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Tunnel Likely Won't Replace 'Crappy' BQE in Brooklyn Heights, City Says

 The Department of Transportation held the first of several public meetings to discuss reconstruction of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway's triple-cantilevered section Wednesday.
The Department of Transportation held the first of several public meetings to discuss reconstruction of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway's triple-cantilevered section Wednesday.
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NYC Department of Transportation

BROOKLYN HEIGHTS — The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway is a "horrible, crappy roadway," but  it probably won’t be replaced with a tunnel in Brooklyn Heights anytime soon, the head of the Department of Transportation told locals this week.

Residents have long called on the DOT to get rid of the deteriorating highway altogether and replace it with a subterranean tunnel, but the agency said at the first of several public meetings Wednesday to discuss the BQE's reconstruction that the alternative would be too costly and insufficient to cope with current traffic levels.

“It’s a horrible, crappy roadway. I wish it had never been built, I wish we’d never inherited it frankly, and I wish the state when they started the project had stuck with it," DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said. "I have wonderful wishes, but unfortunately my wishes are not going to come true at this point.”

Trottenberg said Brooklyn Heights would never go back to being what it was before polarizing urban planner Robert Moses "got to it" and that the DOT was open to exploring other structures instead of reconstructing the highway.

"We don’t love this thing and we’re not dying to keep it, but it’s not that easy," she said.

The DOT is looking to reconstruct the highway’s triple cantilevered section, the three-tiered stretch that runs from Atlantic Avenue to the Brooklyn Bridge in Brooklyn Heights.

Trottenberg said a tunnel would not be possible as an alternative unless “remarkable advancements in engineering” were made in the next few years.

A tunnel reroute would only allow for two lanes of traffic in each direction, whereas the current BQE holds three lanes of traffic in each direction. The DOT would have to build two tunnels to accommodate all of the BQE’s traffic — an unrealistic option considering the existing number of underground subway and water tunnels.

A tunnel would also cost at least several billion dollars, which the DOT has called “prohibitively expensive.”

Residents argued that the highway, which was built in the 1940s, is a nuisance for the neighborhood, bringing too much noise, vibration and pollution.

“Why are we wedded to this idea of a highway that kills the neighborhood?” asked one longtime resident.

Other ideas from residents included adding a stairway from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade to Brooklyn Bridge Park.

The DOT said that all discussions on the BQE’s reconstruction are still preliminary until a designer is chosen for the project, but that it will consider new pathways for pedestrians and cyclists.

The agency has released a request for proposals for designers and plans to have a preliminary design ready by 2019. The DOT says the new design should keep the highway from crumbling for another 75 years.

Completion of the $1.7 billion reconstruction is still as far as 10 years away; the project is slated to begin by 2021 or 2022 and be completed by 2025 or 2026, according to the DOT.

“As a person who’s lived in this area for 35 years, this will not be fun,” Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon said Wednesday. “It will be horrible, and it’s something we’re all going to have to work together to live through.”

In the meantime, the DOT will begin cutting 3-by-3 foot holes into the wall of the cantilevered section to examine the condition of the structure with a camera, as well as make any necessary emergency fixes.

"We don't know what the joint areas look like," said Bob Collyer, the city's chief bridge engineer. "We have no way of knowing until we get in there what the condition of this roadway is."