The city’s budget crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic could be the death knell that finally derails the controversial $2.7 billion Brooklyn-Queens Connector project.
Public hearings on the state-of-the-art light rail system were set to begin May and June and the city planned to finish a draft environmental impact statement by spring 2021, but that has been postponed during the COVID-19 crisis.
Known as the BQX, the streetcar system would have run along an 11-mile corridor along the East River waterfront connecting Astoria to Red Hook, Brooklyn, providing a crucial north-south transit option for the 400,000 people who live along the corridor and 300,000 who work along the fastest-growing business corridors in the city.
The BQX would connect commuters to 13 subway lines, nine NFY Ferry landings, and more than 100 Citi Bike stations. Critics of the proposal have long claimed the BQX project was a boondoggle that would line the pockets of waterfront real estate developers and residents and business owners objected to the erasure of 2,000 parking spots along the corridor.
During his COVID-19 briefing on April 29, Mayor Bill de Blasio admitted the proposal would be put on hold during the public health emergency.
“Something like the BQX, which we had just begun a whole phase of environmental review, it’s going to be looked at now with all other major capital initiatives,” de Blasio said. “It will be discussed in the budget process and be part of what we say around the budget in June. It’s a very good example of the kind of thing that now has to be thought of very differently simply for the budget ramifications alone.”
The mayor added that his affordable housing program would have the priority going forward with the budget process. The nonprofit Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector, which has been advocating for the streetcar system along the East River waterfront since 2014, is hopeful that the public scoping hearings on the proposal will resume as soon as conditions permit.
“Coming out of this crisis, it’s critical that we prioritize infrastructure projects that will help get New Yorkers back to work,” Friends of the BQX Executive Director Chris Torres said. “And the BQX is an investment that would do just that, creating tens of thousands of jobs, and $30 billion in economic value over the coming decades.”
The BQX project has the support of NYCHA tenants leaders along the route as well as transit advocates and civic organizations.