“We’ve seen this one too many times,” was a phrase repeated at a city-run community meeting on how to fix the BQE’s deteriorating triple cantilever the evening of Oct. 13, with some Brooklyn locals more than skeptical they would see any action on the highway in coming years despite the city’s recent promises.
“It’s not new,” Joralemon Street resident of 38 years Andrew Reynolds said of the engagement process. “It’s just a way to postpone anything from actually being done…I expect nothing. It’s the City of New York.”
He said after years of inaction on structural issues, the highway wasn’t just a “monstrosity” and an “eyesore,” but “it’s a danger and it probably will fall down.” The best solution, Reynolds thinks, is Dumbo-based architecture firm Bjarke Ingels Group’s proposal for a ground-level roadway that would run through Brooklyn Bridge Park and be covered by grassy hills. But, he added, “bureaucrats will have 100 reasons why it can’t be done.”
However, Department of Transportation chief strategy officer Julie Bero acknowledged at the “community-visioning” meeting that the community had been let down in the past, but said Mayor Eric Adams’ administration was determined to have a concept ready by spring of 2023 and construction started on that concept by mid-2026. The administration was already taking steps to fix immediate issues, she added.
The idea of burying a ground-level road and creating usable space above it seemed popular at the meeting, but with no public question and answer session, it was hard to judge consensus in the room of around 50 people gathered at New York City College of Technology in Downtown Brooklyn.
The meeting was the first in a series organized as part of Mayor Eric Adam’s recently announced plan to capitalize on federal money and accelerate fixes for the beleaguered highway. Thursday’s meeting focused on the city-run section of the BQE between Atlantic Avenue and Sand Street.
Those in attendance were invited to share their concerns, questions and visions by writing them on postcards or notes and sticking them to the range of informational boards that described the highway’s history, construction issues, past plans and future options. Despite there being no group question and answer forum, residents could talk one-on-one with the roughly 20 city staff in attendance.
Cindy McLaughlin, a member of Brooklyn Heights Association, thought it was great the administration wasn’t “kicking the can down the road,” as others had done, and was instead using the “once in a century opportunity to get really visionary solutions funded.”
“I think that the opportunity here is that our grandchildren will not be standing here having this conversation in 70 years. That means an invisible highway: it should be capped in, it should be buried, it should be platformed over — there should not be an open air highway running through the waterfront in Brooklyn, and that goes for central and also north and south.”
McLaughlin said an invisible solution could transform the area from an open highway into productive land that could be used for housing, public transit, bike lanes, park space or community facilities, “all the things that we actually need in the city, rather than an open air highway that’s killing us.”
For Jan Hyde, who has resided on Livingston Street since 1966, the BQE needs a “modal” solution: Moving trucks to an underground tunnel between Sand Street and the Gowanus Expressway and keeping a two-lane highway above for cars. “Whatever the cost of the tunneling is, it’s going to pay itself back,” he said.
One meeting-goer shared a possibly more controversial view, saying if equity is a key goal in the BQE repairs, Brooklyn Heights doesn’t need more park space and the city’s limited funds would be better spent in other areas. The person added that creating an underground highway wouldn’t get rid of congestion and pollution issues, it would just hide them. The attendee (who asked not to be named) said reducing truck traffic should be a key priority, along with strengthening the roadway and increasing the use of electric vehicles.
Adams’ new plan, consisting of two parts, known as BQE Central (which covers the area governed by the city) and BQE North and South (the area managed by the state), will tap national funding available thanks to the recently passed Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
The BQE Central section project faces a tighter timeline, as the city wants to submit an environmental review by next spring to qualify for federal funding, DOT’s Bero said at the meeting. She said the city would be holding two more public meetings on the plans before the review was submitted, one in December and one in February, where concepts for the problematic section of the roadway would be presented.
DOT’s existing Triple Cantilever Joint Venture, which includes AECOM USA Inc. and Bjarke Ingels Group, will continue. The city will also be working with grassroots groups through its community vision council, whose members were announced this week, and through a community partnership program, which is still open for applications.
Local Councilmember Lincoln Restler told Brownstoner at the meeting that while it is good the administration is prioritizing the failing triple cantilever, it is concerning residents hadn’t heard anything about what the city had in mind.
“If this was intended to be a forum for soliciting community feedback, then I’m a little bit confused, because there wasn’t much of an opportunity for that at all tonight,” Restler said of the meeting. He added DOT had to “get to work immediately” to solicit the insight and experience of locals in order to inform a path forward.
“I think that my neighbors are appreciative that there is focus and an appetite to address the triple cantilever, but this community will not accept a status quo repair of a Robert Moses relic. We need a bold 21st century climate-oriented solution,” he said.
“We heard nothing from DOT about where this is headed, so we need to start having real conversations real fast if DOT is expecting to secure any sort of buy-in from our community.”
This story first appeared on Brownstoner.