How many lanes should a reimagined BQE Central have? That unanswered question has been hanging over the entire redesign process.
On Friday, the city’s Department of Transportation announced that it would be delaying the expected start of the project’s environ- mental review phase from Spring 2023 to Autumn 2023.
The agency said that delaying the EIS would give them time to figure out if a newly constructed segment of highway should have two traffic lanes (plus shoulder) in each direction, or three.
“We are committed to environmental justice, public health and reducing the harmful effects of the BQE by building as narrow a structure as possible along BQE Central that also meets federal safety regulations,” NYC DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez said in a statement on Friday.
“That’s why DOT will be undertaking a comprehensive traffic study on both two- and three-lane configurations for the city-owned section and reviewing additional feedback in close coordination with state, federal and community partners as we continue with scheduled, interim repairs to ensure the cantilever remains safe,” Rodriguez said.
BQE Central is the 1.5-mile city-owned section of the Brooklyn- Queens Expressway from Atlantic Avenue to Sands Street, encompassing the decrepit Triple Cantilevered underpinning the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. The segment is overseen by the city but is part of Interstate 278, for which the state has responsibility.
A DOT spokesperson said the decision to push back the timeline for the EIS was made in re- sponse to feedback encouraging the agency to review the lane question, and also because of “extensive” input received on various concepts which require coordination and documentation with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and NYSDOT. The traffic analysis will allow state and federal partners to properly assess the environmental impacts of each lane configuration, DOT said.
The delay won’t affect safety on the highway, DOT said.
Disappointed with delays
Some officials expressed dismay at both the delay and by the DOT’s seeming tone-deafness on the necessity for two lanes in each direction.
“Every elected official who represents the Triple Cantilever has strongly advocated to maintain two lanes of traffic in each direction,” Councilmember Lincoln Restler told the Brooklyn Eagle on Friday. “Our climate future and our neighborhoods can’t afford lanes amounting to 6 million more cars and trucks releasing toxic fumes every year.”
He added, “I’m deeply disappointed by the delay in the EIS, and also with the delay on the Weigh- in-Motion monitoring of overweight trucks, and I hope DOT gets back on track as quickly as possible.”
“I would say there were a number of politi- cal officials who ex- pressed concern that this couldn’t be done by spring,” said designer Marc Wouters. “I think they need the time.” Wouters, who de- veloped an innovative BQE “Parallel Highway” plan for the Brooklyn Heights Association, is currently working on other transformational highway projects.
Studies have called for two lanes in each direction
Numerous studies — including Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 2020 BQE Expert Panel report, the 2020 Arup/NYC City Council report, and the Regional Planning Asso-
ciation’s 2019 Reimagining the BQE report — recommended reducing the number of traffic lanes to two in each direction.
In meetings held in December, however, participants learned that, despite the city’s preliminary BQE Central designs showing two lanes plus a shoulder in
each direction, the highway may be required by governing bodies to have three lanes plus a shoulder each way. The current structure was built before the creation of modern federal safety standards.
“I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know if it will [be two or three traffic lanes], because we have to go through the full environmental process,” Tanvi Pandya, the DOT’s head engineer on the BQE project, told workshop participants at that time.
FHWA requires a minimum of two travel lanes in each direction, with 12-foot lane widths, 10- foot right paved shoulder, and 4-foot left paved shoulder. However, FHWA could require additional lanes based on traffic vol- umes, according to DOT.
The next public BQE Central workshop takes place Tuesday, Feb. 28, from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Brooklyn Friends School, Lower Gym, 375 Pearl Street, Brooklyn. A vir- tual workshop covering much the same content takes place on Thursday, March 2, from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Please register in advance: bit.ly/bqecentral-3