Council-commissioned report: tear down BQE for $11 billion tunnel

BQE tunnel
The tunnel would be for through-traffic, while the old route would be converted into a ground-level local roadway.
Courtesy of Corey Johnson’s office

An engineering firm contracted by City Council is proposing a scheme to demolish the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway — and replace it with a $11 billion tunnel!

The report by engineering and design firm Arup proposes a three-mile, four-lane bypass tunnel that would stretch from the Prospect Expressway to Bedford Avenue, allowing the city and state to turn much of the BQE through brownstone Brooklyn into a ground-level boulevard complete with bus and bike lanes, parks, and other public facilities.

The downside? Construction would take between seven-10 years to complete — at least two years beyond the 2025 crisis point when the BQE’s triple-cantilever is expected to become unsafe — and will cost anywhere from $5-11 billion, according to Arup’s estimates.

The plans call for filling in the trench where the highway runs through Cobble Hill, tearing down the crumbling triple-cantilever between Atlantic Avenue and Sands Street, and removing the Park Avenue viaduct.

The tunnel would primarily service through-traffic, while planners would encourage Manhattan-bound drivers from the north to take the Williamsburg Bridge, and those from the south to go into the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel.

New York City Council, spearheaded by Council Speaker and mayoral candidate Corey Johnson (D–Manhattan), tasked Arup in September with studying the BQE repairs, a monumental task, which has challenged experts with creating a strategy to renovate the 66-year-old freeway — without creating a traffic nightmare. 

The city’s Department of Transportation proposed to spend between $3.2 and $4 billion on their two controversial ideas from 2018 to either fix the roadway or build a temporary six-lane highway on top of the beloved Brooklyn Heights promenade, which residents quickly panned.

One of the key alternatives that Arup highlights are a decked roadway at Furman Street, along with replacing the triple-cantilever with an expansion of Brooklyn Bridge Park, similarly to the proposals by international architecture firm Bjarke Ingels Group and Mark Baker.

Locals have been calling for government officials to build a tunnel for years, but those plans faltered under the steep costs.

The new recommendations come almost a month after Mayor Bill de Blasio’s expert panel released their report, proposing the city reduce the six-lane highway to four lanes and up enforcement on oversize trucks.

Hizzoner quickly formed a truck enforcement task force within the Police Department, but was skeptical of narrowing the road. 

That report also warned that the triple-cantilever section could become unsafe within five years if officials don’t take measures to reduce current traffic volumes.

Lawmakers are going to analyze the report and hear testimony at a Tuesday Council meeting on the roadway, which is likely to include proposals by DOT and the NYPD on how to make the highway safer and preserve its structural integrity.