What’s Going on With the BQE, and What’s RPA’s Role?

NYC DOT is working on a giant project to repair the BQE from Atlantic Avenue to Sands Street. Part of the 1.5-mile highway in the project is called the “triple cantilever” because it has a unique characteristic where a concrete wall supports three decks. On top of the cantilever sits the historic Brooklyn Promenade, a cherished open space for nearby Brooklyn Heights.

The highway is a critical piece of the regional highway network and is desperately in need of repair. The section being fixed was built in 1940s and 1950s, and not seen a major rehabilitation. The highway is owned by New York State Department of Transportation, and a number of years ago NYS DOT was pursuing a plan to fix it. In 2011, NYS DOT cut the project from its capital program, citing lack of funding, though it’s likely strong community opposition played a part as well. Even then, the road was clearly deteriorating.

The NYS DOT did not move forward with the project, and a few years ago, worried about the condition of the road, the City’s Department of Transportation started its own project to rebuild the highway. NYC DOT worked to develop a manageable, doable solution, but the latest iteration of the plan includes building a temporary highway on top of the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, drawing anger from local residents.

Given the unique characteristics of the highway, and the fact that it snakes its way through Downtown Brooklyn, the project is complicated and very expensive, expected to cost between $3 and $4 billion, making it one of the most expensive projects in the NYC capital program.

RPA recognizes that a solution must be found to address the ailing highway, which is why we agreed to work with the community to identify potential alternative solutions that are innovative and that would be less disruptive to the surrounding community.

NYC DOT says it can only rebuild the roadway based on the current state of the world – e.g. no policy changes that might reduce traffic. For example, this shows the assumptions that the agency is using:

Source: bqe-i278.com

Policy changes are often used to reduce traffic on roads. There are various options that government has as its discretion – freight policy that encourages night time deliveries, improvements to transit service, restrictions on use by single-occupancy vehicles, or financial incentives that discourage driving during busy times of day. In the transportation world we call these strategies “demand management,” and they have been proven in many cases to reduce traffic

Without looking at these options, NYC DOT is planning to maintain the current 6-lane road, keeping capacity for traffic the same. Traffic volumes are the road are high, and the current NYC DOT plans to maintain a road that can handle around 150,000 vehicles per day.

Community members came to RPA and asked us to look at whether there were better designs that could help reduce the highways footprint and the construction impacts. We concluded that in order to do that, we needed to understand the potential effects of demand management strategies. A Better Way, a local group of concerned residents, is supporting our research to do just this- look at ways that a variety of policy choices could reduce traffic on the road.

Here are the scenarios we are looking at:

  • Scenario 1. Implement the Fix NYC congestion pricing plan. The current proposal to implement congestion pricing could have an important traffic reduction impact, but the impacts on traffic outside of Manhattan are not clear.
  • Scenario 2: Equalize costs across Brooklyn-Manhattan crossings. Tolling East River crossings and lowering tolls on the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel to match bridge tolls should reduce traffic by eliminating the incentive for drivers to go out of their way to avoid tolls.
  • Scenario 3: Restore two-way tolls on the Verrazano Bridge. With electronic tolling, the original rationale for implementing one-way tolling no longer exists. Eliminating single-direction tolling on the Verrazano would eliminate the incentive for drivers to travel through Manhattan when traveling from Brooklyn to New Jersey.
  • Scenario 4: Place high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) requirements on Brooklyn/Manhattan crossings. Restricting bridge use in peak periods to vehicles with 3 or more occupants could lower bridge access volumes.
  • Scenario 5: Place HOV restrictions on BQE. Requiring a minimum of 3 occupants per vehicle on BQE at peak periods can have a large impact.
  • Scenario 6: Reduce lanes to reduce demand.

At this point, RPA does not have any recommendations for how to improve the BQE project, but we do want a thorough evaluation of all the options. RPA doesn’t know if there is a better solution, but until we have explored all the options, we shouldn’t be moving ahead with the current proposal to rebuild the existing highway — at enormous cost to the public and local communities.

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  1. 1
    Milton Puryear

    Thanks Kate. The BQE reconstruction is a big undertaking that is bound to be disruptive. I agree that reducing the toll incentive for traffic from the south and east to use the Brooklyn Bridge and Holland Tunnel rather than the Verrazano Bridge should be the starting point. I also think the Battery Tunnel can play a role in reducing demand on the BQE to the Brooklyn Bridge. It would be interesting to see what closing the Brooklyn Bridge ramp from the BQE would do to BQE volume. When I was developing the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway, the BQE was widely recognized as the most heavily used truck route in NYC. I always considered that remarkable considering the traffic volumes and I-95 interstate link of the Cross Bronx Expressway. The BQE/Triboro Bridge/Bruckner Expressway route is the hypothenuse of the northeast corridor interstate triangle, the other legs of which are the New Jersey Turnpike and the Cross Bronx Expressway . Increasing the incentive to use the NJ Turnpike/Cross Bronx interstate route has to be a key part of managing the interstate volumes that affect the BQE. It is very disappointing and indicative of our infrastructure challenges that differing federal, state and city jurisdictions could be the obstacles to solving a local problem that is equally a regional capacity issue…again. Thanks for your and RPA’s efforts to guide us to a better solution.

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