In the greatest reunification project since East and West Germany, residents of Carroll Gardens and the Columbia Waterfront District want to reconnect neighborhoods that were split by a trench portion of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in the 1950s — but do so without supporting Mayor Bloomberg’s vision of high rises on decks over the sunken highway.
Instead of the mayor’s call for erecting housing on decks atop the highway, which cuts a north-south chasm through the two South Brooklyn neighborhoods, locals want the city to build a park.
“Solutions like planted buffers, overhanging walkways and pedestrian crossing bridges, can reduce noise and pollution and reconnect neighborhoods on both sides of the BQE,” Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D–Gowanus) told The Brooklyn Paper after last Thursday’s meeting of the Columbia Waterfront Neighborhood Association. She secured $300,000 in taxpayer money for a study that would look for ways to make the highway no longer a barrier between the neightborhoods.
But the city Economic Development Corporation will actually administer the study, so the mayor’s call for nine new blocks of housing on a platform over the highway is certainly not dead yet.
Looming in the background of an infrastructure project that would cost hundreds of millions — if not billions — of dollars, is the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression. Then, the government tried to stimulate the economy with public works projects, but the current study could just as easily become the nail in the coffin for fully or partially covering the trench if authorities decide they will not spend big bucks on public projects.
The last time officials studied a lid over the ditch, in the 1980s, residents erupted against it, claiming that people living near the tunnel would be sucking on car exhaust.
The memory of that proposal is still fresh for people who say that housing above the BQE is an even worse idea.
“I want to see the communities joined,” said Celia Cacace, who remembers the area before Robert Moses cleaved the neighborhood with his highway. “But to put housing above it [the trench] would be a horrendous solution.”
Some locals call for a simpler project, like building bridges on streets cut off by the expressway, which has only four road crossings in the 13-block stretch between Congress and Rapelye streets. The new bridges would be reserved for bikes and pedestrians, not drivers.
“That would be a low-budget project and it could be rapidly implemented,” said Roy Sloane, a member of the Cobble Hill Association. “It would connect the communities and make it easier for people from Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens to shop on Columbia Street and make it easier for people from that side to get to the subways.”