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BQE revamp could close Brooklyn Heights Promenade for 6 years

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A yellow cab, a red truck, and several other cars driving on the Brooklyn Heights section of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway.
The BQE near the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.
Max Touhey

The city is getting closer to implementing an ambitious revamp of the dilapidated Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, specifically the 1.5-mile stretch between Atlantic and Sands streets in Brooklyn Heights. The Department of Transportation this week unveiled two possible proposals for rehabilitating that portion of the roadway, and one thing is clear: no matter what route the DOT chooses to take, there will be major impacts on the surrounding communities, albeit in different ways.

The two possibilities—both of which would be undertaken using a streamlined design-build process—have “very challenging tradeoffs,” according to DOT commissioner Polly Trottenberg. In what the agency has billed the “innovative” scenario, the revamp would be completed in six years at a cost of $3.2–$3.6 billion, with numerous community benefits (including improved pedestrian access from Brooklyn Heights to Brooklyn Bridge Park, and more green space around the roadway).

But it would also necessitate the complete closure of that portion of the BQE and construction of a temporary six-lane roadway on the level of the Brooklyn Heights Promenade—meaning that popular walkway would be removed for as long as six years. It would be rebuilt at the end of the construction period, a move that DOT sees as necessary given its age and current state. (Given how Brooklyn Heights residents have fought other major neighborhood changes—including the bridge-blocking Pierhouse development—this is likely not going to go over well.)

The other, “traditional” scenario would see reconstruction on the BQE implemented piecemeal; repairs would be made lane-by-lane, without the temporary roadway or an extensive closure of the Promenade. DOT sees this option as more uncertain when it comes to pricing and timeline—it could take more than eight years, and the cost could be anywhere from $3.4 billion to more than $4 billion.

During a press briefing, DOT commissioner Polly Trottenberg called the revamp an “epic challenge,” comparing it to Boston’s Big Dig, a massive highway reconstruction project that saw the creation of a tunnel, several bridges, and connective arteries between that city’s waterfront and downtown areas.

She also dismissed the idea of doing away with the BQE altogether, as much as urbanists might want the Moses-era roadway—which now travels along one of Brooklyn’s most popular parks, and through numerous built-up neighborhoods—to be gone. In fact, Trottenberg argues, that’s why the roadway must remain (along with its 153,000 daily users). “For better or for worse, some of these Moses-built highways … the city has grown around them,” Trottenberg said during the meeting. “It’s not an option to say we can’t deal with that traffic and rehabilitating that structure.”

But DOT’s Tanvi Pandya, who’s on the BQE design team, also stressed that neither of these options is set in stone yet, and a design-build partner could bring another idea to the table. Work on the new BQE isn’t set to begin for at least another couple of years, and there will be more public meetings prior to the selection of a firm to carry the whole thing out—including one next Thursday at the NYCHA Ingersoll Houses Community Center in Brooklyn.