As GREENLINE reported earlier, the BQE is getting long due repairs and a revisioning thanks to NYC Department of Transportation (NYC DOT). The community is currently being asked to offer their views on how they use the BQE and share ideas on how to make it and its area streets better.
However, the NYC DOT controls only 1.5 miles of the BQE (the triple-cantilever section along the Promenade in Brooklyn Heights). Whereas the New York State Department of Transportation (NYS DOT) controls the remaining 10.2 miles. At present, the NYS DOT seems content to let the NYC DOT do the work and hopes the public doesn’t see this as the State shirking responsibility.
On February 13, elected officials and community leaders gathered at a park yards from the BQE to call on New York State to do the right thing, all the while knowing this is not something the State wants to do.
According to District 33 NYC Council Member Lincoln Restler, the NYS DOT doesn’t want to touch the BQE. “[Last week in Albany representatives called NYS DOT to question about the BQE] they said ‘we’re not touching it, we’re not dealing with it, we’ve got bigger fish to fry, we’re afraid of the BQE,'” Restler summarized his view of a recent state legislative session at the February 13 press conference organized by Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso.
“If we miss this opportunity to address the harms of the past, make no mistake: New York State is to blame,” said Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso.
Reynoso was born and raised near the BQE, not far from Jaime Campiz Playground in Williamsburg (Metropolitan Avenue and Marcy Street). “If you are born and raised in Williamsburg, you are born into environmental justice. The health risks here have made us climate activists from the start. Whether it is oil spills, transfer stations, or the topic of today: the BQE,” he said at the start of the press conference.
Reynoso referenced the passage of Public Law 117-58 also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. This law provides $550B of Federal funds over fiscal years 2022 through 2026 to be invested in infrastructure projects that involve roads, bridges, and mass transit, etc. “Since the passage of the bill NYC DOT has been worked tirelessly to ensure that they secure some of this funding for the Brooklyn cantilever portion of the BQE. The same cannot be said of the NYS DOT.”
With the cantilever being renovated, and NYS soon to be receiving approximately $8.4B in funding for transportation from the Federal Government, the community and their leaders see this as a perfect time to rectify an environmental injustice.
“Our children will continue to play on either side of the BQE sucking in these fumes. We’re going to have to continue to deal with a highway on top of a highway on top of a highway while the Brooklyn cantilever in an area that is more affluent gets a brand-new redesign,” Reynoso proclaimed this as the result of NYS’s inaction.
District 34 NYC Council Member Jennifer Gutiérrez said, “Perhaps we need to educate the NYS DOT on what it means to be an environmental justice community. It means since Robert Moses it has been our communities that have had to breathe the fumes, that have to deal with the environmental issues of this racist highway. It’s us dealing with the risks every single day not the NYS DOT. It means to be unapologetic in what we demand and the future that we seek. The damage is done. We don’t stand here for ourselves; we stand here for our descendants we stand here for our future.”
U.S. Representative Nydia Velázquez was represented by Evelyn Cruz, who also grew up in Williamsburg’s Southside, but on the other side of the BQE as Reynoso. “NYS will be receiving approximately $8.4B for transportation. It is critical for NYS to address the issue we are asking them to. Now NYS has the opportunity to right an environmental injustice. It is important that we consider these impacts and take steps to mitigate them and improve the air quality and reconnect communities,” she said.
“The BQE has hundreds of thousands of residents living on either side of this corridor. That’s a phenomenal amount of people that are impacted,” began St. Nicks Alliance Deputy Executive Director of Housing Frank Lang. “We ask the governor to be brave, to have a vision, and look to the future to try and see how she can help the mayor and us all to make this place a better place to live. So we can continue to grow in a positive way. It can’t grow in a positive way if our kids are playing with the exhaust of trucks and cars around them. We represent a lot of the residents here and they will be working with the elected officials to see how we can make change.”