State passes budget allowing design-build in city’s BQE fix

State nixes BQE fixes
File photo by Evan Gardner

It’s full speed ahead!

State pols late on Friday passed their much-anticipated budget with a provision authorizing use of the streamlined design-build process in the city-led reconstruction of the derelict Brooklyn–Queens Expressway — a green light that should evoke cheers from locals and motorists across the five boroughs, according to an advocate.

“This is a major victory for Brooklynites, Staten Islanders, and anyone who drives on the BQE,” said Brooklyn Heights state Sen. Brian Kavanagh, who pushed for authorization of design-build in Albany. “It’s an example of government stepping up to protect New Yorkers, and to keep our communities safe.”

The okay gives the local Department of Transportation permission to solicit one bid for the design and construction phases of its project to repair a three-tiered, 1.5-mile stretch of the expressway from Atlantic Avenue to Sands Street, instead of soliciting separate offers for each part of the fix.

Consolidating the phases will shave about $100 million from the repair’s total $1.9-billion price tag, according to design-build proponents, who claim the process will also cut at least two years from the job’s timeline, allowing it to end before 2026, the year when transit experts warned they would have to boot the thousands of trucks that travel the decaying triple cantilever daily down local streets in order to prevent its collapse.

And with design-build authorization now in the budget, Brooklyn Heights residents and their neighbors will be spared from the massive headache that heavy big-rig traffic on side streets would cause, according to Kavanagh, who earlier this year rallied to demand the process with Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon (D–Brooklyn Heights) and other advocates.

“We must do everything we can to ensure that while we’re rebuilding the BQE, we aren’t destroying our neighborhoods in the process,” he said. “Design-build ensures trucks are kept off local roads and stay on highways, where they belong.”

In January, Gov. Cuomo unveiled his initial draft of the fiscal plan without including design-build for the expressway repair, and his second attempt at the budget released in February also lacked the authorization.

But later that month, the governor signaled his support for the process in a letter penned to local officials, going on to call design-build “essential” to the looming infrastructure fix.

A trio of Albany lawmakers including state Senators Marty Golden (R–Bay Ridge) and Simcha Felder (D–Midwood) then tried to tie authorization of the streamlined procedure with putting armed cops in every school across the city, worrying some of their colleagues who feared the package deal would present an impassable roadblock.

That proposal, however, did not make the budget now awaiting Cuomo’s signature, which green-lights design-build without any inextricable conditions, but mandates the city get the state Transportation Department’s approval at three points throughout the process — a fairly customary requirement, according to a rep for Kavanagh.

Local transit officials expect to release their draft environmental-impact statement on the expressway rehabilitation this summer, prior to conducting additional public hearings in order to finalize the statement by early next year. And if all goes according to plan, repair work could now begin as early as 2021 with the authorization of design-build, according to transportation leaders.

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