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21st Century BQE: Mayor, DOT bring in stakeholders for oversight

Series of 'Engagement Meetings' will begin September 28

September 18, 2022 Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Mayor Eric Adams and NYC Department of Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez on Friday released a schedule for a community outreach process that they said will inform the city’s “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to redesign sections of the crumbling Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE). The meetings will kick off September 28. (Full schedule below.)

Related Article: Traffic nightmares on local streets: BQE plans released

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The process will look at redesigning not only the dangerously deteriorated stretch of the highway from Atlantic Avenue to Sands Street, which includes the triple-cantilevered underpinning for the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, but also will explore transforming the corridor north and south of that section, “reconnecting communities needlessly divided by the creation of the highway,” and restoring equity, Adams and Rodriguez said in their statement.

A multi-year community engagement process produced at least seven innovative ideas for revamping the BQE. One, designed by DUMBO’s Bjarke Ingels Group would move all six lanes of the BQE from the triple cantilever to a boxed-over ground-level highway, topped by a deck.
Brooklyn-Queens Park. Photo: BIG

Community engagement will include in-person and remote public workshops as well as a public survey, pop-up outreach in neighborhoods along the BQE corridor, meetings with community stakeholder groups, and UPDATED ONLINE RESOURCES.

Funding will be made available to community-based organizations, according to Adams and Rodriguez.  These resources will prioritize work that “promotes equitable access” to the visioning process. An application will be released later in September.

Brooklyn Height’s Association President Martha Bakos Dietz went over current events for the crowd at the Association’s annual meeting on Feb. 27, 2020, at St. Francis College. Dietz announced that day victory in stopping a proposed ‘Highway to Hell.’
Photo: Paul Frangipane/Eagle

The administration is also launching a BQE Community Visioning Council to advise NYCDOT. which will include one representative per organization, with the goal of developing a diverse membership.

Even before the community engagement meetings kick off, NYCDOT is already planning to bring in multiple community engagement and engineering companies, including WSP USA Inc., WXY Architecture and Urban Design, and agency 3×3. NYCDOT also retained the Triple-Cantilever Joint Venture for design and planning for BQE Central, working with AECOM USA, Inc., Parsons Transportation Group of New York, Inc., AKRF, Inc., Bjarke Ingels Group, Fitzgerald and Halliday, Inc., SCAPE Landscape Architecture and others.

BQE Central and BQE North and South

The city has dubbed the dangerously deteriorated section of the highway between Atlantic Avenue and Sands Street “BQE Central.” Reconstruction of the BQE Central section will start within five years, Adams and Rodriguez promised.

The “BQE North and South” project engagement will look at strategies to reconnect communities north of Sands Street to the Kosciusko Bridge and south of Atlantic Avenue to the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge. This would include the infamous BQE “ditch” which separates Cobble Hill and Carol Gardens from the Columbia Waterfront, along with other communities which have suffered for decades from increased pollution and safety risks after being divided by the highway.

New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez.
Photo: NYC.gov

Adams and Rodriguez said the BQE North and South project would look at creating public spaces like parks and plazas, and “providing new mobility options for commuting, recreation, and commerce.” As the north and south sections of the BQE are state-owned property, the NYCDOT must engage with the state DOT on the project.

“It’s time to take a new approach to the BQE and ‘Get Stuff Done,’” Adams said in the statement. “Our administration is seizing a once-in-a-generation opportunity to partner with communities and develop a bold vision for a safe and resilient BQE. Together, we are finally confronting the racism built into our infrastructure and putting equity front and center to modernize this vital transportation artery now.”

“We are getting to work immediately,” said Deputy Mayor for Operations Meera Joshi.

“We must reckon with the harm these 20th-century highways have caused communities of color in New York City,” said NYCDOT Commissioner Rodriguez. “While we undertake the BQE Central project, we will ensure we are also planning how best to reconnect other neighborhoods that have been split apart by this highway, from Bay Ridge to Greenpoint.”

Accelerating the BQE Central project

In June, Adams said he planned to discard former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 20-year plan to patch up the decrepit sections of the BQE encompassing the triple-cantilever, and instead take advantage of the Biden administration’s federal infrastructure funds to kick off the massive renovation project within five years. Adams said this approach will save hundreds of millions of dollars that would have been spent to delay long-term repairs for two decades.

The timeline for the project is extremely tight, as DOT has warned that the structure must be patched by 2026, or tens of thousands of trucks daily will be rerouted through Brooklyn’s residential streets.  First built in the mid-1940s, this corridor carries more than 130,000 vehicles daily, including 13,000 trucks, according to DOT. The number of active lanes has already been cut from six to four, in the hopes of extending the life of the existing highway.

DOT recently released a tentative schedule for the necessary emergency repairs, which will mean closing most of the BQE between Atlantic Avenue and Sands Street during three weekends and an unspecified number of nights between March and October of 2023.

Monitoring of the shaky triple-cantilever section includes in-person inspections and remote tracking with sensors. DOT will also deploy an automated enforcement program for overweight trucks, using weigh-in-motion technology.

Highway to Hell

At least seven alternate designs for the BQE Central section — from a below-grade highway to a tunnel under Downtown Brooklyn —  were submitted during a contentious period during Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, to counter a disastrous city plan which would replace the landmarked Promenade with a six-lane, pollution-spewing superhighway for roughly seven years while the BQE was rebuilt. That plan was dubbed the “Highway to Hell” by the Brooklyn Heights Association, which spearheaded a ferocious, multi-year and ultimately successful effort to save the Promenade and build a coalition of twelve community organizations (the Coalition for the Transformation of the BQE, or BQET), to present a common vision for the BQE rehab.

The coalition includes the groups A Better Way, the Brooklyn Heights Association, the Cobble Hill Association, the Boerum Hill Association, Cadman Towers, Downtown Brooklyn Co-op/Condo Alliance, DUMBO Action Committee, DUMBO Neighborhood Alliance, Fulton Ferry Landing Association, North Heights Neighbors, Vinegar Hill Neighborhood Association and the Willowtown Association.

On Monday, BQET sent a letter to Governor Hochul and Adams, highlighting that the coalition has spent years “meeting with designers, transportation experts, elected officials, and our constituents, reviewing and providing feedback on alternative plans and promoting solutions that are both visionary and implementable.”

Plymouth Church was filled up to the highest balcony level at a BQE town hall convened by the Brooklyn Heights Association in 2019. At that meeting, then-Borough President Eric Adams said everything the Heights community is doing about the BQE“should be documented” and brought into other neighborhoods affected by similar problems. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Eagle

Based on this work, the BQET offered a number of recommendations for a “21st Century BQE,” including an “invisible” highway, at- or below-grade that caps or buries the open-air sections

and platforms over the trenches; capped-at-grade or below-grade solutions; direct air capture technologies for covered highways to capture CO2; a permanent reduction of the corridor from six lanes to four on the Sands to Atlantic stretch of the BQE and beyond.

The coalition also urged the establishment of a multi-stakeholder, multi-agency governing authority to oversee the design and build of the BQE of the future, including representatives from impacted communities along the corridor, especially groups disproportionately impacted during construction.

They also suggested several ways to decrease reliance on trucks to transport and deliver goods, and the creation of a regional transportation model that could ultimately reduce or eliminate the highway altogether. See more at bqet.nyc/.

2022 Initial Outreach Schedule

  • September 28: Corridor-wide kickoff (virtual)
  • October 6: Corridor-wide kickoff (virtual)
  • October 11: BQE Central workshop (in-person)
  • October 13: BQE Central workshop (virtual)
  • November 3: BQE North and South workshop (virtual)
  • November 7: BQE South workshop (in-person)
  • November 10: BQE North workshop (in-person)

 


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