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De Blasio convenes ‘expert panel’ to consider BQE revamp alternatives

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A group of 16 NYC experts will look at all of the options to repair the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway

Max Touhey

As the city’s Department of Transportation continues to evaluate the best way to repair a stretch of the crumbling Brooklyn-Queens Expressway—the 65-year-old roadway will be all but unusable in about a decade—civic groups, architects, planners, and even the city’s comptroller have put forth their own proposals for what should be done with the aging thoroughfare.

Now, according to the de Blasio administration, the DOT will have some help: Mayor Bill de Blasio announced today that an “expert panel” of engineers, civic leaders, architects, and urbanists has been convened to look at the options for the reconstruction of the BQE. The 16-member panel, which will be chaired by Carlo Scissura, the president of the New York Building Congress, will “find new perspectives and ask probing questions on how best to design and implement the BQE reconstruction,” per a press release.

“The BQE is a lifeline for Brooklyn and the entire city—which is why we are bringing in a panel of nationally renowned experts from a range of fields to vet all ideas and make sure we get this right,” de Blasio said in a statement. “We will be engaging in a transparent, collaborative process to find the best solution for one of the most critical transportation corridors in the nation.”

This isn’t the first time an elected official has convened a group of experts to, as they say, “evaluate options” for a major transportation project in the city. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, of course, called off the full L train shutdown after his own panel of experts (engineers from Columbia and Cornell’s engineering departments) toured the Canarsie Tunnel and determined that they’d found a “more innovative” way of executing Hurricane Sandy-related repairs there.

But unlike the abrupt L train about-face, this BQE panel is evaluating proposals to fix the roadway well before construction is due to begin; the city also sought input from community groups, including the Brooklyn Heights Association and A Better Way (which is pushing back against the DOT’s original BQE proposals).

“Ever since the City presented its proposals for rebuilding the BQE, the BHA has called for meaningful community involvement in the planning of this massive transportation project as part of a comprehensive and inclusive approach to involve those who will be most affected by the project,” Peter Bray, the BHA’s executive director, said in a statement. We are gratified that the City has now acknowledged our request by convening an outside panel of experts to take a fresh look at the project and evaluate all of the proposals that have been, or may be, submitted by the community, architects, engineers and planners.”

Timing-wise, the city’s BQE panel will evaluate all of the proposals on the table beginning this month, and will report back with recommendations sometime this summer. That will then inform the DOT’s decision, as well as the environmental review process for the project, which will begin closer to the end of the year.