Mayor Adams defends BQE funding shift, says roadway safe

BQE cantilever in Brooklyn Heights
Traffic heads north on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in Brooklyn Heights.
File Photo by Kevin Duggan

Mayor Eric Adams defended on Sunday his plan to dramatically slash this year’s funding dedicated to maintaining the crumbling Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, insisting that the highway will remain safe despite the cutbacks.

“We’re never going to do anything that is going to jeopardize the structural safety or the soundness of the BQE — we’re not going to do that,” Adams told amNewYork Metro during an unrelated press conference in Manhattan on May 15.

The mayor wants to reduce the money in this year’s budget allocated to rehabilitating the decaying 1.5-mile triple-cantilever section of the BQE at the Brooklyn waterfront by 80%, from $225.1 million to just $44.6 million, as amNewYork Metro first reported Thursday.

Adams proposed to move the $180.5 million balance into future spending plans, and Hizzoner reiterated over the weekend that the city’s Department of Transportation has all the money it needs for projects along the beleaguered roadway. 

“What has happened historically is that we kept a large sum of money on the books of our agencies that they were not going to spend during that fiscal year,” he said. “If they told us ‘Yes, we can spend it in this fiscal year,’ and you get your shovel in the ground, we did not touch it.”

“We are streamlining how our agencies are spending money,” Adams added. “There’s no reason of walking around with money in your pocket that you’re not spending or you’re not using, — that just made no sense.”

DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez also told City Council members during a Thursday budget oversight hearing that the shift would not affect the 68-year-old structure’s safety, and that they could always move the money back if needed. 

The agency’s press office did not immediately provide more details Sunday on what specific projects the Department will fund with the remaining $44.6 million. 

The delay prompted “grave concern” among local Council member Lincoln Restler, who worried that the BQE overhauls were taking a backseat under the new administration, which the area lawmaker said could hamper longer-term larger redesigns of the highway. 

Adams committed to meet with Restler and the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget to see if any more money needs to be spent on the roadway.

The mayor and the Council have to hash out the city’s next annual budget before the beginning of the new fiscal year on July 1. 

“Lincoln and I are going to sit down with the agencies and OMB to see if we need to put the money in because they can actually spend it,” Adams said.

An expert panel appointed by former-Mayor Bill de Blasio found in early 2020 that the deterioration of the tiered stretch of the highway between Atlantic Avenue and Sands Street could render the road “unsafe and incapable of carrying current traffic within five years.”

De Blasio in August revealed a scheme that he said will extend the BQE’s lifespan for another 20 years by narrowing its lanes from six to four to reduce loads, increasing maintenance to shore up the structure, and by cracking down on overweight trucks with automated sensors, which are scheduled to start fining the heavy haulers by the end of the year.

That gave city and state officials time to come up with a larger transformation of the BQE corridor beyond the troubled section around Brooklyn Heights, and Adams, who has been involved in discussions around the project for years as Brooklyn borough president, said he still wanted to go through with the broader vision.

“We want the project done, but we also want to do the entire stretch,” he said. “It’s not just about one part of the BQE — we have Williamsburg, we have Sunset Park – it’s about all of those communities must use this opportunity to rethink that stretch of roadway.”