Not so fast.
While the mayor has been touting the Brooklyn Queens Connector (BQX) to provide a rapid transit route along the Brooklyn waterfront to Queens, Councilmember Carlos Menchaca — who represents Red Hook, Sunset Park, Greenwood Heights and portions of Windsor Terrace, Dyker Heights and Boro Park, and chairs the BQX Task Force in the City Council — still has reservations about the proposal, which has now moved to its next stage.
The New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) announced on Weds., Feb. 2, that it had selected VHB Engineering, Surveying, Landscape Architecture and Geology, P.C. to lead the environmental review of the project, at a cost to the city of $7.25 million.
For that sum, VHB will conduct the Environmental Impact Study (EIS), and prepare the required ULURP application on the 11-mile-long project, which is planned to connect Astoria, Long Island City, Greenpoint, Williamsburg, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Downtown Brooklyn and Red Hook, though no longer Sunset Park, which had been included in the original proposal.
An EIS is required for the completion of ULURP, which incorporates various levels of public review, from the community board to the borough president to the City Planning Commission (which incorporates mayoral review, because the mayor appoints the majority of the members of the commission) and, finally, the City Council. ULURP stands for Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.
But, says Menchaca, the lack of input from the communities that would be most affected is deafening; also concerning, he contends, is the fact that there is no concrete plan for paying for the project, whose cost is currently estimated at $2.5 billion.
“The city continues to spend millions of taxpayer dollars on a project with hardly any public input, and blithely insists that we should fork it over despite there being no clear plan for how to finance it and outstanding doubts about its transportation benefits,” contended the councilmember, who also objected to the fact that EDC, he said, “Made this decision to spend millions more in taxpayer dollars despite receiving careful and thoughtful questions from the Council and a request for a reply prior to further investment.”
Menchaca also said that councilmembers have received few answers to important questions posed about the project.
“We sent a letter in December that enumerated over 20 outstanding questions we have about the project, including explicit requests for the transportation, economic and environmental assumptions that were not evident in the August 2018 BQX Conceptual Design Report,” he said. “The EDC has not answered these questions, despite being given a generous month-and-a-half deadline and multiple follow-ups. If this is how the EDC will treat questions from city councilmembers whose districts sit along the route, imagine how they will respond to public inquiries during a ULURP.”
If EDC, he added, “Wants the city to pay for its economic development projects, it must be absolutely transparent about its assumptions, models and vision.”
However, the project’s supporters stress its ability to expand transportation options in neighborhoods that have historically been underserved by mass transit, and which, as the city’s landscape shift, are emerging employment hubs.
The awarding of the contract to VHB, said Tom Wright, president of the Regional Plan Association, “Is a critical step forward for the BQX project and the thousands of New Yorkers who stand to benefit from increased transit access in their neighborhood.
“The BQX,” he contended, “has the potential to connect areas of Brooklyn and Queens that have never been accessible by public transit before, create new jobs and build a forward-thinking system that serves current residents and withstands growing capacity to the region.”
Jessica Schumer, the executive director of the Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector, concurred. “As the city grapples with a transit crisis, now is the moment for it to take control of its mass transit destiny and expand access wherever it can,” she said, in a statement. “The BQX is an essential first step and will provide a model for future city-run light rail lines in transit deserts across the city.”
Completion of the BQX is projected for 2024.