By Julianne Cuba
There’s an internal battle brewing over the BQE and BQX.
Transit honchos in charge of fixing the dilapidated Brooklyn–Queens Expressway want the mayor to hit the breaks on his controversial $2.5-billion streetcar plan because the two massive infrastructure projects will butt heads.
The Department of Transportation must repair the 1.5-mile stretch of the decrepit roadway between Atlantic Avenue and Sands Street in Brooklyn Heights before the triple cantilever — which runs beneath the neighborhood’s promenade and above Furman Street — crumbles beneath the weight of the thousands of big-rigs that rumble across it daily.
But Hizzoner’s plan to lay 14 miles of light-rail tracks from Sunset Park to the outer borough of Queens that would run along streets in Red Hook, Fort Greene, Dumbo, and Brooklyn Heights, including on Atlantic Avenue, will impact the city’s work on the expressway and cause even more chaos on the local thoroughfares, according to the city’s Deputy Commissioner of Bridges.
“I had a conversation with somebody who was working on the BQX. They are thinking about it going down Atlantic Avenue and across Columbia [Street], and I said ‘Look we’re going to be there, I don’t think it’s a good idea,’ ” Bob Collyer said during a public meeting about repairs to the expressway’s triple cantilever on Dec. 11. “That’s as far as we got.”
Work on the two multi-billion-dollar projects would likely overlap. The city hopes to begin laying tracks for the Sunset Park-to-Queens people mover in 2019 to have it shuttling passengers by 2024. And transit officials intend to open up the triple cantilever for renovations by 2021 and end the job by 2026 if the state green-lights a process to streamline design and construction, otherwise work would begin around 2024 and wrap sometime after 2028.
And another transportation honcho said her team would try to work with leaders in charge of the Brooklyn Queens Connector’s creation to ensure smooth construction should the two be built simultaneously.
“We’re in touch with them, we will coordinate with them,” said Tanvi Pandya, a project manager overseeing the expressway’s repairs.
DeBlasio first pitched the taxpayer-funded trolley — which is supported by the private advocacy group Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector, Dumbo-based developer Two Trees, and other real-estate companies — in 2016 because he said it would bring transportation to subway-starved communities along the waterfront.
But many residents and local leaders claimed the streetcar — a joint effort overseen by the city’s transportation department and Economic Development Corporation — would do more harm than good by accelerating development and gentrification in the nabes it will serve, many of which are home to thousands of public-housing residents.
Some Brooklynlites booed the light-rail scheme at a Dec. 14 town hall with the mayor and Red Hook Councilman Carlos Menchaca, and loudly jeered again when DeBlasio claimed he proposed the idea to improve areas’ transit options — not as a giveaway to greedy developers.
“I said I want the most transportation options I can get in this city. The plan is moving forward,” DeBlasio said to the crowd. “More mass transit options is good for everyone, so this whole thing that developers like it, therefore it must be awful — I don’t accept that.”
And other locals echoed transit honchos’ concerns about how the nabes affected by the pair of large projects will handle the influx of construction workers and changes in traffic the jobs will bring, with one woman at the BQE meeting saying it is “stupid” to be planning both at the same time.
— Julianne Cuba is a reporter for our sister publication, Brook