In mid-2010, after years of community meetings and design forums, New York State unveiled some ambitious plans to overhaul the BQE. With price tags ranging from a few billion to many billions of dollars, the proposals included a tunnel that would run underneath the Gowanus and Fort Greene neighborhoods to the Brooklyn Navy Yards that would allow for connections to the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges while siphoning traffic away from the always-congested cut in Carroll Gardens and Brooklyn Heights. Despite the pie-in-the-sky nature of such a project, I liked the ideas behind it.
Today, though, we learn that the project will not go forward. The money simply isn’t there, and the state Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration do not consider repairs for the BQE and Gowanus Expressway to be “critical needs” any longer. “We assumed it was a necessity because they described the BQE as very deteriorated and substandard,” Brooklyn Heights Association Executive Director Judy Stanton said to The Post. “But if all they are going to do is continue Band-Aid repair work at the city’s expense, it won’t be sufficient.”
Rich Calder has more:
Blaming the national economic downturn, state and federal transportation officials said yesterday that they are abandoning plans to modernize and revamp crumbling stretches of the Brooklyn-Queens and Gowanus expressways…Cobble Hill activist Roy Sloane, who has been fighting for the BQE improvements for many years, said the decision to discontinue studying a highway makeover is a big blow to public safety.
“We were told by the state that the BQE was in danger of collapsing in the 80s,” said Sloane. “It’s also pathetic that they put all these years and effort in, spent money on all sorts of designs and are now dropping it.
However, a state DOT spokesman said recent inspections of the two highways showed they “do not require major repairs at this time.” Naomi Doerner, an urban planner who consulted the state DOT on the BQE project, said in an email that that the city and state “will continue to support efforts to ensure” the highway “remains a safe and reliable roadway in our transportation system.”
So it sounds bad that the state has decided roadways that a few years ago, could not withstand the pounding they took from daily traffic are suddenly sufficient just because the money isn’t there to replace them. That portends ill for the city’s aging transportation and transit infrastructure. But there’s a second side to this story that indicates perhaps it’s not such a bad decision after all.
Take, for instance, Cap’n Transit’s past coverage of the BQE plans. As the Cap’n astutely notes, transportation dollars are limited, and money spent to reconstruct roads in New York City will ultimately mean fewer dollars for competing transit projects. If the state spends a few billion to rebuild the BQE and tunnel through some Brooklyn neighborhoods, that’s a few billion dollars they can’t spend to build better transit service that would take cars off the road anyway.
In that sense, then, not moving forward with BQE reconstruction plans seems perfectly acceptable, if not ideal, for those who want to spend on transit to the exclusion of roads. Building, say, the Triborough RX line could have the same impact on traffic as constructing a BQE tunnel would, and the rail line would be a net gain for the environment and non-auto mobility as well.
Ultimately, if the physical infrastructure is secure, there’s no need to spend billions on a reconstruction. Spend those dollars, if they exist, on transit instead, and congestion will decrease. I’d still like to see the city move forward on plans to green the BQE trench as that would have a tangible positive impact on the Hicks St. neighborhood, but failing to build this multi-billion-dollar project that would increase road capacity isn’t a net loss for the city.