Imagine a scenario where 15,000 trucks are rerouted off the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE) onto local streets in Brooklyn. This would be an unmitigated disaster. Yet, that is looking like a serious possibility. The NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) has indicated that the expressway has deteriorated to the point that if repairs are not completed by 2026, they will be forced to ban trucks from the 1.5 mile BQE stretch from Atlantic Avenue to Sands Street. After studying the issue, and securing “design-build” authorization DOT released its plan and were ready to begin construction. Then all hell broke loose.
Locals, advocates, and politicians were enraged about everything from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade being out of commission for years, to there being a temporary highway, to a highway being reconstructed as a highway in the first place. As such Mayor Bill de Blasio decided to appoint a blue ribbon panel of experts to asses various plans, engage stakeholders and advise DOT on the best course of action. The panel has been meeting since April and was supposed to issue a report in the summer.
Finally, the expert panel released their report and some of the recommendations are as follows:
- NYC DOT should immediately conduct all necessary maintenance and repair work based on the current condition of the roadway.
- Immediate reduction from three to two lanes of traffic in each direction
- Greater Enforcement on overweight trucks (more on this below)
- Reduce Demand to bring volumes down by 15 percent. The theory is that by a better built two-way highway and corresponding strategies traffic would actually flow much better. This is a valid theory but some of the assumptions the report makes to get there are troubling:
- Congestion Pricing-We know that since congestion pricing does not account for diminishing revenues that it will not reduce the number of vehicles, but the report assumes that now vehicles will take advantage of tolled tunnels. Perhaps some might, but large vehicles (which the report highlights) and hazmat vehicles can not use the tolled tunnels. So, there will be no diversion there
- Split tolling on the Verrazzano Bridge- The impact of State Island-bound traffic is unknown
- Permit Small Trucks on the Belt Parkway
- Create and support alternatives for local freight-Great for future freight considerations but doesn’t help present volumes
- Diverting some BQE traffic to the Williamsburg Bridge
- Promote a regional dispersion of traffic
- Better Transit Options
- Corridor Wide Planning from Staten Island to Queens
A silver lining here that the panel does not recommend but that DOT may wish to consider is reform of the overweight permit program. DOT used to issue overweight permits but has since stopped that practice. At the time the practice was stopped, trucks that currently had these permits could keep them. This has created a system of haves vs. have-nots. Trucks that obtain permits usually must be equipped with additional axles to spread the weight of the load, thus mitigating the impact on the pavement. Certainly, DOT would set the permit requirements and costs at levels they deem appropriate.
Hopefully, construction work begins on the BQE before trucks must be diverted onto local roadways. As for overall regional strategies, this report is just one small step.