The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE) is a vital artery linking New York’s outer boroughs to the Interstate Highway system. Construction of the expressway was led by master builder and inveterate villain Robert Moses nearly a century ago, and, similar to most other crucial pieces of infrastructure across the country, is facing a critical maintenance backlog. Of particular concern is the 1.3-mile triple cantilever section that snakes under the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. Now, Mayor Bill De Blasio, after much prodding from concerned citizens and business groups, has announced a new plan to save the BQE, which includes short-term campaigns of basic maintenance and truck weight enforcement that will provide enough time for the next mayor to deal with this pressing problem.
In a joint statement from the Mayor’s Office and the Department of Transportation yesterday, the following objectives were touted as the campaign’s focal points: The introduction of methods to mitigate water intrusion at the structural joints, improvements to drainage, and the reintroduction of drainage; a reduction from three lanes to two in either direction; and greater monitoring to manage traffic across the cantilevered section.
“We have the technology, the ideas, and the expertise to save the BQE, and we’re excited to execute this plan. But that’s just the start,” said Mayor de Blasio. “New York City can do more than patch up a highway in need of repair—we can use this opportunity to rethink how people, goods, and services move around our city. I look forward to leading that process, and findings fresh ways to use this resource to build a long-term recovery for all of us.”
While the plan will buy some time for this beleaguered stretch of the BQE, many are criticizing the proposal as lacking in vision and effectively kicking the can (of regional and national significance) down the road. This is certainly an opinion shared by the folks over at StreetsBlog, who noted that this new plan does little to address the long-term overuse of the BQE by passenger and truck traffic, demonstrates a lack of imagination when it comes to the distribution of freight across the city, and passes on an opportunity to reclaim land for pedestrians and real estate development.
The issue was first identified in a 2018 DOT report which noted that the cantilever was facing potential structural collapse by 2026. Initial proposals to convert the Brooklyn Heights Promenade into a temporary highway while multi-billion dollar repair work was conducted below were unsurprisingly shot down by area residents. More ambitious proposals, such as BIG’s transformative vision to burrow the highway underground and transform the stretch into public parkland and a light rail corridor, have also failed to gain the prerequisite political support.
De Blasio’s plan could provide the cantilever with an extra two decades of use but after that, it’s someone else’s problem.