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Brooklyn Heights Promenade closure has ‘very little chance’ during BQE rehab, says panel

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City plans to mend the BQE “present very serious issues,” the head of a mayor-appointed panel says

The triple-cantilevered section of the BQE.
Max Touhey

The most vehemently opposed proposals to reconstruct the crumbling stretch of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway may be off the table.

City plans to shutter the Brooklyn Heights Promenade during a multi-year reconstruction of a 1.5-mile section of the BQE has “very little chance” of moving forward, says Carlo Scissura, the head of a panel assembled by Mayor Bill de Blasio to study how best to overhaul the triple-cantilevered structure.

“The alternatives proposed by the city Department of Transportation present very serious issues with very little chance of being approved; other alternatives should be explored,” Scissura wrote in an update on the panel’s work. “The Commission has serious concerns about the proposed highway and encroachment on the Promenade (other than to renovate and upgrade the promenade) or major incursion into the Brooklyn Bridge Park with a temporary highway.”

A 65-year-old swath of the highway between Atlantic Avenue and Sands Street is in dire need of repairs. If nothing is done to rebuild the triple cantilever the city says it will have to issue weight restrictions and reroute trucks—some 25,000 use the expressway each day—from the road by 2026, and shutter it by 2036.

But the 1,825-foot promenade, with idyllic views of Manhattan and New York Harbor, is connected to the highway, so any changes to the BQE inevitably extend to the esplanade, which has become a sort of communal backyard for Brooklyn Heights and a major lure for tourists. That’s why when the Department of Transportation (DOT) introduced two proposals in 2018 that each called for the years-long closure of the esplanade, Brownstone Brooklyn mobilized and railed against the plans.

If DOT wants the support of local civic groups, it must develop an innovative solution that works to enhance the structure and not simply rebuild it, community advocates stress.

“We understand this is challenging, but we hope to participate in the process and affect the end result, which must be a 21st-century sustainable solution, one that will permanently change the relationship of the expressway to our adjacent neighborhoods,” A Better Way, the BHA, and the Cobble Hill Association said in a joint statement. “That solution must protect our neighborhoods and parks, emphasize our neighborhoods’ historic character and enhance pedestrian connectivity and green space.”

To date, nearly a dozen alternative proposals have been submitted to the DOT. Some shift the temporary elevated highway west of the BQE, others seek to dramatically reimagine the expressway from aging infrastructure to a community amenity with acres of parkland.

The 17-member expert panel assembled by Mayor de Blasio is now working to sift through those ideas and determine the best path forward. Since April, the group has held ten meetings with transportation officials and local leaders, toured the crumbling section of the road, and gathered data from various city agencies to better understand the project. The panel expects to publicly issue a report with recommendations in the early fall.

In the meantime, DOT is re-examining possible BQE construction techniques that “may be faster and less disruptive,” according to Scissura. The agency is also in the midst of tests to determine “whether more modest repair is justifiable and would reduce the need for a temporary replacement highway,” but has yet to narrow the field to a preferred approached.

“NYCDOT is exploring all options and is not committed to any one plan at this time,” said DOT spokesperson Alana Morales. “We will determine next steps at the conclusion of the panel process, and look forward to receiving their recommendations.”