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City Council Brings On Independent, Outside Design Firm To Evaluate BQE Rehabilitation Project


Nearly one year ago, the Department of Transportation announced its plan to rehabilitate a decaying section of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and, you know, build a temporary highway in the current location of the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. The plan was so outrageous it was impossible to envision it becoming a reality, and soon after it was announced new groups formed in the Brooklyn Heights community to battle it. Eventually, Mayor Bill de Blasio stepped in and announced he’d assembled a team to reevaluate how to go about rebuilding the crumbling triple-cantilevered stretch of Robert Moses’s BQE, which runs approximately 1.5 miles from Atlantic to Sands streets in Brooklyn Heights.

That announcement came hours before a large community meeting at Plymouth Church, where local officials, community groups, and design firms like the Bjarke Ingels Group presented further opposition to the DOT’s plan, and offered alternative ideas.

Where are we now? The Mayor’s Expert Panel is “very much in the midst of its work and making progress,” Benjamin Prosky, a member of the panel and Executive Director of AIA New York told Gothamist, adding, “The group is not ready to make any public statements about the process at this point.” Prosky told us in June that they had been meeting “every week for several hours and have been asked to be prepared to meet through the fall until we are ready to issue a report with recommendations.”

The Panel’s chair, Carlo Scissura, released a PowerPoint presentation at the end of June outlining what they’ve done so far. While delivering the presentation, he noted that the group had “serious concerns” about the Promenade plan: “There may be a need for a temporary alternative route during what could be a six to ten-year construction period, but the alternatives proposed by the city Department of Transportation present very serious issues with very little chance of being approved.” They are exploring alternatives, which of course was the entire point of the panel anyway.

Patch reported at the time that: “At least one idea, suggested by the Regional Plan Association, seems to have caught the attention of the panel. That plan recommends switching the BQE from six lanes to four based on various ways to reduce traffic on the expressway.” (Tom Wright of the Regional Plan Association is also on the Panel.) This plan includes traffic reduction, which the Panel believes is “a necessary part of the redesign,” and like many of the other proposals that have popped up, draws on ways other cities have transformed their highways.

The Panel previously said they will likely hold one more community meeting before filing their report this fall, but no annoucements have been made. (Sign up for updates here.)

While the panel has not made any announcements yet, the City Council is setting up its own review process in anticipation of a new design. Speaker Corey Johnson’s office said on Monday that the City Council has its own engineers who will scrutinize the city’s plans. In a press release, Johnson’s office announced that “Arup – the globally respected engineering and design firm – [will] provide independent, outside expertise” on whatever plan the DOT ultimately proposes.

Arup, which was involved in the Hunter’s Point South waterfront park development in Long Island City, will “provide technical expertise to the Council… reviewing engineering reports of the triple cantilever structure, and assessing the feasibility of the numerous public proposals from DOT and other groups.” The Council “wants to make sure the project is done in a way that reflects our current transportation priorities and minimally impacts the adjacent communities during construction and in the future,” and has hired Arup to “review DOT’s assessment of the current structure, incorporate feedback from local groups and elected officials to make sure their concerns are heard and acted on, evaluate the proposals put forward, and potentially develop alternatives.”

Scissura told the Brooklyn Eagle, “We were advised that the City Council was bringing in a firm. This is one of the most critical infrastructure projects in the region, so the more minds examining it the better.”

What’s the over/under on Governor Cuomo announcing his own panel of experts?

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