City delays BQE construction to conduct traffic study, says roadway is ‘safe’ amid interim repairs

BQE triple cantilever
The infamous Triple Cantilever portion of the BQE.
File photo by Todd Maisel

The city has delayed its timeline on reimagining the infamous Triple Cantilever portion of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, stalling the start of construction by at least a few months.

Rather than conducting a comprehensive traffic study concurrently with a two-year environmental review, as was initially planned, the city’s Department of Transportation will now carry out the traffic study first.

The results of the study, along with feedback from an additional round of public engagement, will help the city select between two designs for the environmental review — with either two or three lanes of traffic moving in either direction on the dilapidated roadway. 

The delay will also allow the agency to incorporate changes in traffic volumes brought on by congestion pricing into the study, a DOT rep said.

Per the new timeline, the environmental review — which was scheduled to begin this fall, after being delayed for the first time earlier this year — will start in early 2024. Final design and construction has also been pushed back, from early 2027 to the later half of the same year.

Delays and deterioration on the BQE

“We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reimagine BQE Central, and we are determined to get it right,” DOT spokesperson Vin Barone said in a statement. “This revised timeline, developed with our state and federal partners, streamlines decision-making and allows for additional public engagement — maximizing our chances of getting through the federal approval process, securing critical federal funding, and delivering a safer, greener BQE.”

trucks on BQE
The city says interim repairs will ensure the roadway is safe until at least 2028. File photo by Kevin Duggan

In order for the BQE redesign project to qualify for needed federal funds, the environmental review must be finished within two years of its start date, Barone explained, and the results of the traffic study are necessary to keep the review on-schedule.

A 2020 report by a panel of experts warned that the Robert Moses-era Triple Cantilever was visibly deteriorating and in danger of becoming unsafe for large trucks by 2026, and warned that the city should take immediate, short-term action as a long-term solution was designed. In response, then-mayor Bill de Blasio narrowed the roadway from Atlantic Avenue to the Brooklyn Bridge from three lanes in each direction to two, hoping to extend the life of the stretch.

Late last year, the Adams administration unveiled three proposals for the reconstruction of the Triple Cantilever. Each included the re-widening of the roadway to three lanes — to the ire of local residents and politicians.  

“Yet another delay on the BQE project does not inspire confidence in the city’s ability to get this project done,” said local Council Member Lincoln Restler. “For a project that has been often hailed as one of, if not the, most complex infrastructure projects ever undertaken by the city DOT, it certainly makes me worried that we do not have the internal expertise to move this project forward.”

The “silver lining,” Restler said, is that the city will have to announce their decision to keep the cantilever at two lanes or expand it to three before the environmental review starts — not after. If the traffic study had occurred alongside the review, stakeholders may not have been told what the city was planning until the decision was finalized. 

Members of the project’s Community Visioning Council said they were not made aware of the delay before the Daily News first reported about it on June 8, and have been advised they will learn more on June 22. 

BQE redesign rendering
Construction on the BQE is expected to begin in late 2027. Rendering courtesy of NYC DOT

Kelly Carroll, a member of the CVC and the executive director of the Atlantic Avenue Business Improvement District, said her organization’s primary concern is safety. 

“Years ago, they said this thing had a lifespan until 2026,” she said. “How can you just push this back even further? People are very afraid — especially with the collapse of I-95 this weekend.”

The city is still on track to release their plan to revamp the dangerous Atlantic Avenue interchange near Columbia Street at a public workshop this Thursday, Carroll added. 

City plans interim repairs to keep roadway safe

To compensate for the pushed-back schedule, the city plans to begin some short-term repairs on the most-damaged sections of the Triple Cantilever this year to keep it safe and usable until 2028.

The Triple Cantilever is the most closely-monitored of any of the city’s 800 bridges, according to the DOT, and is regularly inspected by a team of engineers. Later this year, the state is expected to launch an automated weight enforcement program to crack down on overweight trucks, which experts say cause dramatically more damage to the span than regular traffic. 

“We can assure New Yorkers that BQE Central is safe, and we will continue close coordination with state, federal, and community stakeholders as we make all necessary interim repairs,” Barone said. 

Lara Birnback, a member of the CVC and the executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association, said the Adams administration’s decision to take up the gargantuan task of fixing up the BQE was “commendable.”

“However, we’ve been concerned from the start about the city’s overly ambitious timeline for securing federal funding,” Birnback told Brooklyn Paper. “It’s no secret that this is an extremely complicated, multi-stakeholder project. I remain deeply concerned that we still don’t know when the long-awaited and desperately needed repairs to the triple cantilever will begin, and urge the city to provide more information as soon as possible about what we can expect and when.”

Update 06/12/2023, 4:01 p.m.: This story has been updated with comment from Council Member Lincoln Restler.