Federal highway officials have turned down an $800 million grant application to revamp an aging section of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, with some advocates hoping city officials will continue tweaking proposed designs.
The funding snag isn't expected to slow the city transportation department from moving forward with the estimated $5.5 billion plan to reconstruct the city-owned 1.5 mile section, dubbed BQE Central, stretching from Atlantic Avenue to Sands Street in Brooklyn. It includes the triple-cantilever structure that has two decks of highway traffic and is topped by the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. Another 10.6 miles of the BQE is owned by the state.
The city transportation department said it will reapply for federal funding with more input from the Federal Highway Administration. A federal spokesperson said the agency doesn’t comment on specific project applications.
While plans are still in a conceptual phase, construction is expected to start in mid-2027 and a completion date is slated for the end 2032, according to an online timeline.
Mona Bruno, a city DOT spokesperson, noted other projects that eventually materialized were initially denied before being awarded money.
“We are committed to delivering a long-term fix for the city-owned portion of the BQE while developing projects to reconnect communities along the highway’s entire corridor in Brooklyn,” she said in a statement.
Some advocates and local community groups, which remain opposed to earlier plans to expand the highway, said they hope city officials will go back to the drawing board.
Tiffany-Ann Taylor, vice president for transportation at the Regional Plan Association, doesn't believe the grant rejection will impact the timeline but said city transportation officials will have to find creative funding sources while developing a clearer proposal, especially as it relates to the number of traffic lanes. In 2021, the number of lanes was reduced to two from three in each direction, in part to limit the weight load on the infrastructure.
“We also can't just wait and hope that you know, magically, the roadway will fix itself in five years," Taylor said. "The city has been thinking about rehab for at least the last eight to 10 years and you don't want to get to a point where it's critical.”
Lara Birnback, executive director at the Brooklyn Heights Association, which has 1,200 paying members, said the group doesn't support any current proposals but hopes the city and state will now “work together collaboratively on a plan that’s cheaper, more sustainable, more equitable and that comes with community support."
Last year, several local, state and federal elected officials, including state Sen. Andrew Gounardes (D-Brooklyn) wrote a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, describing the cantilever as “falling apart,” and urging the agency to continue maintaining just two lanes throughout the city's 1.5 mile portion.
The section is a critical passageway for freight trucks moving goods throughout the region and serves over 150,000 vehicles daily.
The city-owned stretch of the BQE has had high levels of congestion and crashes due to several design issues, including lack of shoulders, narrow lanes that were less than the standard 12 feet width for highways, curves and unsafe on- and off-ramp mergers, according to a 2020 report.
Other local projects have also been denied federal funding. At a Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board meeting last week, MTA chairman and CEO Janno Lieber acknowledged that the Federal Railroad Administration recently rejected a “relatively small request” for funding to help advance the design phase of the MTA’s proposed $7 billion reconstruction of Penn Station. He did not disclose how much was requested.
“It got turned down, but we’re going to apply again,” said Lieber, who noted that the FRA did approve $1.6 billion in funding for the MTA’s Penn Station Access project, which would link Metro-North to the West Side Manhattan transit hub. “They funded a lot of projects. They didn’t fund some,” Lieber said.
With Alfonso Castillo