Pump the gas! Officials demand legislation to accelerate BQE repairs

No ‘Big Dig’: Planners likely to take BQE tunnel option off the table
The Brooklyn Paper / Evan Gardner

Call it a fury road.

State lawmakers must pass legislation to speed up the reconstruction of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway by three years and save the city $300 million before the legislature lets out for summer in June, officials demanded at a press conference in front of the crumbling roadway on June 2.

A bill in the state Assembly would authorize New York City to use a streamlined process called “design build” to speed up the project by combining the bidding for design and construction, as opposed to the current practice of giving contracts to separate firms for each phase. And there’s no time like the present to do so, according to local pols.

“It’s time for the state to authorize design build in order to streamline the City’s construction process and save both time and money to rebuild the BQE triple-cantilever and other critical infrastructure projects,” said Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon (D–Cobble Hill).

The city is paying $1.9 billion to fix the 1.5-mile stretch of the decrepit expressway between Atlantic Avenue and Sands Street, and kicked off the project with a series of public meetings last summer. In those sessions, the transportation department’s commissioner said design build would accelerate the revamp of the 70-year-old span, which is scheduled to begin in 2024 and end in 2029, but could start as early as 2021 and finish by 2026 if the process is approved.

The approach is cheered for its ability to speed up and shave money from big projects. And if there are any mistakes, there is one person to complain to, instead of separate contractors.

Opponents of design build argue that the process could make it easier for private contractors to cut corners in pursuit of profits, and claim the approach limits a client’s involvement in the design phase and encourages contractors to operate outside their areas of expertise.

The state has authorized design build for several of its own projects, including the new Kosciuszko Bridge, but never for a city-led job. And the expressway revamp is such a massive project that no entity would dare to try it without streamlining the process, according to the transportation department head.

“The BQE is overdue for rehab — critical and complex work that no one in the world would take on without design build,” said commissioner Polly Trottenberg.

The bill is sponsored by state Sen. Marty Golden (R–Bay Ridge) and would grant New York City the right to use design build on seven other projects across the city, in addition to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

But the clock is ticking to approve it, as the legislature lets out on June 21.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill