Brooklyn borough president: "Get investors, pension funds to rebuild NY/I-278 BQE/Gowanus"

December 10, 2011

Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz has written Andrew Cuomo the New York state governor lambasting the decision to abandon planning for a rebuild and modernization of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway (BQE) and the Gowanus Expressway (GE), both NY/I-278 and urging they be financed with a public private partnership and pension fund investments.

The final paragraph of the letter to the Governor: "I urge your administration to reverse the decision to terminate these projects. You have recently proposed funding infrastructure through the expansion of public-private partnerships including the use of pension fund investments to pay for our roadways and bridges.

"Although the details of your proposal need to be finalized, I believe it is a great start and should be used to immediately address Brooklyn's I-278.

"Additionally, I request that your administration open a new dialogue with other elected officials at the City, State, and Federal levels to find opportunities to revive and continue these projects to the fulfillment of their expressed goals of solving the current traffic, economic, and environmental nightmare they create."

Priority as P3

Cuomo's administration has a request for qualifications out for investors to support rebuilding of the New York State Thruway's Tappan Zee Bridge at Tarrytown New York on NY/I-287. (The Thurway uses the Tappan Zee Bridge to transition from the east bank of the Hudson River just out of New York City to the west bank and also carries major east-west traffic.)

The Brooklyn Borough president says the highways of 2x3 tight lanes built mostly in the 1940s suffer both "insufficient capacity and structural decay" and the state wants to give up on addressing the problem.

Abandonment of project "absolutely unacceptable and an insult to the residents..."

He goes on:

"This means that the current egregiously negative environmental impacts that these antiquated and crumbling highways have on the thousands of Brooklynites who live near them -- or on the millions of roadway users who must travel on them while facing near-constant congestion -- will not be substantively addressed for a generation or more.

"This is absolutely unacceptable and an insult to the residents of Brooklyn, Staten Island, Queens, and New Jersey who live or work near these structures or depend on them to access the region's commercial core."

I-278 is a major traffic route between northern New Jersey and lower Manhattan and Queens. It uses the Goethals Bridge, the Staten Island Expressway, the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, then the Gowanus Expressway and the BQE.

The Gowanus is 6.1 miles, 10.2km and the BQE is 10.4 miles, 17km with a 1.2 mile, 2km spur or 'eastern leg.' Both were designed in the 1930s, substantially built in the 1940s and 1950s with some widening in the early 1960s. Since then all work has been on the established structures.

They are generally built with 10.5ft, 3.20m lanes (versus modern 12ft, 3.66m lanes,) without shoulders, with short merge/weave distances, steep and narrow ramps. They carry 120,000 to 160,000 vehicles/day (over 15% of them trucks) on six lanes.

Built with toll-$s

The Gowanus and BQE were built as free roads by the Triborough Bridge and Toll Authority (now part of MTA as the Bridges and Tunnels department) so they were built with toll money, although a toll was never collected on them.

Their planning and construction was a major preoccupation of the now historic figure, Robert Moses.

Robert A. Caro in his book The Power Broker, describes how New York City's great road, bridge, tunnel and park builder Moses (1888 - 1981) watched the construction of the BQE from an office nearby:

Moses watched

"During construction of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, Moses rented the penthouse floor of the Marguerite Hotel - an old, sedate establishment right next to the expressway - and used it as an office.

"It had two advantages: only very few people knew of its existence, so he was interrupted by few telephone calls, and he could look down on the construction as he worked.

"And he spent a lot of time looking down at it, watching the cranes and derricks and earthmoving machines that looked like toys far below him moving about in the giant trench being cut through mile after mile of densely packed houses, a big black figure against the sunset in the late afternoon, like a giant gazing down on the giant road he was molding. 'And I'll tell you,' said one of the men who spent a lot of time at the old hotel with him, 'I never saw RM look happier than he did when he was looking down out of that window.' "

Markowitz also says that the shutdown of the project at this point after years of planning represents "a colossal waste of time and money."

"(T)housands of hours of time by public participants and city and state employees has been invested in stakeholder meetings and in the scoping and planning process. Additionally, millions of dollars have been spent on contracts, data collection, engineers, outreach, and everything else that accompanies environmental review. Terminating these projects tosses nearly all that public money and time away."

Cripples property values and commerce

The Gowanus has "blighted miles of the communities facing it, crippling property values and commerce."

The traffic jams that turn this expressway into a "parking lot" are a public health issue from Bay Ridge to Sunset Road to Red Hook, Markowitz says, because of the air pollution caused by stopped or slow moving vehicles.

Markowitz letter contains no explicit reference to toll financing, but it is difficult to imagine how public private partnerships or pension fund investments could be attracted without a solid toll revenue stream.

A proposal with wide support would build a direct 1.5 mile, 2.2km tunnel from Red Hook to near the Brooklyn Navy Yard to take the through traffic away from Brooklyn Heights while making use of the rights of way of the west looping elevated for spurs to the East River crossings.

New York State DOT do not even seem to have considered toll financing for this project, so with a lack of tax funds they simply abandoned it. In doing so they have generated a powerful protest movement, and an immediate realization that toll financing must be investigated.

TOLLROADSnews 2011-12-09

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