BHA leads charge in battle to see BQE safely repaired

May 17, 2022 Mary Frost
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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.”

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.

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get to the point where the words ‘triple cantilever’ are associated with a disaster and not just a decrepit relic of an outdated and polluting highway.”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 reck- less 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.

Decades of warnings

Lincoln Restler, the City Council member representing District 33, which stretches from Greenpoint through Brooklyn Heights to Boerum Hill, told the 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.”

Restler added, “I am very disappointed that the Department of Transportation has pushed off 75 per- cent of the planned funding for next year, going down from a quarter billion dollars to just $44 million dol- lars 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.”

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.

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