The city’s Department of Transportation (DOT) has stalled on its commitment to implement sensors on the crumbling Brooklyn-Queens Expressway intended to fine owners of overweight trucks, a group of Brooklyn elected officials charged on Wednesday.
The six local pols say the DOT looks set to blow an anticipated working deadline of this month to install “weigh-in-motion” (WIM) sensors on the BQE’s city-owned triple cantilever section in Brooklyn Heights, which would detect and automatically levy a $650 fine to owners of illegally overweight trucks making the jaunt on the rapidly deteriorating Robert Moses-era highway.
“After a year of anticipating a January 2023 roll out of WIM, and being told by DOT that the program was on schedule, we were just informed that DOT has not yet completed the sensor installation,” reads the statement signed by Congressmembers Dan Goldman and Nydia Velázquez, state Senators Andrew Gounardes and Brian Kavanagh, Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, and City Councilmember Lincoln Restler.
“As we embark on what will undoubtedly be a long and complicated process to improve and re-imagine the entire BQE corridor,” they continued, “we want the public to know that we are deeply concerned about this delay, and we are doing everything we can to keep communities safe.”
Legally, trucks traveling along the triple cantilever cannot weigh more than 40 tons, or 80,000 pounds. But an analysis by an “expert panel,” convened under former Mayor Bill de Blasio, found about 11.1% of trucks using the highway hauled loads exceeded that limit, with some especially corpulent lorries packing as much as 170,000 pounds.
That poses major problems for the crumbling triple cantilever, which the same expert panel warned could become unsafe to use as early as 2026 barring major repair or replacement work, strict vehicle weight limits, or even an outright ban on truck traffic.
“Higher live loads cause greater stress on the structure, shorten its life, decrease reliability and reduce the safety factor,” the experts wrote.
Transit honchos had promised the technology’s implementation on the cantilever by this month, the electeds charge — but they now say WIM has not yet passed muster with federal “calibration standards,” meaning regulators aren’t confident the technology will work as advertised and dole out tickets only for legit offenses.
DOT spokesperson Vin Barone said the WIM sensors are already in place on the cantilever, but can’t be turned on to begin enforcement until they can be properly calibrated.
“As the Adams administration develops concepts for a long-term fix for BQE Central, DOT is rigorously monitoring the triple cantilever and making interim repairs as needed to ensure it remains structurally sound,” said Barone. “We have installed weigh-in-motion sensors along BQE Central and are working through remaining internal and external administrative processes to launch what will be a first-in-the-nation enforcement program against overweight trucks.”
In the meantime, DOT wants to assure the public that the cantilever is at no immediate risk of collapse. Nevertheless, the electeds say that WIM installation should be an immediate priority, given the potential doomsday scenario should the geriatric structure tumble down.
“NYC DOT needs to expeditiously work to get WIM in place, and immediately accelerate investments to preserve this faltering structure before it is too late,” said the pols. “This includes safety and remedial measures that the City committed to taking, but has since postponed, such as waterproofing roadway joints on the cantilever.”
In his waning days as mayor, de Blasio opted to cut the number of travel lanes in each direction from three to two, which he posited would relieve pressure on the roadway and extend its useful life for up to 20 years — but punted on longer-term plans to address the structure’s sustainability to his successor, Eric Adams.
Last month, Adams rolled out a suite of potential options for the highway’s future, which would involve either partial or total rebuilds of the cantilever’s retaining wall and partially cover the unsightly artery, using that coverage to connect greenspaces on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade above the BQE and Brooklyn Bridge Park below. The proposals are currently snaking through the community engagement process, but Hizzoner said a final plan should be selected by this spring, just in time to apply for federal infrastructure grant money.
The tentative plans have been flanked by criticism, though, including from the same local elected officials, who took particular umbrage at the potential move to restore a third lane in each direction on the cantilever, even if only for high-occupancy vehicles or buses. The electeds have been joined by an eclectic consortium of safe streets advocates, local civic groups, and even industrial titans in calling for bolder plans, up to and including tearing the highway down and reimagining the corridor.
This story was updated at 4:03 pm 1/11/23 with comment from DOT