Editorial | Where is the urgency to rebuild the crumbling BQE cantilever?

the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway
The infamous triple cantilever portion of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.
Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE) cantilever on the Brooklyn waterfront continues to stand under the weight of thousands of cars and trucks crossing it every day, even though it is well beyond its useful life span.

For years, the city has hemmed and hawed over how to rebuild it, taking in public input, presenting and ditching one plan of action after another. Funding for this project is uncertain; the city lost out on federal grant funding for reconstruction, and there currently is only about $175 million allocated for a project with an estimated cost exceeding $5.5 billion.

Thanks to all the uncertainty, the reconstruction effort had been pushed back to 2028. In recent days, the city Department of Transportation released yet another new design for the BQE cantilever that basically rebuilds the triple-decked roadway and promenade already in place — but with the start date also pushed back yet another year, to 2029.

The existing cantilever — constructed in 1955 — has been held together with patchwork improvements and lane changes to reduce the load. But it is now approaching 20 years beyond its useful existence; a panel of experts in 2020 had said the cantilever itself, without any major renovations, could become unsafe for traffic by 2026.

Do the math, and that’s three years between the pushed-back 2029 start date of the BQE cantilever rebuild, and the year 2026, when experts say the road could be completely unsafe for travel.

Meanwhile, the city is going through the proper protocol of public review for the project, as if it were any other public project where the city has all the time in the world to plan and meet the community’s needs and desires. 

The BQE cantilever is no ordinary road, and the effort to replace it is no ordinary project — not when the cantilever is close to 20 years beyond its usable lifespan, and the clock furiously ticking away toward being completely unsafe at any speed, weight or volume.

Where is the urgency among the Adams administration, other city and state elected officials, and stakeholders in the project to get the job done before disaster strikes? 

The city is risking a major disaster on one of its busiest roads. If disaster strikes at the wrong time, people will be killed, the road will be destroyed, traffic will swamp the area for months and years, commerce will take a major hit — and City Hall will be bombarded with lawsuits for negligence.

We get that the BQE cantilever impedes public access to the waterfront, an original sin of Robert Moses’ reign of terror. We get that it’s an eyesore and could be replaced with something far more aesthetically pleasing and environmentally friendly through years of effort.

But sadly, time is running short. The BQE cantilever must be rebuilt now. It’s time for the city to get serious about it, find the money, and get to work.