Pols on BQE repairs: Our way is the highway!

Praise Jehovah? Squadron ‘no housing’ plan appears to move forward
The Brooklyn Paper / Michael Lipkin

A state plan that could rip out a portion of historic Brooklyn Heights to repair the aging Brooklyn-Queens Expressway is nine miles of bad road, local pols said this week.

One week after our exclusive report revealed the possibility of widespread condemnations of property in the north end of the neighborhood, elected officials rallied against the use of eminent domain.

“It’s not happening,” declared state Sen. Daniel Squadron (D–Brooklyn Heights). “The BQE reconstruction is going to inconvenience people — but we are not going to alienate parks.”

One scenario of the $300-million plan to reconstruct the triple-cantilever portion of the BQE from Atlantic Avenue to Sands Street, sees the roadway widened to meet state and federal safety specifications — and to do so, require the taking of historic homes near Willow and Middagh streets in Brooklyn Heights.

“This can’t and must not be on the table,” Squadron said.

Transportation officials insisted that they are simply performing a design exercise to examine all possible ways to shore up and modernize the troubled highway. And there’s plenty of time: a final plan isn’t due until 2015, and work won’t begin until 2020.

Other scenarios include boring a 1.6-mile tunnel from Cobble Hill to Fort Greene, or simply working within the existing infrastructure and adding new traffic lanes, and an expanding the troubled roadway’s right-of-way.

But even Peter King, project manager for the agency, did not express Squadron’s level of confidence. “It would be premature to rule out anything, and a violation of process to start discounting things,” he said.

Assemblywoman Joan Millman (D–Carroll Gardens) joined her fellow officeholders’ “our way or the highway” refrain — an irony, considering that local politicians are part of a stakeholders group that had been briefed on the eminent domain threat a month ago, yet remained silent until our report.

“I strongly oppose any realignment scenario that would result in the demolition or seizure of private property,” she said. “I am committed to ensuring that the Brooklyn–Queens Expressway is safely restored without resorting to the eminent domain seizure of homes or businesses.”

It’s not uncommon for the state to seize propery for public works projects. When the BQE was first constructed in 1954, historic Brooklyn Heights homes on Columbia Heights were razed to make way for progress.

The next stakeholders meeting will be tonight at St. Francis College (180 Remsen St. between Court and Clinton streets in Brooklyn Heights) at 6:30 pm. Details of the project can be found by visiting the state transportation Web site at www.nysdot.gov/bqedowntownbrooklyn