Has Gowanus Tunnel proposal been shafted – or postponed for years?

Bay Ridge leaders, tunnel coalition fought for years to raze Gowanus Expressway

It was just about twenty years or so ago when a well-documented proposal to build a Gowanus Tunnel — a sleek, modern underground tube starting at 65th St. and ending up at the Hugh Carey Tunnel — was growing in popularity here with its promise to tear down the rotting, polluting Gowanus Expressway.

And, to top it off, like icing on an already tasty cake — this modern subterranean marvel would literally create hundreds of acres of new housing blossoming where once (and still is) the alleged expressway robbed time from frazzled commuters and harmed the health of the neighborhood youngsters.

Sounds good, right? Maybe too good. While the Tunnel proposal garnered broad support from Republicans, Democrats, Conservatives, scores of civic leaders as well as the imprimatur of the Regional Plan Association — via RPA director Al Appleton — after a years-long battle, it was submarined by powerful Albany lobbyists! Thousands of hours of volunteer civic labor were erased!

Who killed the Gowanus Tunnel? Why?

Albany ‘insiders’ confided to a few Gowanus Expressway members that the trucking industry — which dispatches thousands of huge vehicles daily across the Verrazzano to further pound the crumbling elevated BQE — literally ‘owned’ some powerful Albany legislators. 

Partnering with the huge trucking interests were construction firms that had already locked in contracts to ‘repair’ the Gowanus for “the next 10 to 20 years and beyond…”, one member said.

While one might assume construction firms would welcome a costly ($1 billion) tunnel, in reality, they preferred a guaranteed flow of cash from its “bird in the hand” i.e, the millions they were already guaranteed to receive in sham, “show & tell’ efforts to “recondition”, “repair” “rehabilitate” the tottering Gowanus.

In fact, proponents of the tunnel back then, including Brooklyn Heights Association leader Joanne McGroarty, Gowanus Atty. Ben Meskin, Assemblywoman-to-be Joanne Simon, Elizabeth Yiampierre of UPROSE, and the late legendary Buddy Scotto, among others, were able to add another arrow to their quiver: A comprehensive study by a team of Lutheran Medical Doctors proved that the Gowanus created tons of crud-like particulates daily that were directly linked to an increase in pediatric asthma among children living under and nearby.

BHA Sees “Stoop” Plan Saving Promenade

No wonder that the vaunted Brooklyn Heights Association, in a partnership back then with the Bay Ridge Community Council, threw its considerable weight behind the tunnel concept with good reason: Even then — at and just after the turn of the century — the cantilevered roadway that supported the charming Brooklyn Heights Promenade was in danger of falling apart after decades of abuse.

Heights leaders realized that the rickety Gowanus/BQE span posed a clear and urgent danger to the Promenade, which remains the civic and geographic lynchpin for one of the city’s most influential communities.

This dilemma led to an imaginative design by Marc Wouters, who came up with a plan to ‘bury’ Gowanus traffic under a huge “Stoop,” which would help buffer noise and pollution spewing underneath.

Photo Below Shows How Long Community Engagement Has Attempted To Deal With This Issue

Reviewing Gowanus Tunnel site 20 years ago: Gowanus Tunnel Committee Chair Jo Anne Simon — far right (later elected to the assembly where she still serves) with others, right to left Al Appleton, Regional Plan Association Director, then Cong. Vito Fossella and Coalition Bay Ridge member Charles Otey.

Citizens Bank Opens New Branch At Former Investors Third Ave. Location

Citizens staff gathered with Exec. V.P. Brian Chin (standing, second from right) Others shown, left to right Nela Beerbahadur, banker, Maged Schnouda, teller, Antoinette Prestipino (seated, right), Banker, and Edwin Martinez, teller. Photo: Chuck Otey.

Business owners and shoppers hereabouts in Bay Ridge took notice when the expanding Citizens Bank took over the Investors branch at 72nd St. and Third Ave. Community leaders joined bank officers and the “new” Citizens staff (former Investor staffers) to mark the important occasion.

Left to right: Katie Joseph (Green Ambassador), Maged Shnouda-FT Teller, Nuno Dos Santos, Retail Banking Director, SVP-Tri Sate Metro, Atty. Gary Hanna-Joe Riley (CEO Of The Guild For Exceptional Children Inc.), Brian Chin, 72nd St branch manager (72nd Street & 3rd Ave), Vladmir Lik-Regional Manager (Brooklyn & SI), John Keegan (Co-Owner Of The Greenhouse Café) & Ahmed Alfaraji (Bay Ridge Center). Photo: Chuck Otey.

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