An overhaul of a long-decaying stretch of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway has been described as “hell,” “miserable,” and the “most challenging project not only in New York City but arguably in the United States”—and that’s just according to the commissioner of the city’s Department of Transportation.
Built in the 1950s by storied city planner Robert Moses, the BQE carries some 150,000 vehicles per day. Now, 65 years later, a 1.5-mile span of the highway between Atlantic Avenue and Sands Street is crumbling, and city and state officials are mulling ways to repair the roadway.
Complicating matters is the fact that the Brooklyn Heights Promenade is perched atop the BQE’s triple-cantilever section. The 1,825-foot esplanade, with sweeping views of Manhattan and the East River, is structurally connected to the roadway, so any changes that happen to the BQE inevitably extend to the promenade, which has become a sort of communal backyard for Brooklyn Heights.
The chorus of community, preservationist, and urban planners’ concerns has coalesced in the form of an alternative proposal put forward by the Brooklyn Heights Association, a prominent voice in the neighborhood; a bold plan suggested by Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office, who suggests converting part of the triple cantilever into a truck-only road with another level transformed into a High Line-esque linear park; and a blockbuster vision put forward by famed architecture firm Bjarke Ingels Group that would transplant the expressway entirely and build over it with up to ten acres of new parkland.
The City Council has even entered the fray with consultant Arup—an engineering firm hired to study alternative proposals for the BQE—suggesting in a recent report that a multi-billion dollar bypass tunnel or decking over part of the expressway with park space are viable alternatives that deserve additional scrutiny.
The DOT is in the midst of exploring those and other options to renovate the BQE. In the meantime, a 17-member expert panel convened by Mayor Bill de Blasio issued its own recommendations. Namely, concluding that the city’s tear-down-and-rebuild proposal is “not an appropriate solution to the problem.” Similarly, it put the kibosh on alternative plans that would shift a temporary roadway further east into Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Instead, the panel—which includes representatives from the New York Building Congress, the Municipal Art Society, the Partnership for New York City, and other local groups—recommends taking immediate steps to reduce traffic on the BQE, including reducing traffic from four lanes to six, in order to “protect the roadway from further deterioration.”
But the larger takeaway from the report is the panel’s insistence that “a broader vision for the future of the highway is required”; it calls for a comprehensive overhaul of the entirety of the BQE, from Staten Island to Queens, rather than the piecemeal approach that DOT proposed for the triple cantilever section.
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