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Reconnecting Communities

Brooklyn Electeds Demand State Embrace Park Over BQE Trench in Williamsburg

"We're calling on Gov. Kathy Hochul to be a co-applicant alongside the City of New York for federal funding to finally deck the BQE," said Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso.

Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso wants a park, not a big traffic gash, in south Williamsburg. Photo: Dave Colon

The state must partner with the city to cap a short stretch of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in south Williamsburg — a plan known as the BQGreen — to create new parkland in a neighborhood bereft of it, elected officials on Tuesday demanded.

The largest obstacle to the proposal to deck the BQE trench bounded by South Fourth and Fifth streets, Marcy Avenue and Rodney Street is that the state is refusing to get involved, even though the city has said it would go along with the idea, according to the officials.

"We're calling on Gov. Kathy Hochul to be a co-applicant alongside the City of New York for federal funding to finally deck the BQE," said Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso.

Elected officials advocating for the park plan said the BQE trench, like highway trenches across the city, has brought more air pollution and higher asthma rates to south Williamsburg than other areas of the city and that the deck park was an environmental justice effort worth pursuing. A 2021 data brief from the city Department of Health found that for children between the ages of 5 and 17, there were 324.1 asthma-related emergency department visits per 10,000 children in Williamsburg and Bushwick, the third-highest rate in Brooklyn and eighth-highest rate in all of New York City.

"For too long, this highway has fractured our children and our community," said Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-Brooklyn). "Fortunately, we have the opportunity to change that. We are fighting to reimagine the way to reconnect neighborhoods, improve traffic and reduce toxic pollution that has hurt working class and communities of color for decades."

The BQE trench in South Williamsburg currently leaves a large gap between Marcy Avenue and Rodney Street. Photo: Dave Colon

The 3.5-acre park would include a baseball field, an indoor pool, barbecue areas and passive recreation areas. The plan would also remove South Fourth Street between Marcy and Rodney from the street grid to add it to the park.

The BQGreen park proposal with all of the proposed elements. Graphic: DLAND Studio

When the park was last brought up in 2016, supporters pegged the cost at $100 million, though Reynoso threw around a $200-million pricetag. Velázquez specifically suggested that the city and state could apply for federal money, which is flowing nicely right now.

"In years past, the excuse was that the city didn't have the money [for this], that it was a budgetary issue. Here we are with the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure bill. Both of them have funding for these type of projects. So now, it's not an issue about the budget, it's an issue about priorities," she said.

Reynoso has a long history with trying to get the deck park done.

The park idea was first pitched in 2010 by Reynoso's old boss, then-City Council Member Diana Reyna, who tried but failed to interest then-Mayor Mike Bloomberg. It was picked up by Reynoso when he succeeded Reyna, but even with a new mayoral administration and a burst of press coverage in 2016 declaring, "Look at this cool thing that could happen," the idea still couldn't take root.

But as the city tries to figure out what to do with the piece of the BQE it actually controls, a plan that includes covering up the triple cantilever in Brooklyn Heights, and the federal government funds efforts to deck over other local highways like the Cross Bronx Expressway, Tuesday's gaggle Brooklyn elected officials who also included State Sen. Kristen Gonzalez, and Council members Jennifer Gutierrez and Lincoln Restler, are hoping now is the time they can get the project off the ground.

Community District 1 ranks 48th out of 59 community districts in the city for park space as a percentage of total area, and Gutierrez noted that the district can't just create a park out of thin air, so BQGreen is an opportunity to literally build a park out of nothing.

"I don't have parcels of city owned land that we can say, 'We want to park space here,'" said Gutierrez. "This is really one of the last chances for this community to get what it deserves with respect to open space with respect to clean air."

The state DOT, for its part, suggested it would take a look at the project when it can look at details of it (which DOT officials can do, and you can to, right here).

"The New York State Department of Transportation remains committed to working with our partners at the New York City Department of Transportation to advance the environmental process for the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, which will improve connectivity and enhance the safety of the triple cantilever and the corridor," said state DOT spokesman Glenn Blain. "When the details of this proposal become available we will review them, along with New York City DOT."

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