Skip to comments.DOT Faces Wrath Of Brooklyn Heights Residents Over BQE Reconstruction Plans
Posted on 10/24/2018 1:15:45 PM PDT by Tolerance Sucks Rocks
At a packed town hall meeting in Brooklyn Thursday evening to discuss options for saving a crumbling section of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, city officials from the Department of Transportation came up against some not-unexpected pushback against a proposal that would involve closing the Brooklyn Heights promenade for six years.
This was the first public meeting since the city unveiled two separate proposals for the project last week. The meeting opened with a presentation of both options—each projected to cost between $3 billion and $4 billion—while Polly Trottenberg, the city’s transportation commissioner, braced herself for the inevitable backlash.
“I understand a lot of people are going to hate what we propose,” Trottenberg said at the outset, “but I think what we found when we looked at it is none of the alternatives are going to be very loveable.”
The city has been studying options for repairing or replacing the 1.5-mile stretch of highway between Atlantic Ave. and Sands Street for the past few years, cautioning that leaving the aging structure to deteriorate could cause trucks to be rerouted due to weight restrictions in 2026 and result in a total shutdown by 2036.
The “traditional” option the city came up with involves lane-by-lane repairs, mostly taking place at night, that would go on for eight or more years and could cause significant disruptions to traffic on the cantilevered highway, which serves about 153,000 vehicles daily. In this scenario, the promenade would be shut down for up to two years.
Under the nontraditional approach, favored by city officials, an elevated six-lane highway would be erected parallel to the promenade above the BQE, where traffic could be redirected while construction takes place on the existing roads down below. The promenade would be closed the entire time, but the city says there would be greater opportunities to improve and possibly even expand it in the process. There would also be less risk of construction delays or going over budget.
Although city officials touted the benefits of the latter plan, Trottenberg sought to assure the many Brooklyn Heights residents who were hostile to the proposal that it was not set in stone and all options were still on the table.
“We have 50,000 pages of options and designs,” said Trottenberg. “We tried to pick a couple that seemed the most feasible.”
Some residents said they would prefer to address the highway’s structural issues the traditional way—lane by lane—if they were going to have to deal with noise and air pollution for years on end either way.
“I think the traditional approach would ultimately be more bearable,” Debra DeWan, who’s lived in Brooklyn Heights for more than 40 years, said after the meeting. “I absolutely am opposed to them closing the promenade for what they claim will be six years. I totally don’t trust that estimate and I don’t think they will find the funds once the project is done to complete the restoration of the promenade. I’ve lived in the city my entire life and I’ve seen promise after promise being broken.”
Another Brooklyn Heights resident pointed out during his turn at the mic that the promenade, enjoyed by both locals and visitors from all over the world, has a perfect five-star rating on Yelp (Prospect Park, for comparison, had a measly 4.5 as of this writing).
Conceding that it is a beloved public space, Trottenberg couldn’t help but point to the walkway’s fatal flaw: “The unfortunate tragedy of the promenade is that it’s attached to a highway that does not get a 5.0.”
Others offered suggestions that Trottenberg made clear were unlikely to get approved, even though she was hesitant to shut them down outright.
One audience member suggested, to raucous applause, that if there had to be a temporary elevated roadway, it should be constructed over Brooklyn Bridge Park, which sits on the other side of the BQE.
“As terrible as the situation with the promenade is, I think we’d have a different room probably even more full than this one [to oppose that],” Trottenberg said in response.
Several people wondered why the city couldn’t just dig a tunnel to relieve traffic.
There was no shortage of tunnel proposals when the state Department of Transportation was originally considering how to rehabilitate the BQE, before it abandoned the project for lack of funds back in 2011. When the city’s Transportation Department took up the project under Mayor Bill de Blasio it studied several options but ultimately deemed a tunnel too costly to construct and limited in the amount of traffic it could handle.
“In New York we build one tunnel every 50 years,” Trottenberg said. “We’re not an agency that knows how to build tunnels.”
The city will continue conducting public outreach through the fall and aims to draft a request for proposals seeking a joint design and construction team to execute the project late 2019.
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