Queens business and community leaders hopeful as stalled streetcar project gets new life

Rendering of the Friends of Brooklyn-Queens Connector

The city took a step forward in the stalled Brooklyn Queens Connector streetcar project Wednesday when it selected a contractor to oversee the proposed system’s environmental review.

The executive committee of the New York City Economic Development Corporation awarded a $7.25 million contract to civil engineering and design consulting firm VHB to lead the process, prepare the public review application, and related tasks including support during public outreach activities on the BQX project.

“The BQX will link long-disconnected neighborhoods and shorten commutes for over half a million New Yorkers who live and work along the Brooklyn and Queens waterfront,” an NYCEDC spokesperson said. “It is a 21st-century solution to our city’s transit challenges and we’re excited about moving the project forward.”

The $2.7 billion project would travel 11 miles between Astoria and Red Hook, Brooklyn, a corridor which could be home to an additional 70,000 jobs, including 25,000 at Amazon’s proposed HQ2 campus in Long Island City, by 2029.

In Queens, the BQX route would cross Newtown Creek and run from 44th Drive along Vernon Boulevard. Once past the Queensboro Bridge it would run along 21st Street to a terminus at Astoria Boulevard. All of the rails would have to be installed.

“Today’s news makes it clear: the BQX is moving forward,” Friends of the BQX Executive Director Jessica Schumer said. “These steps show meaningful progress for the project — something we’ve been eager to see. We are pleased with the city’s commitment not just to moving the project forward, but to community engagement, which must play a central role. As the city grapples with a transit crisis, now is the moment for it to take control of its mass transit destiny and expand access wherever it can. The BQX is an essential first step and will provide a model for future city-run light rail lines in transit across the city.”

VHB is a transportation planning and engineering firm with experience in the metropolitan area for public agencies and private entities, including the Port Authority, New Jersey Transit and CornellTech. The BQX is supported by a range of transit advocates including the last five MTA leaders, numerous small business owners and groups, civic associations and NYCHA’s tenant association leaders.

“For far too long, NYCHA residents’ limited access to reliable mass transit has been a serious barrier to accessing employment,” Urban Upbound Founder and CEO Bishop Mitchell Taylor said. “I am encouraged that the city is taking concrete steps to eliminate the barriers of the past and to bridge our community with the opportunities increasingly sprouting up along the waterfront.”

The awarding of the contract follows a recent report by the Friends of the BQX highlighting the rapid growth of commercial office space along the corridor with job centers in Long Island City, Williamsburg, the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Downtown Brooklyn which will add 58 million square feet of commercial space within a decade. The BQX would run past the proposed Amazon HQ2 campus at 44th Road and Vernon Boulevard where the company will initially create 25,000 jobs over 10 years, with a plan to grow to 40,000 over 15 years.

“Timing in life is everything and the arrival of Amazon makes this all the more true for the BQX,” Queens Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Grech said. “Our capacity to move people around our city and Queens in particular has never been more important.”