De Blasio promises BQE cantilever fix soon, bypasses larger highway revamp for next mayor

The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway’s triple-cantilever section in Brooklyn Heights.
File photo by Todd Maisel

Mayor Bill de Blasio said he will unveil a plan to fix the crumbling Brooklyn-Queens Expressway’s triple-cantilever on the Brooklyn waterfront in the coming weeks, but added that a larger long-term transformation of the beleaguered highway corridor will be up to his successor.

“Job one is to protect the triple-cantilever and protect the viability of the BQE for the years ahead,” de Blasio said at his daily press briefing on June 8 in response to a question from Brooklyn Paper’s sister publication amNewYork Metro. “I also want us to leave a clear game plan for the next administration looking at the bigger picture. We’ll have ideas that we think are the most viable, but we also might present multiple options so that we give the next administration those choices.”

The mayor declined to give more specifics of his plan to shore up the dangerously-decaying tiered section of the highway that wraps around Brooklyn Heights with the pedestrian promenade on top, saying he is still ironing out the nuts and bolts, despite previously promising more details by May.

“We’re a little bit behind,” he said. “I had a meeting with [Department of Transportation] Commissioner [Hank] Gutman and members of our team. Initial plan we went through, we agreed we wanted to add some elements to it, that’s being worked on now. I think we’ll be able to say something more, in the next hopefully week or two — but it’s very much on the front burner.”

The city controls the triple-cantilever section between Atlantic Avenue and Sands Street (the rest is under state jurisdiction), which could become unsafe to drive on as soon as 2026, according to an “expert panel” appointed by de Blasio to study fixes.

De Blasio convened the brain trust after the city’s initial 2018 proposal to build a six-lane replacement highway atop the beloved promenade during repairs was widely panned by local neighborhood civic groups.

The January 2020 report concluded that much of the damage comes from illegally-overweight trucks barreling down the 65-year-old roadway, but any progress on the massive infrastructure project stalled for a year after the study’s release as the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the city.

DOT has been doing some smaller-scale repair work to mend parts the triple-cantilever, such as a fix to the wall at Hicks Street near Poplar Street.

bill by Manhattan state Sen. Brian Kavanagh to install so-called weigh-in-motion sensors on the highway to catch the heavy haulers just passed the state Senate on June 3, but still has to go through the Assembly before legislative session wraps up on June 10.

Area advocates and politicians have long called on officials to think bigger and beyond the triple-cantilever in an effort to transform the Robert Moses-era highway that tears through the borough from the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge in Bay Ridge to the Kosciuszko Bridge in Greenpoint, which would involve the city collaborating with its state and federal counterparts.

Alternative proposals over the years include tearing down the highway and replacing it with a linear park, or boring a pricey tunnel from Gowanus to Williamsburg.

One Brooklyn Heights civic leader urged de Blasio to act fast, especially as President Joe Biden is negotiating a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill in Washington.

“The Mayor must respond with urgency to prioritize the safety of the cantilever while at the same time start laying the foundations for an inclusive planning process for a transformed BQE,” said Brooklyn Heights Association Executive Director Lara Birnback. “Communities up and down the BQE corridor have a vision and ideas for how to right the wrongs of the BQE that will better our environment and our neighborhoods. With a federal government finally prioritizing infrastructure and climate change, we don’t have any time to waste.”

This story first appeared on AMNY.com.