NYC’s Plan For Deteriorating BQE Is To Make It Last For 20 More Years

A crumbling 1.5 mile stretch of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in Brooklyn Heights, known as the triple cantilever section, will be repaired and shored up, but not torn down as City Council members recommended last year.

“We have a structure we thought was in danger of imminent collapse. It turns out there is a way to preserve it,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday.

The mayor outlined several things that the Department of Transportation believes will preserve that section of the BQE for the next 20 years, and give officials enough time to come up with a permanent solution to the problematic stretch, which is pocked with corroding rebar and deteriorated joints.

The latest plan includes waterproofing and sealing holes to ensure water isn’t corroding joints and the pavement. To deter trucks that weigh more than 40 tons — and aren’t permitted on the BQE — from further damaging the roadway, the city hopes to install an automated ticketing system that will issue fines, rather than rely on the NYPD to enforce the rule. That requires state approval, and local representatives said they would push for it.

READ MORE: Photos Reveal How The BQE Is Crumbling Every Day

 The city also plans to reduce the number of lanes from three in each direction to two, to reduce pressure on the road.

Department of Transportation Commissioner Hank Gutman said the lanes would be widened from 10.5 feet to 12 feet and include a 9-foot shoulder that would alleviate traffic jams when accidents occur. He said the redesign would result in only a 10-11% difference in additional traffic.

Gutman also cited requests for input from the surrounding community as another reason to delay a final BQE plan.

“That process takes time,” he said, adding that the latest plan would keep the BQE both “operational and safe” while community planning conversations begin.

More stalactites from water decay<br data-recalc-dims=” width=”864″ height=”576″>

More stalactites from water decay
Jake Dobkin / Gothamist

“We will have more and more attractive options to consider than we’ve ever had before,” Gutman said about delaying the plan by 20 years. “That’s the goal, that’s the mission, and we’re determined to make that happen.”

Gutman likened the effort to the two decade-long effort to build Brooklyn Bridge Park, a project which he helped shepherd. “I’ve seen this movie,” he said, adding that the waterfront development happened because of “broad community outreach.”

Urgent repairs on the highway have already commenced, Gutman said.

Crucially, the latest BQE plan will depend on state legislation that would allow it to install special sensors on the highway to fine trucks that weigh more than the legal limit. The sponsors of the bill, State Assembly member Jo Ann Simon and State Senator Brian Kavanagh, joined the mayor’s press conference via Zoom to express their support for the plan.

Simon said the proposal would buy the city time “to develop a vision to build a coherent 21st century approach to the corridor.”

Addressing the urgent need to get the bill passed, de Blasio, who has repeatedly called on Governor Andrew Cuomo to resign in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against him, alluded to the governor’s troubles.

“Whoever is governor will need to sign this legislation expeditiously so we can get these sensors in place next year,” he said. 

The city hopes to use as much funding from the federal infrastructure bill, if it passes, as possible to carry out the repairs, but officials said some city money may be necessary. The city didn’t respond Wednesday to a request for comment about how much the fixes would cost.

The portion of the BQE that needs repairs

The 2019 map showing the part of the BQE that needs repairs. DOT

When the city first announced plans to replace the 1.5-mile stretch of the BQE by building a temporary roadway at street level while replacing the triple cantilever section below, there was widespread opposition. And several groups came up with their own alternative. The City Council commissioned a firm that suggested an $11 billion tunnel, which would turn the existing section into a park. Comptroller Scott Stringer released a plan that would reserve the roadway below for trucks, and create a park above it. Mayor de Blasio created his own panel to tweak the DOT’s plan. Some of its suggestions made it into Wednesday’s announcement. 

Patrick Killackey with North Heights Neighbors Community Group said he approved of the mayor’s latest BQE plan.

“It is a great plan for where we are now: just before the handoff to the next mayor and a seeming inflection point in policy planning that is responsive to environmental limits and needs,” he wrote in a statement. “We would have been happier to have this plan seven years ago, but it sets a high bar for the next mayor to respond to this major infrastructure challenge.”