Triple threat

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

State transportation planners promised this week that the long-overdue reconstruction of the Brooklyn–Queens Expressway between Atlantic Avenue and the Brooklyn Bridge will not affect the Brooklyn Bridge Park development — ignoring contrary conclusions made by a panel of national engineering experts.

As such, the promise to repair the roadway without hindering construction of the park below did little to calm area residents, who remain convinced that the timing of the two projects, plus the experts’ findings, make conflict inevitable.

“The question remains: how much of ‘Brooklyn Bridge Park’ is going to be co-opted for construction access to support rebuilding the BQE,” asked Community Board 2 member and Boerum Hill resident Bill Harris. “I’m not getting any clear answers, and I think the ‘Brooklyn Bridge Park’ planners are in denial.”

Harris and others express doubt because of a just-revealed 2007 report by the Federal Highway Admininstration that envisioned four possible scenarios for undertaking the much-needed repairs of the 60-year-old segment under the Brooklyn Heights Promenade — a stretch that is called the “triple cantilever” because of its unique tri-level design.

All four proposals would affect the park to varying degrees, and all would detour traffic on to Furman Street, the dour speedway on the eastern edge of Brooklyn Bridge Park that planners see as crucial to the success of the proposed open space. Furman Street has long been seen as a key access point to and along the park.

The report concludes that state transportation officials should “consider using the park areas for staging/access” and “obtain a construction easement through the Brooklyn Bridge Park.”

But this week, state transportation representatives suggested that park advocates ignore the engineers’ conclusions.

“There are going to be challenges, but there’s no reason why the redevelopment of the highway and the development of the park can’t complement each other,” Peter King, the project director for the state Department of Transportation, told Community Board 2 on Tuesday night.

“We [are looking for ways] that the existence of the highway is not necessarily a barrier, but in some respects is almost a membrane through which members of the community can pass safely and in an unintimidating way” to the park.

That said, King admitted that state engineers don’t know how they’re going to do it.

Repairing the triple cantilever is an engineering challenge, given that 160,000 vehicles use the highway every day and such volumes of traffic cannot simply be re-routed through the narrow streets of Brooklyn Heights.

Work would not begin until 2018 at the earliest, though a plan is expected to be in place by 2015.

Meanwhile, the Brooklyn Bridge Park development project’s proposed greenspace — though long delayed and not yet under construction — is supposed to be done by 2012.

The key is Furman Street, which planners have envisioned becoming a tree-lined trolley or shuttle bus route along the edge of the park.

Such a transformation cannot happen if traffic from the BQE is re-routed there during repairs to the triple cantilever — which is why state officials have been promising to keep the traffic away from Brooklyn Bridge Park.

The BQE work itself involves expanding lanes, raising truck clearances and shoring up the aging 1-1/2-mile triple cantilevered span. Engineers are evaluating construction options that spare the proposed park, King said.

“It’s a constrained situation, and I think the constraints will drive [the approach to] this project,” King said. “We realize Brooklyn Bridge Park is going forward. But it wouldn’t be prudent or productive to speculate [on how the two projects will coexist].”

Several residents pointed out that speculation would actually be quite prudent right now, given that the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation so recently lost a turf battle with another transportation agency over a piece of land that both sides needed.

Earlier this summer, the BBPDC tore down a historic building underneath the Brooklyn Bridge and announced plans for a grand public plaza, greenmarket and ice-skating rink. Within days, however, the city Department of Transportation grabbed the land, citing a need to repair the Brooklyn Bridge.

BBPDC President Regina Myer says she is committed to making sure that the BQE and Brooklyn Bridge Park construction projects coexist.

“We have a great dialogue,” she said at a Community Board 2 meeting last week. “Is anything final? No. But they have another five years of planning. Their timetable gives us time to start on our project right away.”

Myer said little else. When asked why the public should believe that the park will be untouched during the highway reconstruction project, BBPDC spokesman Warner Johnston only scoffed at the question.

“By 2015, our park will be long finished!” he said.

Longtime park advocate and Cobble Hill Association member Roy Sloane was less confident, having worked on Brooklyn Bridge Park since its earliest planning phase more than 20 years ago.

“I’m concerned because there are no details about what would be involved in the actual reconstruction,” he said.