring the safety of drivers and the surrounding communities while a long-term solution to the BQE problem is developed,” Birnback added. “Let’s please not get to the point where the words ‘triple cantilever’ are associated with a disaster and not just a decrepit relic of an outdated and polluting highway.”

In an e-blast to members on Friday, BHA said, “The idea that the city isn’t doing everything in its power to prevent a predictable catastrophe is reckless and unconscionable. Anyone who questions the disastrous impact of salt and water corrosion on concrete and rebar need only look to the Surfside [collapse] in Florida.”

The repair plan revealed in August was designed to squeeze another 20 years of operation out of the rickety highway. This would buy time to come up with a more visionary, forward-thinking plan that reduces dependence on trucks and takes community concerns into account, former Mayor de Blasio said in August.

Lara Birnback, executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association, at a BQE demonstration.
Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

Decades of warnings

Lincoln Restler, the City Council member representing District 33, which stretches from Greenpoint through Brooklyn Heights to Boerum Hill, told the Brooklyn Eagle that the budget shift was inexplicable.

“Last year, [former] Commissioner Hank Gutman and Mayor de Blasio put forward a preservation plan to extend the lifespan of the triple cantilever that would give us all some breathing room to put forward a more transformative, bold plan for its future,” he said. “There had been decades of harrowing warnings that the thing was going to have to be shut down. And so this preservation plan is of critical importance. It needs urgency, and it needs swift investment and tight project management.”

Restler added, “I am very disappointed that the Department of Transportation has pushed off 75 percent of the planned funding for next year, going down from a quarter billion dollars to just $44 million dollars in repairs that they’re planning to make over the next 12 months. It’s inexplicable to me. And I am going to push with everything I possibly can. I’ve spoken to the mayor about it, and I will continue to speak to his team to see the resources that are need and invested in a timely fashion.”

Lincoln Restler, the City Council member representing District 33, said at an event on Montague Street on Saturday that the BQE budget shift was “inexplicable.”
Photo: Mary Frost, Brooklyn Eagle

DOT had been warning about BQE for years

NYC’s Department of Transportation has been warning for years that a one and a half mile stretch of the interstate, which includes the triple cantilever underpinning the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, was dangerously deteriorated.

The Mayor’s Expert Panel report, released in January 2020 under de Blasio, found that the triple cantilever was in “dire condition”, with many sections in need of “significant repairs and replacement.” The panel, chaired by Carlo Scissura, president and CEO of the New York Building Congress, was formed after outrage from residents brought a halt to the city’s original BQE proposal. The original proposal would have temporarily replaced the landmarked Brooklyn Heights Promenade with a six-lane highway, spewing dangerous pollution into local neighborhoods.

According to the Finance Committee report, Mayor Eric Adams’ administration reduced the Fiscal Year 2023 BQE repair budget by 75 percent.
AP photo by Seth Wenig

What happens to the BQE repair plan?

The repair plan outlined by the city in August, meant to keep the BQE usable for 20 years, called for a number of interventions.

  • Stopping water infiltration to slow down corrosion at the joints, improving drainage and reintroducing waterproofing. Phase One was scheduled to start this summer and be completed by 2026.
  • Shifting lane markings from Atlantic Ave to the Brooklyn Bridge to reduce three lanes in each direction to two. This has been completed.
  • Weight enforcement: More than 11 percent of trucks traveling the BQE exceed the 80,000 lb. weight limit, with some weighing as much as 170,000 lbs. Sen. Brian Kavanagh and Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon successfully passed legislation allowing “weight-in-motion” sensors, which would allow violations to be issued electronically. The technology by C2SMART will take months to put into place.
  • Concrete and rebar repairs on the Hicks Street retaining wall have been completed. Work on two deck spans showing fast signs of deterioration — Span 34 at Clark Street and Span 4 at Grace Ct. — was planned for 2022.
  • Internal construction at the Joralemon Street Abutment and Clark Street Fan Plant would repair flags and cracks, fix joint issues, concrete and deterioration. This was planned for 2022.
  • Deck and superstructure replacement at the abutment at Prospect and Sands streets was planned for 2023 and expected to take about two years.

Check back for updates.

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