The fix is in! Gridlock Sam says BQE repairs must happen before it’s too late!

The Flatbush Two Step! Major street changes coming to Barclays Center area
Photo by Tom Callan

They cantilever it alone any longer!

The city must act now to repair the past-its-prime highway that hangs below the Brooklyn Heights Promenade before it is to late, a revered transportation expert told The Brooklyn Paper this week.

“Gridlock” Sam Schwartz said concrete on the so-called triple-cantilever portion of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway — an engineering marvel that is more than 10 years past its intended lifespan — is crumbling, exposing the steel-mesh underbelly to corrosion. If that happens, lanes will have to be closed and reconstruction work accelerated.

“It’s time the city and state got to work on it,” said the former New York City traffic commissioner.

Schwartz worked with the city in 2009 on a plan to reconstruct the 1.5 mile roadway that curves around Brooklyn Heights, but the state killed the project when it pulled funding in 2011 after deciding the overhaul was too expensive.

A spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Transportation said it is in the early stages of the reconstruction process and is evaluating the structure, but added it is too early to guess the price tag and timeline. It will start reaching out to local stakeholders in the coming weeks to provide updates on the planning process, she said. She refused to say who will pay for the project, but a response to the local community board’s budget requests says approval is dependent on sufficient federal and state funds.

Schwartz estimated the gargantuan renewal will cost upwards of $500 million.

Locals involved in the last round of planning say someone must do something about the crumbling roadway that carries more than 160,000 cars each day before something terrible happens.

“It’s such an integral part of the transportation network in Brooklyn that we can’t wait for failure,” said Rob Perris, who is the district manager of Community Board 2. “We have to be proactive about planning for either its repair or replacement.”

The Brooklyn Heights Promenade and the highway beneath it is an engineering marvelseriously in need of repair, says “Gridlock” Sam Schwartz.
The Brooklyn Paper / Evan Gardner

Perris said the transportation department met with community members last time around, and people were keen to demolish the cantilever altogether and construct a tunnel from Carroll Gardens to Williamsburg.

Schwartz said it is unlikely residents will ever get their dream tunnel, though, since the cash-strapped city wouldn’t have enough money to pay for the pricey project.

Folks want to make sure the transportation department integrates Brooklyn Bridge Park — which wasn’t around when the cantilever was designed in the 1940s — in its plans and creates an access point to the water, says a leader of the Brooklyn Heights Association, who met with the transportation department in October about the project.

The Brooklyn Queens-Expressway is no Pantheon and wasn’t designed to stand the test of time, he said.

“I don’t think any structure is built with a useful life that long,” said Peter Bray, who is the executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association. “I think there’s little question that a major overhaul is due.”

Before it gets to work on the new passage that runs underneath the fabled Brooklyn Heights Promenade, the city will also have to figure out a way to reroute the thousands of cars that travel the important connector each day, which will also require extensive community input.

A rep for the transportation department said it conducts regular inspections on the cantilever and commuters are safe.

The Heights Association announced at its annual meeting last month there’s enough money in the bank to begin work on the massive revamp and it will commence talks with the city about the lengthy reconstruction process soon. The Promenade and the highway beneath, which opened in the early 1950s, was built to last 50 years and construction on its new incarnation is not likely to begin for at least a decade — making it nearly 40 years past its prime.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill
Tunnel vision: A tunnel beneath Downtown Brooklyn has been proposed in the past to replace the BQE's triple cantilever.