Residents packed a room at the Ingersoll Community Center in Downtown Brooklyn, where Department of Transportation (DOT) officials presented their options for the bridge reconstruction project.
DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, expecting pushback from the audience, tried to put the situation into context, but apologized to residents nonetheless.
“The problem we face now is that the highway is hitting the end of its useful life,” she said. “It is a problem I’m very sorry to have, and a problem I’m sorry to have to present to all of you.”
In question is a 1.5-mile stretch of the BQE from Atlantic Avenue to Sands Street. Built by Robert Moses in 1944, this portion features a triple cantilever, a structure with two levels of traffic and a promenade on top.
According to Trottenberg, the promenade was a concession to the Brooklyn Heights community.
After conducting in-depth inspections, city officials concluded that the roadway is badly deteriorating. They believe that by 2026, officials would have to put weight restrictions on the BQE, forcing trucks to go on local streets.
“Given that piece of information, we started to really grapple with the urgency,” Trottenberg said. “There aren’t a lot of easy routes to reroute these trucks to.”
DOT also estimates that the BQE would have to be shut down completely by 2036, if not sooner. Right now, an average of 153,000 cars, including 25,000 trucks, use the BQE daily, making it the third-most used roadway in the region.
Tanvi Pandya, program manager for the project, presented two methods to reconstruct the bridge. The first, the traditional approach, would be incremental. The rebuild would be done lane by lane.
While this method still gets the job done, it would take more than eight years, producer slower speeds and backups on the BQE, and cost between $3.4 and $4 billion.
It would also mean approximately 24 weekend closures and more than four years of overnight lane closures. Any work during the daytime could result in a 12-mile impact slowdown.
“This is like surgery,” Pandya said. “This is painstaking work.”
The second option, which DOT prefers, would build a temporary elevated roadway over the existing structure. The temporary roadway would be on the same level as the current promenade, and when the project is complete, would replace the promenade.
While cars use the temporary road for three years, construction crews will have time during the day to demolish and rebuild a new road for the BQE.
This “innovative” approach would take six years, have fewer weekend and overnight lane closures and avoids a traffic nightmare. It would also allow the DOT to give the contractor incentives to finish the project faster.
However, it would mean Brooklyn Heights residents and visitors would lose their beloved promenade. The cost of the this option would be between $3.2 and $3.6 billion.
Pandya said the 70-year-old promenade would have to be replaced either way. In the traditional approach, the promenade would be shut down for two years.
The second option drew many boos from the crowd. Trottenberg previously asked the residents to hear her out.
“I understand a lot of people are going to hate what we put forward,” she said. “As much as you might hate what we propose, I think what we found is, none of the alternatives are going to be very lovable.”
The DOT will continue public outreach and workshops through the fall, and will keep taking ideas. It will determine which approach to take during the environmental review process.
Peter Bray, president of the Brooklyn Heights Association, likened what local residents are facing to Dante’s “Divine Comedy.”
“I think in many ways, we’re facing a decision to have which level of purgatory we want to be in,” he said.
Bray said he’s received many phone calls and emails, as well as in-person visits, from neighbors. All of them are “vehemently opposed” to the temporary elevated structure, he said.
Some residents believe the “decision has already been made,” while others worry that the city won’t follow through on its promise to rebuild the promenade. BHA did not endorse either option.
“We believe that the most responsible approach we can take is to listen to the alternatives you presented tonight, and listen to the options that our community is going to express to you,” Bray said. “Our hope is that the DOT will give a thorough consideration to all options, be responsive to the community and listen to those concerns.”
Local elected officials also took a cautious approach. State Senator Brian Kavanagh said he has not made a clear decision about which option is acceptable.
“It’s important that we hear from the broad range of people in this community,” he said. “It’s not going to be easy for people who live here and people who use our transportation system to travel, to get goods to businesses, to get to work and school.”
Councilman Stephen Levin said the rerouting of traffic onto local streets is not an option. Both approaches are “causes of concern,” he said, particularly because the promenade is a “gem” of the city.
“Adding an additional two to three years to the project is distressing to the entire region,” he said. “We’re talking about the entire eastern seaboard.”
“This is not a done deal,” Levin added. “But we need to make an informed decision. I want to see every option on the table.”
Residents brought up several concerns, including environmental and health problems. Some Brooklyn Heights locals also said the city couldn’t be trusted after failing to deliver promises on the Brooklyn Bridge Park project.
One resident suggested building a temporary roadway west over Brooklyn Bridge Park, an idea that received applause in the crowd.
“It’s not going to be an easy option to build a roadway through the park,” Trottenberg said. “ I think we would have a different room, probably even more filled than this one. There could be more people opposed to that.”
But the city’s transportation commissioner said she’ll make it part of the dialogue and weigh all of the alternatives.
“We will take a look at every option,” she said.