Thinking caps: What federal infrastructure dollars could mean for masking over NYC’s Robert Moses highways

The passage of President Joe Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure invoice in Washington final week sparked a flurry of pushes to deal with the degradation and division attributable to New York Metropolis’s city highways final week.

The invoice features a $1 billion pilot program to reconnect communities divided by transportation infrastructure, and Large Apple leaders seized on the second to place town’s highways heart.

Senate Majority Chief Chuck Schumer joined a rally on Nov. 9 demanding officers cap over a section of the Cross Bronx Expressway and construct a park on prime of it.

The subsequent day, influential constructing trade honcho Carlo Scissura went on a screed towards the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, saying it should be torn down and changed it with a tunnel.

The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway cuts by means of Carroll Gardens within the type of a trench.Picture by Kevin Duggan

Authorities officers and engineers have been scratching their heads for years about what to do with the BQE specifically, whose triple-cantilever part wrapping round Brooklyn Heights has been decaying quickly.

Now, specialists say the federal cash will direct renewed focus towards these roadways which have separated neighborhoods for a long time.

“It’s a good step forward and certainly could allow new ideas and new approaches to get new attention,” mentioned Kate Slevin, government vp of the non-profit Regional Planning Affiliation. “It shows the federal government’s interest and intention in addressing some of the longstanding historical inequities and environmental degradation from construction of these highways.”


The infrastructure bundle — formally dubbed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and anticipated to be signed into legislation by Biden Monday, Nov. 15 — consists of $550 million of latest spending throughout 5 years.

A part of that’s the so-called Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program, which was initially alleged to have $20 billion however was whittled all the way down to $1 billion throughout Senate negotiations.

The scheme targets services like highways or viaducts which are a “barrier to community connectivity,” in line with the invoice textual content and the feds will fund efforts to “remove, retrofit, or mitigate” such buildings.

Many of those highways had been constructed by means of working class neighborhoods through the twentieth century, particularly in communities of shade, famous Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg final week. 

Candidates for this system can get a grant of as much as $2 million for planning and $5 million for development if their proposal has already been fleshed out, in line with the invoice textual content.

The US Division of Transportation claims the cash will be capable to reconnect as many as 20 communities by taking down sections of interstates, redesigning rural principal streets, and repurposing former rail strains.

Deputy Secretary Polly Trottenberg — previously New York Metropolis’s DOT commissioner — mentioned throughout a Nov. 9 convention name with reporters that this system and different funds and grants would launch over the approaching six months.

“In the next six months you’ll start to see some exciting news about how we’re bringing the plan to life,” Trottenberg mentioned. “Programs like Reconnecting Communities are gonna be high priorities.”

Discovering extra funds

The $1 billion for this system alone isn’t going to chop it, nonetheless, famous transit aficionados, as one mission DOT referenced to redesign the I-81 in Syracuse will cost twice that by itself.

A New York Metropolis Council proposal from February 2020 to bore a tunnel to exchange components of the BQE from Gowanus to South Williamsburg was estimated to value as a lot as $11 billion.

“Most of this funding is a small piece of the action,” mentioned Jon Orcutt, a former director of coverage on the metropolis DOT below then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg who now heads the advocacy group Bike New York.

The bigger pots will come from so-called system funding, recurring federal cash distributed to states for highways, bridges, and tunnels, together with different aggressive grants.

A whopping $110 billion is about to go towards roads, bridges, and main initiatives, and RPA estimates the Empire State will get some $11.6 billion for highways and one other $1.9 billion for bridges.

“The biggest chunk of cash coming to the New York region is for highways and there’s a lot of flexibility on how that could be spent,” mentioned Slevin of RPA. “It’s largely going to be up to the states to figure out how to spend that money.”

Biden’s stalled social spending plan often called Construct Again Higher could additionally unlock extra funds sooner or later, Slevin mentioned. 

The Cross Bronx Expressway proposal is probably going going to be cheaper, as a result of any plan for the BQE must additionally handle the triple-cantilever, in line with an engineering marketing consultant.

“The Cross Bronx is a less expensive endeavor because it involves capping a trench and you don’t have to tear it down,” mentioned Matthew Carmody of the agency AKRF.

Powerful job

The 1.5-mile crumbling part of the BQE was initially alleged to turn into structurally unsafe by 2025, however further upkeep and weight management measures could prolong its life till 2040, in line with Mayor Invoice de Blasio.

Fixes for the 70-year-old tiered construction have been studied at size since no less than 2006, when the State DOT started planning to exchange the construction, earlier than abruptly suspending its mission in 2011.

The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway triple-cantilever in Brooklyn Heights.Picture by Todd Maisel

State officers misplaced curiosity afterward and town DOT took over, however its proposal to construct a brief freeway on prime of the triple cantilever’s higher deck, which serves as a scenic pedestrian promenade, was shot down by residents.

“The [Governor Andrew] Cuomo administration kind of dumped it on the city,” mentioned Orcutt. “I don’t even know how the city ended up with it. The state has really responsibility for the interstates.”

Officers have convened three panels to check fixes for the roadway within the final 15 years, one in 2006 by NYS DOT, one other in 2015 by NYC DOT, and a 3rd in 2019 by Mayor de Blasio.

De Blasio’s so-called professional panel noted that 150,000 vehicles cross the I-278 daily, together with 15,000 vehicles making it a essential hall for freight.

Orcutt mentioned town should convey the state again in and collect a world-class group, drawing on experiences from related initiatives across the nation and the globe.

Examples embody the tearing down of the Sheridan Expressway within the Bronx and turning it right into a boulevard in 2019; the demolition of the Alaskan Means Viaduct in Seattle that yr, the place visitors reportedly “just disappeared,”; or the removal of the Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco after the devastating 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake severely broken the construction.

Or take the Cheonggye Expressway in Seoul, South Korea, being reworked right into a public park and stream, and Paris the place the native mayor repurposed main roadways into bike and pedestrian areas through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s a lot of examples you can draw on what happened to the traffic, people do actually have answers about that,” he mentioned.

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