$1.7-billion BQE repairs will be most expensive in city history

The state has put off repairing the crumbling tri-level portion of the Brooklyn–Queens Expressway in a cost-cutting move that could put lives in jeopardy.
File photo by Evan Gardner

It is Brooklyn’s billion-dollar mile!

The city’s much-needed repair of the decrepit 1.5-mile Brooklyn Heights stretch of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway will be the most expensive project in Department of Transportation history at a whopping $1.7 billion, according to officials.

That’s $17,887 an inch, or $214,646 a foot, or $704,225 a meter — anyway you measure it, it’s a lot of money for a short stretch of road.

The expressway’s triple cantilever bridge — a three-tiered stretch that hangs below the fabled Promenade and carries some 140,000 vehicles per day — is nearly 70 years old and already a decade past its expected lifespan, and engineers say it must get a makeover soon before things get dangerous.

The state controls the full highway, but the city is technically responsible for maintaining the tri-level thoroughfare between Atlantic Avenue and Sands Street, and Albany is refusing to kick in any cash — even though state transportation officials had been planning to fund and perform the repairs back in 2011 before deciding it was too expensive.

Local pols and officials are still hoping to get Gov. Cuomo to shell out some clams, and the federal government says it will cover some of the moolah itself, although it won’t say how much.

For comparison, the city spent a mere $600 million fixing up the Williamsburg Bridge in the 1990s.

The full reconstruction of the antique span could take as long as five years but won’t get underway for awhile. City transportation honchos began consulting with locals this summer and plan to release a preliminary design for the overhaul by 2019.

Repairs are slated to begin by 2024 and wrap up in 2029 — although they could kick off as early as 2020 and finish by 2026 if state lawmakers pass a bill allowing the city to use the same contractor for design and construction, according to the city.

Regardless, the triple cantilever will stay in operation for the entirety of the pricey reconstruction, officials promised residents at a meeting in November — Furman Street and three lanes of traffic on the elevated roadway open in both directions will remain open at any given time.

But parts of the Promenade — a popular spot for both locals and tourists to stroll and take in the skyline — may have to close during the repairs, agency reps said.

Some locals say they’d rather just tear the whole noisy, fume-filled structure down and build a nice quiet tunnel instead, but the city claims that would cost even more money and the bridge wouldn’t last the length of time it’d take to burrow.

City workers looked inside the cantilever this summer for the first time ever since the thoroughfare was built in 1949. Inside, they found the concrete had been worn down by freezing winters, and the structure could deteriorate even more rapidly with a few more frosty seasons, transportation reps say.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill

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