Brooklyn gets ready for hellish summer of traffic jams, noise during BQE interim repairs
BROOKLYN HEIGHTS — Brooklyn residents are steeling themselves for a summer of snarled traffic and all-night jackhammering, as the NYC Department of Transportation will soon begin urgent interim repairs on three deteriorated sections of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway’s (BQE) triple cantilever underpinning the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.
These interim repairs are designed to shore up the 70-year-old triple cantilever until the city and state settle on a full redesign — a massive, yearslong project.
This will mean closing most of the busy highway between Atlantic Avenue and Sands Street during three weekends and at night for seven to eight weeks from July to October.
At a virtual workshop on Thursday, June 29, NYC DOT laid out the plans and preliminary schedule for weekend and overnight closures. More than 100 residents and officials attended the meeting.
There are still details that need to be finalized, but contractor Bove Industries will be starting interim work “in the coming weeks,” said Danielle Zuckerman, NYC DOT’s director of Governmental Affairs. The agency wants to make sure the lines of communication are “rigorous and open,” she said.
Tanvi Pandya, executive director of BQE, Design Build & Emergency Contracts at NYC DOT, walked meeting participants through a slide show detailing the repairs.
“Everything about the nature of construction is not exact … so we will request patience if we are not able to give the exact answer right at the start,” she cautioned. Residents will be informed well ahead of time when dates for weekend closures are set.
The work includes concrete and rebar repairs of the deck, column and beam in the Clark Street Fan Plant area (aka Span 34); the BQE deck at Grace Court (Span 4); and the foundation of the Joralemon Street Garage, Pandya said. Weekend work will take place between 2 a.m. Saturdays to 4 a.m. Mondays.
“From all of the testing we’ve been doing, we’ve identified these two spans [34 and 4] as having more deterioration than we would like to see,” Pandya said. Two sets of crews will be working at the same time on both spans. “We’re trying to minimize the number of nights [that] work is happening and the number of closures we’ll have to do.”
The highway is not immediately dangerous, she added. “We’re trying to get ahead of getting to that point.”
Work will take place during the day inside the BQE structure at the Joralemon Street Garage area, since there are no traffic issues to deal with there.
Start of work delayed already
The start of the interim repairs has been delayed because “it took longer to get the contractor,” Pandya said. This could extend weekend closures into the fall.
Under this delayed timeline, if the contractor can’t finish the interim repairs by the end of the “construction season,” which normally extends from March through October, some of the work might have to be delayed until next spring. “We’ll see how much we can squeeze in between now and November,” she said.
Rain and cold weather could cause additional delays. In general, concrete requires temperatures above 40 degrees to cure properly. It also needs 12 hours of dry weather to cure. “You can’t pour six inches of concrete in the pouring rain,” she said.
Nighttime prep work has already begun. The Columbia Street entrance ramp to Staten Island-bound lanes will be closed from midnight to 5 a.m. from July 1-7.
A long, noisy summer
Residents expressed concerns about noise from all-night jackhammering, traffic jams on local streets and air quality.
Pandya said DOT will set up decibel meters and check the readings every night to ensure the work adheres to NYC’s Noise Code. Jackhammers will be equipped with noise-reducing mufflers and sound-absorbing blankets can be used in places. But requiring the contractor to use smaller, less noisy jackhammers could stretch out the work. “It’s a balancing act,” she said. “We’ll do our darndest.”
“Will it be too noisy to sleep?” an attendee asked.
“That’s subjective,” Pandya said.
Others were concerned about the vibrations. Pandya said the work will be noisy but will produce few vibrations since the surface area being worked on is “thin.”
Chris Bastian, from the Brooklyn Heights Association, noted the already-poor air quality projected to last through October and requested an extra-high standard for air quality monitoring. Pandya said she didn’t expect dust would exceed code requirements.
Pandya said bike lanes would be impacted by the weekend traffic diversions. “It’s best not to be on these streets during the diversions.”
“I am most concerned with the detours during the closing of the triple cantilever,” said Assemblymember Robert Carroll. “I want to reiterate that we will need a 24-hour-a-day police presence and other traffic presence as thousands of trucks and other vehicles are detoured through Kensington and Prospect Park South, which will cause massive disruption.”
He added that “the detour through the Prospect Expressway on 10th Avenue and 19th Street should not be the only detour. We should have at a minimum an additional detour on 36th Street.”
Zuckerman said there would be time to take another look at the planned detours, “But we must acknowledge that it’s a big undertaking and there will be burdens in many neighborhoods.”
Councilmember Lincoln Restler noted that his team and partners from the Brooklyn Heights Association went door to door to inform neighbors about the virtual meeting.
“Overnight jackhammering for multiple months just feet away from peoples’ homes will have a significant impact on quality of life and I am committed to making sure there is clear, consistent and real-time communication between DOT and our neighbors in order to mitigate issues as best as we can,” Restler said.
Traffic mitigations planned
“Tons of modeling efforts” came up with the most tolerable traffic mitigations, Pandya said. DOT is working with New Jersey Transit, MTA, the Port Authority and even Google Maps to divert traffic from the BQE during the three closure weekends. Traffic agents will be stationed around the assigned routes, at the Prospect Expressway and in lower Manhattan. Emergency services will be stationed in Brooklyn Bridge Park.
“In Brooklyn Heights, we will look into where we need TAs so traffic is not diverting off the assigned routes and onto local streets,” Pandya said.
Anita Navalurkar will be the dedicated liaison for the project team and contact throughout the construction period. “You will be hearing from me regularly throughout this project,” she said. Sign up for her updates here.
Traffic from the BQE, which carries more than 150,000 vehicles a day, will be rerouted along avenues including Atlantic, Third, Fourth and Flatbush avenues. Updated maps showing how traffic will be rerouted during each work period will be online soon, the officials said. A previous version can be seen here.
Waiting for Gov. Hochul to sign WIM
Zuckerman said the interim repairs, in combination with the ongoing lane reductions, should extend the usable life of this section of the BQE to at least 2028, and further patchwork could be done as necessary. DOT is continuing to monitor the structure and analyze safety data, she said.
DOT is also continuing to work on the WIM (Weigh-In-Motion) sensor placement. The WIM will detect and electronically ticket overweight trucks. A bill permitting its use was sponsored by Sen. Andrew Gounardes and Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, and now awaits Gov. Kathy Hochul’s signature.
“We are waiting for the governor to sign the bill before we can begin the warning period,” Zuckerman said.
“I’m glad that DOT staff held a forum to answer the community’s questions, and I’m pleased that they have committed to ongoing communications on the anticipated roadwork. However, I urge DOT to carefully plan for street calming measures and traffic enforcement to ensure that pedestrians are safe as vehicles travel alternative routes during the repair work,” Simon said following the meeting.
“This roadwork again underscores that we need to reimagine a BQE and a city that is not just focused on moving vehicles, but [is] pedestrian and climate-friendly, and focused on a strong mass transit system and alternative methods of freight delivery like our blue waterways,” she said.
What the work entails
Preparation work for the interim repairs will take place at night before each weekend closure. Prep work involves removing deteriorated concrete and adding steel plates.
- Weekend work on the Queens-bound interior deck repair at Grace Court will involve replacing an approximately 6” thick asphalt overlay and adding a supplementary rebar. Support will be built under the Queens-bound lanes during the work.
- Weekend work on the Queens-bound interim repairs at Clark Street will include underdeck, column and beam repairs.
- First-weekend closure: The first weekend’s interim work will involve the closure of all Queens-bound lanes, with traffic exiting at Atlantic Avenue. One lane will remain open on the Staten Island-bound side.
- Second and third-weekend closures: These weekends will involve the closure of all Queens-bound lanes, with traffic exiting at Atlantic Avenue. Both travel lanes in the Staten Island direction will be open, however.
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