Just as Governor Andrew Cuomo swooped in with a panel of experts with a new plan for the L train shutdown, Mayor Bill de Blasio has now announced he's assembled a crack team to evaluate the reconstruction of the crumbling triple-cantilevered stretch of Robert Moses's Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, which runs approximately 1.5 miles from Atlantic to Sands streets in Brooklyn Heights.
Earlier today, the mayor's office announced the formation of a new "expert panel"—made up of leaders in academia, industry groups, civic organizations, labor, and business—that will look at a variety of options "for replacement of the aging highway, including the triple cantilever structure that supports the Brooklyn Heights Promenade."
Last September, the Department of Transportation announced its plan to rehabilitate this section of the BQE, which included building a temporary highway in the current location of the Promenade, the backyard of some of the most expensive homes in the entire city. There was immediate backlash about the $3 billion plan, as well as concern that construction would kick up toxins into the air for at least six years.
Since then, everyone with access to AutoCAD has submitted their own idea for the project, ranging from complete teardowns (which have worked in other cities) to a middle ground that would place parkland on top of a smaller roadway. The latest idea tossed into the ring, released today by the Bjarke Ingels Group, is called the Brooklyn-Queens Park, and "would turn the triple-stacked road into a multi-tiered green space."
A new proposal for the Brooklyn-Queens Park, courtesy of Bjarke Ingels Group.
New community groups have also formed over the past six months, including an especially vocal and active one called A Better Way; its spokesperson Hilary Jager sent out the following statement regarding the mayor's announcement:
"We applaud the City and DOT for assembling a panel of experts to find a better way to restructure the BQE. Passionate community voices led us to this moment, and those same voices will demand a say in this process as it moves forward. We look forward to being part of a solution that reimagines the BQE to the benefit of all New Yorkers for decades to come."
The panel, chaired by Carlo Scissura, president and CEO of The New York Building Congress (other names and titles of those involved are listed below), will begin meeting this month, and hope to reach a conclusion by this summer. "It will evaluate underlying project assumptions and review existing proposals, including those that have been generated by elected officials and community members, no-build or reduced capacity options, and other ideas as generated by the panel," according to the mayor's press statement, which also noted that the panel will "hear from and consult with a group of elected officials and community, civic, and business associations at key points throughout its review."
Scissura said in a statement that the panel will be "working with our incredible DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, the panelists and the residents of New York City to produce an outcome that is in the best interests of everyone.”
Close-up of the BQE retaining wall, note decay and dirt. (Jake Dobkin / Gothamist)
Alana Morales, deputy press secretary for the DOT, told Gothamist that the department "is "undertaking a thorough review process, accompanied by substantial community and expert engagement, that will look at a range of options for this critical transportation corridor." This includes this week's report by the RPA/A Better Way, which focuses on such policy changes as congestion pricing and HOV lanes that could help reduce traffic to the area. The city's formal environmental process is now set to begin at the end of 2019.
DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg also released a statement, saying, "Community members and stakeholders across the city have come together to propose new ideas and call for fresh thinking on the BQE, the biggest such project the City has ever undertaken. This new panel presents an important opportunity to create the best plan possible—with community voices heard throughout the process." Prior to this, the DOT has been pretty silent on the issue since announcing its plan last September, and has not held any public meetings since then.
A town hall meeting, organized by The Brooklyn Heights Association and A Better Way NYC, will be held tonight at 7 p.m. at Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights. A City Hall spokesperson says it's not known if anyone from the city's panel will be in attendance, but "we fully anticipate that everything that is said and presented at this evening’s Town Hall will reach the panelists."
UPDATE: The town hall meeting was packed, with community members and local politicians commending de Blasio for stepping in.
BBP Eric Adams addressing the crowd at the BQE town hall. (Jen Carlson / Gothamist)
Here are the initial members of the new BQE panel, which appears heavy on engineering and construction leaders, and light on urban planning experts (additional panelists may still be announced):
Carlo Scissura, NY Building Congress (Chair)
Rohit Aggarwala, Sidewalk Labs
Vincent Alvarez, New York City Central Labor Council
Kate Ascher, BuroHappold Engineering
Elizabeth Goldstein, Municipal Arts Society
Henry Gutman, Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corp./Brooklyn Bridge Park
Kyle Kimball, Con Edison
Mitchell Moss, NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service
Kaan Ozbay, NYU Tandon School of Engineering
Hani Nassif, Rutgers School of Engineering
Benjamin Prosky, American Institute of Architects
Denise Richardson, General Contractors Association
Ross Sandler, New York Law School
Jay Simson, American Council of Engineering Companies of New York
Tom Wright, Regional Plan Association
Kathryn Wylde, Partnership for NYC