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Brooklyn-Queens Expressway

US DOT Rejection of City Request for BQE ‘Enhancement’ is Good News, Advocates Say

"It's good news because it’s a bad project,” said one activist about the feds' rejection of funds to repair the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

Kevin Duggan|

Under the city’s plan to repair the BQE, its geographic footprint would likely have to expand.

He loses some, you win some.

The feds have rejected Mayor Adams's request for nearly $1 billion to “repair and enhance” the crumbling Brooklyn-Queens Expressway — which advocates hailed as good news.

The crucial BQE segment between Atlantic Avenue and Sands Street includes a cantilevered structure that's at risk of collapse after carrying for years more than 130,000 vehicles a day. The city Department of Transportation last summer asked U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg for $800 million to maintain the structural integrity of a roadway that the Adams administration has called, "the poster child of American highway neglect.”

Neglect is exactly the problem with the city plan, according to Danny Pearlstein of Riders Alliance, who said that any plan to rebuild the highway without improving public transit is a non-starter. 

“The fear is the money would accelerate a bad plan, so there's a sense of relief initially that the bad plan is on ice — we still need a good plan,” Pearlstein said on Tuesday. 

Former Mayor Bill de Blasio intended only to shore up the roadway by waterproofing it, narrowing it, banishing overweight trucks, and making interim repairs to keep it intact while planners devised a long-term solution for the BQE between Bay Ridge and Greenpoint. 

But when Mayor Adams took over, he seized upon a pandemic-era influx of federal funding — a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” as he put it — to repair the triple cantilever and expand the highway's footprint.

A better plan would have reconnected communities, not divided them, said Pearlstein.

“We need … a good plan that puts the movement of people and goods ahead of the movement of personal vehicles, and that does it in a way that does not divide communities,” he said. 

Brooklyn Heights Association Executive Director Lara Birnback told Streetsblog six months ago that her group did not support the DOT plan. This week, she cited the DOT's failure to get local buy-in as the reason for the federal rejection (though federal authorities declined to comment).

“I do think one of the factors undoubtedly was the level of non-support from the community around this plan,” Birnback told amNY.

DOT claims the rejection won't affect the city’s timeline for repairs, and that it’s common for funding requests to get denied before ultimately getting approval, citing both projects on Jerome Avenue and Governors Island

“We are committed to delivering a long-term fix for the city-owned portion of the BQE while developing projects to reconnect communities along the highway’s entire corridor in Brooklyn," said Mona Bruno, a spokesperson for the agency. "This is only the beginning."

But Jon Orcutt, a former city transportation official, isn’t buying it. 

“It will certainly stretch out the timeline for what they want to do,” he said, adding that the plan itself is completely “off-base” because it’s just repeating the past rather than rebuilding for the future. 

“We should be developing a joint city-state approach to this and making it more 21st century. It's good news because it’s a bad project,” he said.

The DOT says it will likely use feedback from the Federal Highway Administration to reapply for the grant. But without the Biden bucks, the project is likely dead, said Brooklyn Heights Council Member Lincoln Restler.

"This is a massive, multi-billion dollar infrastructure project, so federal support will ultimately be necessary to move this forward," he said. "It's inconceivable without it."

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