State signals support for faster BQE fix: Design-build process ‘essential’ to city-led job, Gov. says

Make up before it breaks up: Gov. must forget feud with mayor, let city fix BQE faster, locals say
Community News Group / Julianne Cuba

Now it’s getting somewhere!

The streamlined design-build process is integral to the city’s repairs to a crumbling portion of the Brooklyn–Queens Expressway, according to Gov. Cuomo, who this week signaled his support for the process that would fast-track the fix — months after local pols and residents began demanding he authorize the procedure in his budget so city transit honchos aren’t forced to send the thousands of big-rigs that travel the road daily down local streets instead.

“The Brooklyn–Queens Expressway is a very big construction project. The city planning to move traffic throughout the construction period is by definition problematic,” Cuomo said on Tuesday during an unrelated conference call with reporters about the next day’s snowstorm. “Downtown Brooklyn is already congested, so design-build for the BQE I think is essential. Even with design-build it’s going to be a real problem in terms of traffic.”

The governor has long maintained his general support for the process that state law requires his authorization for local governments to use, which would request one bid for the expressway makeover’s design and construction instead of hiring unique contractors for each phase. He green-lit it for several state-run projects, including the construction of the recently built Kosciuszko Bridge and a new span that will bear the Cuomo name.

But he’s repeatedly left advocates hanging when asked specifically whether he’ll allow the Department of Transportation to use design-build in its reconstruction of the expressway’s decaying triple cantilever. And Cuomo failed to authorize the procedure in both his first and revised drafts of the state budget, so his statement indicates he is moving in the right direction as his April 1 deadline to sign-off on a final budget looms, according to a Brooklyn Heights lawmaker in favor of the process.

“What’s different is that this is more direct, and it’s about doing it in the context of the city and some of its priority projects,” said Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon. “The governor is signaling that he will fight for this.”

Before the call on which Cuomo recognized how design-build could help the expressway’s repair, his staffer Alphonso David penned a Feb. 25 letter to Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D–Manhattan) that urged city officials to seek approval for the process in specific cases — including the road’s rehab and other projects such as closing the jails on Rikers Island and replacing them with new facilities throughout the five boroughs, and making much-needed renovations to the city’s public-housing complexes, according to the New York Daily News, which first reported on Cuomo’s support.

But design-build advocates said they aren’t taking a victory lap until the governor officially approves a final budget that authorizes using the procedure to fix the expressway, a permission that will cut about $113 million from the job’s current $1.9-billion price tag, and accelerate the reconstruction of the 1.5-mile stretch of the road between Atlantic Avenue and Sands Street by at least two years, supporters say.

“Of course I’m worried,” Simon said. “I’m not going to rest until it’s done.”

Members of both houses in Albany are now writing each chamber’s own budget, which are due by the end of next week and together will be used to create the final version that must be approved by early April, according to Simon and another Brooklyn Heights state pol, who in a joint statement applauded Cuomo and pledged not to give up their fight for design-build as the budget-approval process continues.

“We thank Gov. Cuomo for his essential support for design-build for the BQE, and we look forward to working with him and with our colleagues in the Senate and the Assembly to ensure that legislation authorizing design-build for this project is enacted later this month in the final budget,” said state Sen. Brian Kavanagh.

The governor’s public support for the streamlined process followed a Feb. 27 meeting where Transportation Department bigwigs presented a draft of their expressway-repair plan, which locals have until March 12 to submit comment on by e-mail or snail mail.

Check out the city’s proposed scope of work for the Brooklyn–Queens Expressway repair at www.bqe-i278.com/en. E-mail feedback to info@bqe-i278.com, or mail it to BQE Project Team, 605 3rd Avenue, 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10158. All comments due by March 12.

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