SUNSET PARK — Road crews are gearing up for the next round of construction on the Gowanus Expressway in Sunset Park, the latest phase in a $500 million project that could have drivers gnashing their teeth yet again.
Starting this spring, workers will begin repairing steel and replacing about 50,000 square feet of concrete deck pavement on the elevated expressway near the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, a project that will cost about $25 to 30 million in state and federal funds, state Department of Transportation public affairs director Adam Levine said.
"Prior to [the projects], repairs had been made on an as-needed basis, and the Gowanus had seen a need for those kinds of repairs for many years," he explained. The work on this project officially started in 2005, but crews have been hard at work since at least as the 1980s in a struggle to maintain Brooklyn's only interstate highway.
"The Gowanus sees a lot of traffic, especially truck traffic, and it takes a pounding," Levine said.
The work will take place even as construction crews renovate the southern end of the six-lane thoroughfare near the Shore Parkway interchange, bookending the 6.1-mile Gowanus Expressway in orange cones, construction vehicles and traffic congestion.
Both projects are expected to be completed by 2016 and extend the life of the roadway by 15 to 20 years, Levine said.
"When has the Gowanus not been under construction? Certainly not since I moved here, and I've been here for more than 30 years," said Jo Anne Simon, former chairwoman of the Gowanus Community Stakeholder Group and Democratic District Leader for New York's 52nd Assembly District.
"It's been constant."
More than 200,000 vehicles a day travel the Gowanus Expressway, and repair contracts have been issued every year since 1985.
In the early 2000s, city, state and transportation officials began exploring a proposal to convert a 1.5- to 2-mile section of the Gowanus in Sunset Park into a tunnel, a project that would have cost at least $12 billion and taken about eight years to complete, said Michael Cairl, former chairman of the Gowanus Community Stakeholder Group and president of the Park Slope Civic Council. The project enjoyed strong support from Brooklyn residents and community leaders, but state and federal transportation officials abandoned the plan last November, citing a lack of funds due to the economic downturn.
"It's not cheap to do in the short run, but in the long run, tunnels last much longer and there's much less rehabilitation involved," Simon argued.
"It's more expensive over the long haul to keep reconstructing. But the state is going ahead with this farkakte renovation."
The tunnel, Simon and Cairl added, would improve the neighborhood's air quality and overall ambience. The expressway, three lanes in each direction, stands two stories above Third Avenue in Sunset Park, separating residents from the waterfront and trapping one Brooklyn's busiest thoroughfares in shadow, dust and noise.
"Third Avenue attracts a lot of noxious uses — all the seedy stuff that hides under the Gowanus," said Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of the United Puerto Rican Association, which took part in an air-quality survey of neighborhoods near the Gowanus Expressway in 2010.
That survey, led by the Health and Environmental Action Network and the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, found that during peak traffic hours, the number of air pollutants in Sunset Park near the expressway were nearly double the Environmental Protection Agency's recommended limit.
Hence, the tunnel, Cairl said, "is not just a road-building project — it could be justified for the land-use benefits, for the environmental benefit."
Since November, however, the project has been effectively "dead," he acknolwedged, a sentiment echoed by Simon and Yeampierre.
Nevertheless, Cairl continued, "there is an opportunity to revive it because, number one, even the state would acknowledge that the current highway has to be replaced at some point. Secondly, it would be a huge job creator as well as bringing about benefits to land use and air quality."
But until that happens, and if that happens, he said, the elevated Gowanus Expressway "is what we have."