When the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway was finished in 1964—after Robert Moses modified a project drafted in 1936 to plow through working-class neighborhoods rather than along the waterfront—its total cost was $137 million. The first proposal to put it underground and restore unity to bisected, blighted areas appeared in the BQE’s 35th year; now, as its semicentennial looms, city, state and federal transportation agencies are weighing modifications to the problem-plagued highway that could cost billions, but could also re-unify huge sections of the borough. More likely: a cosmetic solution that will cost very little and fix even less.
Last month, state and federal officials told the Brooklyn Paper that versions of the BQE renovation that would require boring a tunnel under Brooklyn Heights, Downtown Brooklyn, or the East River waterfront cost too much—even though they’re the most popular with city officials and residents. The best and most ambitious of those, with a tentative price tag of $20 billion, would put the expressway in an outboard tunnel along the waterfront from Sunset Park to Greenpoint (pictured). A $2.2 billion plan wouldn’t disrupt the resurgent East River ecosystem, but would require a Boston-style Big Dig through Downtown to bury the BQE between Kane Street in Cobble Hill and North Portland Avenue in Fort Greene. It’s the cheapest option that would put the crumbling road out of sight, but it would require more funding than state and federal transportation agencies are willing to commit.
Because the project will receive financing from all three levels of government, the tunnel projects will likely be eliminated when officials reconvene to narrow down the number of eligible proposals. One “solution” getting more play from Albany and the Feds—to resurface the BQE between Atlantic Avenue and Sands Street—is a glorified $200 million maintenance project. Unambitious planning created this mess, and more of the same won’t clean it up.