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The BQX is back (maybe)

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There’s a new website and public meetings scheduled to plan the future of the Brooklyn-Queens Connector. Does it mean anything?

BQX Berry Street NYCEDC

The de Blasio administration’s plan to build a streetcar along the Brooklyn and Queens waterfront may be getting back on track.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reports that the NYC Economic Development Corporation and the city’s Department of Transportation, the two agencies that would oversee the Brooklyn-Queens Connector, have launched a new website for the project, with what an EDC spokesperson called “a thorough and inclusive community engagement process” due to kick off next month. City officials will hold meetings in neighborhoods that will be affected by the streetcar plan—Downtown Brooklyn, Red Hook, Astoria, Williamsburg, and Long Island City—to gather feedback on the proposal.

“Engaging with those who live and work along the route is critical to the BQX’s success, and we applaud the City for putting together a robust outreach plan for the coming months,” a spokesperson for Friends of the BQX, the nonprofit organization that’s long acted as the project’s big booster, said in a statement. “From transit advocates and public housing leaders to business owners and civic groups, the BQX has a broad and growing range of supporters. As more New Yorkers learn about the project over the next few months, we expect that support network to keep growing.”

That proposal, which was first unveiled at the beginning of 2016, calls for building a light rail/streetcar that would, as the name implies, connect booming Brooklyn and Queens neighborhoods along an 11-mile route. Though EDC and DOT stress that the route is not final, as currently envisioned, it would bring more than two dozen stops between Astoria and Gowanus, with connections to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, several large NYCHA complexes, business districts, and new real estate developments.

The streetcar idea was first floated four years ago, and has progressed in fits and starts since then. It was initially supposed to run 16 miles, down into Sunset Park, but the route was shortened in 2018. At the same time, the total cost of the plan went up by about $200 million, and city officials admitted that they would need to secure more than $1 billion from the federal government to make the project a reality.

The last time it was seriously debated was in early 2019 during a City Council hearing, at which many aspects of the plan—from its proposed $2.7 billion cost to the city’s ridership projections (of about 50,000 people per day)—were scrutinized. At the time, officials with EDC and DOT said they were also investigating bus rapid transit as a possible alternative for commuters in the area.

The website itself doesn’t offer much new information on the streetcar plan beyond the new schedule of meetings. The timeline for the project hasn’t changed; assuming all goes according to the city’s plan, a groundbreaking would happen in 2024—well after Mayor Bill de Blasio leaves office—and the whole thing would be finished by 2029. Before that can happen, EDC will conduct an environmental impact study and issue a draft environmental impact statement (expected in 2021), and the project will also have to go through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP).