Fix isn’t in: Gov. doesn’t include process to speed up BQE job in revised budget

State nixes BQE fixes
File photo by Evan Gardner

It’s the road repair not taken.

Gov. Cuomo did not authorize a method to streamline the city-led reconstruction of the Brooklyn–Queens Expressway’s deteriorating triple cantilever in his second go at the state budget, sending local lawmakers in Albany back to square one in their fight to allow the design-build process.

But Cuomo’s omission is not a dead end, according to the legislators in the state Senate and Assembly, who promised to push for the quicker fix as they and fellow pols craft each house’s own budget proposal over the next few weeks, before convening in mid-March to piece together a final document due on their boss’s desk by April 1.

“We are disappointed, but this isn’t the end of the road,” said Brooklyn Heights’ state Sen. Brian Kavanagh and Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon in a joint statement. “We will continue working with the governor’s office and our colleagues to ensure design-build for the BQE is authorized in the final budget that will be negotiated and enacted next month.”

The pair of pols and a contingent of concerned locals demanded in letters and at rallies that Cuomo authorize design-build because they say the process — which secures one bid for the project’s construction and design instead of two separate offers for each phase — will fast-track repairs to a portion of the crumbling three-tiered structure that runs from Atlantic Avenue to Sands Street by at least two years, and slash more than $100 million from the job’s price tag.

Local transit honchos expect that, without using design-build, work on the expressway will start in 2024 and wrap in 2029. But if the streamlined process is allowed, they say that construction could begin as early as 2021 and end in 2026 — the year officials say they will need to boot the more than 16,000 trucks that travel the triple cantilever daily from the expressway and down local streets so that decaying roadway doesn’t collapse beneath their weight.

It is not clear why Cuomo neglected to authorize the use of design-build in his original Jan. 16 budget proposal, or in the revision he released on Feb. 16.

The governor has repeatedly stated his support for the process, which the state has used in its own projects including the construction of both the new Kosciuszko Bridge and a still-in-progress span named for Cuomo’s father. Both Republicans, including Bay Ridge state Sen. Marty Golden, and Democrats, such as Kavanagh and Simon, embrace design-build, and allowing the city to use it wouldn’t cost Albany a dime, according to its advocates.

But the assemblywoman said the governor’s ongoing political feud with Mayor DeBlasio, which has included spats over the city’s subway system and local wildlife, seems a “natural inference” as to why demands for the process are hitting a roadblock.

“Whatever the relationship between the mayor and governor, this is an immediate issue,” Simon said. “It’s not about politics, and there really shouldn’t be a city-state rivalry. This is a time when we should all be working together.”

Working design-build’s authorization into the final state budget remains the best hope for its proponents, the assemblywoman said, since Albany will be consumed with negotiating the document’s finer points over the next month — leaving lawmakers little time to propose separate legislation — and because the city faces the tight deadline of later this spring to release its requests for proposal for the expressway’s rehabilitation.

“The budget sucks all the air out of the room, but it arguably presents an opportunity to get some things done,” Simon said. “I’ll continue to converse with the leadership, and I will be talking with my colleagues to strategize about our next steps.”

The last time Cuomo included design-build in his budget was in 2013 — during Mayor Bloomberg’s last months in office — when he allowed local municipalities, including New York City, to use the process for large-scale capital construction projects. But that proposal never made it through Albany’s two houses, according to a rep.

“The governor put it in his executive budget in 2013 but the legislature rejected it,” said Cuomo’s spokesman, who wouldn’t comment on who squashed it, or how it was blocked.

Reps for Golden, who in December told the New York Post that he plans to reintroduce legislation authorizing design-build after his first bill to allow the process never made it to the governor’s desk, did not return a request for comment by press time.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.