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BQE Reconstruction Won't Start for at Least 5 Years, DOT Says

 Reconstruction of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway's triple-cantilevered section won't start until at least 2021, according to the Department of Transportation.
Reconstruction of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway's triple-cantilevered section won't start until at least 2021, according to the Department of Transportation.
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NYC Department of Transportation

BROOKLYN HEIGHTS —  The long-overdue restoration of the decaying Brooklyn-Queens Expressway won’t start for another five or six years, according to the city’s Department of Transportation

The $1.7 billion reconstruction of the 70-year-old highway is slated to begin by 2021 or 2022 and be completed by 2025 or 2026, according to the DOT.

The city agency presented the preliminary reconstruction timeline to elected officials and neighborhood associations at a closed meeting Wednesday night in DUMBO. 

The DOT will release a request for proposals for the highway’s redesign in May, according to the presentation. A preliminary design is slated to be completed by 2019. 

Construction will begin two or three years later and will take approximately five years to complete, according to the presentation.

The condition of the crumbling highway, which was built in the 1940s, has been a longstanding concern within neighboring communities.

Reconstruction plans for the highway’s cantilevered section, the three-tiered section that runs from Atlantic Avenue to the Brooklyn Bridge in Brooklyn Heights, began about a decade ago but plans were stalled due to lack of funding, according to traffic planner Sam Schwartz, who’s known as “Gridlock Sam.”

Now the highway is in need of major repairs for issues like loose concrete, rusted support bars, potholes and loud vibrations caused by passing vehicles. 

“Concrete has already spalled, meaning that it has come loose,” Schwartz said.

“It is separating from the reinforcing bars, which give some flexibility to the deck, and water is getting in, so the deck is being weakened.”

Schwartz called the need for repairs “quite serious.”

“It really needs attention otherwise we might have some shutdowns or some accidents,” he said.

The DOT said it is also looking at redesigning the highway’s lanes and ramps, which are narrow and lack shoulders.

Improvements will include new lane design, fewer joints on the roadway, a new highway deck, new ramps, improved drainage and new lighting, according to the DOT.

With reconstruction comes the need to reroute more than 140,000 daily drivers, according to DOT estimates, which could impact local communities.

A big concern for residents is seeing trucks, which account for up to 17 percent of the highway’s total traffic at peak hours, on local streets, according to the DOT.

"There is no other truck route through Brooklyn,” Schwartz said.

“Those trucks could end up on Brooklyn Heights streets and that’s a real worry. It’s not terribly safe for trucks to be on those streets in large numbers, but they’re our lifeline.”

Aside from noise pollution and construction debris, members of local neighborhood associations also cite traffic as the main concern.

“Any major work on the highway will necessitate lane closures,” said Peter Bray, executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association.

“And depending upon the extent of the work that needs to be performed, if they need to construct the cantilever altogether, it means traffic will need to be diverted to another structure, so there will be traffic impacts.” 

Doreen Gallo, executive director of the DUMBO Neighborhood Alliance, said traffic is also a concern for residents in neighboring areas.

“For DUMBO, it’s about people having access to the highway and not having traffic backup through the neighborhood,” Gallo said.

The DOT has ruled out the Belt Parkway as a feasible alternative for BQE traffic due to its low carrying capacity and the high cost of diverting traffic through the parkway.

The agency has been studying the possibility of diverting traffic through an underground tunnel, but Gallo said the DOT seemed to rule out the idea at Wednesday’s meeting.

The DOT’s presentation lists several obstacles to a tunnel.

A tunnel reroute would also only allow for two lanes of traffic in each direction, which would require the existing BQE structure to remain in place to accommodate the remainder of the traffic.

Lastly, a tunnel would cost at least several billion dollars, which the DOT calls “prohibitively expensive.”