Pipe dream! State is considering long tunnel to bypass BQE

The Brooklyn Paper
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Dig they might!

State transportation officials are considering a tunnel under Brownstone Brooklyn that would stretch all the way from the Prospect Expressway to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, thereby bypassing all of Downtown and clearing the way for a major repair of the crumbling, sclerotic triple-cantilevered portion of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in Brooklyn Heights.

The extraordinarily ambitious two-and-a-half-mile tunnel is one of several options for replacing the beleaguered highway that is being considered by the state Department of Transportation, but it is already emerging as a favorite.

“It’s brilliant,” said Allen Swerdlowe, an architect participating in state-sponsored design workshops, who praised the tunnel idea because it would discourage traffic-enraged drivers from exiting the highway as they do now and driving on local streets.

Four participants in the workshops interviewed by The Brooklyn Paper all agreed that a tunnel would be the least-disruptive and most-effective way to control traffic on the chronically clogged stretch of the BQE, though they all hastened to add that the ideas being discussed were very much in the conceptual stage.

Interestingly, it was civic-minded Cobble Hill resident with no engineering background — Roy Sloane — who came up with a link that he dubbed the “Cross-Downtown Brooklyn tunnel.” At its length, it would be a full mile longer than the Brooklyn–Battery Tunnel, which is currently the longest roadway tunnel in North America.

According to Sloane, the tunnel could serve as an express route to North Brooklyn, while the triple-cantilevered stretch of the BQE would become a “local” route that would funnel traffic to the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges as well as local streets.

Still, there were some differences among proponents of the tunnel as to what should be done with the decaying stretch of the BQE.

“I don’t like that because it creates more capacity, and once you increase capacity drivers start using it and you create more problems,” said Swerdlowe, adding that he preferred a tunnel with exits to local streets and that the triple-cantilevered roadway could be converted into a recreation area of some sort.

“The High Line [in Manhattan] could certainly be a model,” he said.

Other tunnel configurations being considered include one linking the so-called BQE trench west of Atlantic Avenue with the below-grade stretch of the BQE in South Williamsburg near Wythe Avenue. The other involves a much shorter tunnel that would stretch from the trench to Park Avenue somewhere in Fort Greene.

A spokesman for the state Department of Transportation was unavailable for comment. But in an earlier conversation, the spokesman, Adam Levine, had said that the tunnel idea had not constituted a “eureka moment,” and that the agency was proceeding slowly and giving ample consideration to all possibilities.

The other concepts being discussed involve widening the triple-cantilevered portion, possibly to include an emergency lane. The state is also considering adding new supports, which would eliminate the cantilever design — an engineering marvel.

The last option involves rehabilitating the existing the BQE and leaving it as is.

Previously, the state had considered an expansion of the BQE that would have required the seizure of 300 to 400 residences and 50 commercial properties through eminent domain — a possibility that was taken off the table after a public outcry.

There are many ideas out there, but one thing is for certain: The BQE is in desperate need of repairs, as it does not meet federal highway standards, is prone to traffic and accidents, and is rapidly deteriorating.

Swerdlowe said that whichever concept ends up getting the green light, the tunnel should be seriously considered.

“This is not something that is theoretical — it’s not a matter of, ‘Let’s figure out how to do this,’ ” he said. “Inner city tunnels have been done all over the world.”

The next workshop meeting will be at St. Francis College (180 Remsen St. between Court and Hicks streets in Brooklyn Heights) on Sept. 22 at 6:30 pm. Details of the project can be found by visiting the state transportation website at

Updated 5:20 pm, July 9, 2018: Minor change to get those tunnel geeks off our back!
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Reasonable discourse

mole man from underground says:
“Inner city tunnels have been done all over the world.” In the case of "The Big Dig" in Boston, it took how many decades? I'm not categorically saying don't build a tunnel replacement--the results in Beantown are fabulous and maybe worth the pain--but let's take a hard look at all options.
Aug. 25, 2010, 9:03 am
MIchael F says:
Does anyone realize that in the early 1900's, the Port Authority was established with two goals in mind. Build a vehicular tunnel from NJ to NY (The Holland tonnuel) and build a rail tunnel from NJ to Brooklyn. Almost 100 years later and the rail tunnel is still on thedrawing board. If it were ever built, it would eliminate a large portion of the trucks that are forced to use the BQE everyday as they unload in NJ and make there way to points west.

I think we need to really revisit this idea as well. As for the BQE mess, you can still thank Robert Moses for that one.
Aug. 25, 2010, 9:47 am
MIchael F says:
Sorry for the typos. I hit "enter" to quickly. And I meant points east, not west.
Aug. 25, 2010, 9:48 am
Bolwerk says:
Michael F: Not to say it doesn't make sense to build a rail tunnel anyway, but no it wouldn't. Not without serious changes in railroad regulation. Our freight system is possibly as third world as they come.

This BQE tunnel is a load of crap. It's billions of dollars that could be spent building whole new subway lines that might actually have a chance of moving people without repulsive traffic jams.
Aug. 25, 2010, 12:16 pm
Eddie H says:
This BQE tunnel is a waste of tax dollars. Does the state DOT ever come up with an idea that doesn't involve more expressways, more tunnels, more bridges, more cars? How about money for better sidewalks, better bike lanes, better rail freight connections, and better subway connections between Brooklyn south and north? Their solutions are always about more cars.
Aug. 25, 2010, 1:41 pm
BrooklynBrood from Park Slope says:
This will never get built. NEVER.
They are never going to be able to dig under all those residential neighborhoods. (Moses almost didn't get to build the BQE because of residential protests, and he he practically carte blanche to build whatever he wanted.)
Half the traffic on the BQE is to and from the Manhattan, Brooklyn bridges and the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, which this bypasses. What is this tunnel for, a quicker drive to Staten Island?
And that isn't even considering the insane cost of this boondoggle.
Frankly, I'm insulted that the DOT are spending any money even considering this project.
Aug. 25, 2010, 2:41 pm
aeolius from heights says:
Do we have any idea how much of the truck traffic is due to the straight-arming Staten Island did to get tolls at the Verrazano Bridge collected only one way. So as to get traffic off their streets, So trucks go across to the Holland tunnel to save the doubled toll west bound.
Why not make the SI highway an express route and then return to toll two way as is usual.
This way trucks would stay off both SI and Brooklyn-Manhattan streets
Aug. 25, 2010, 3:31 pm
Vitruvius from Prospect Heights says:
I agree that state and federal money is better spent elsewhere. Even from a traffic control standpoint, this doesn't work. If the original BQE triple-decker route was preserved, as Swerdlowe indicates, then this tunnel would do nothing to mediate the traffic across the BK/MAN bridges. And if it were converted in to parkland, you'd have thousands more vehicles dumped in to downtown BK and weaving around, trying to find their way to the bridges. Plus, this would increase capacity on the BK-Battery Tunnel and B-Burg bridges. Ridiculous on all counts. Give me a G-Train express tunnel, if you insist on building a tunnel somewhere.
Aug. 25, 2010, 3:46 pm
Moshe aron Kestenbaum from Williamsburg says:
From a Pipe Dreams to Tunnel Vision.The Pipe Dream Web site is currently down for maintenance.
Aug. 25, 2010, 5:56 pm
kelly from park slope says:
Missing from this story: cost estimates for the four plans. How could you leave that out??
Aug. 25, 2010, 6:18 pm
Moshe aron Kestenbaum from Williamsburg ODA says:
Robert Moses wake up.
Aug. 25, 2010, 7:34 pm
Rocco from Red Hook says:
Dude, "emerging as a favorite?" Are you f-ing serious? There's a better chance that DOT will build a tunnel to Atlantis than Sloane's tunnel getting done.
Aug. 25, 2010, 10:14 pm
Brownstone from Brooklyn says:
The tunnel will never happen because:

1) It probably interferes with several subway lines and other things that have already been underground for 100 years.

2) You can't get on the Brooklyn or Manhattan Bridges from the tunnel, meaning that commuters headed to Manhattan would have to get off at Red Hook or Fort Greene to cross the river, creating far worse traffic jams than the one on Hicks Street.

This is why this idea is nowhere near "a favorite" to anyone else besides those people who live alongside the BQE. And those people are stupid for liking this idea because then the bridge-related traffic would be a nightmare.
Aug. 25, 2010, 10:39 pm
Anon from Brooklyn Heights says:
Common people...trucks bring food out to Long Island. Do you want them hurtling down your residential blocks? Sure, toll the Verrazano both ways, toll the Brooklyn Bridge too, but these trucks are still going to go thru Bklyn on their way to someplace else to deliver needed goods - so this tunnel idea, as the man says, is brilliant.
Aug. 25, 2010, 10:44 pm
Brownstone from Brooklyn says:
Yeah the Atlantic-Pacific station wouldn't get in the way at all.
Aug. 25, 2010, 10:49 pm
Merelis from Ditmas Park says:
People love to pile up against new projects regardless of the scope or type. If it's a road project, they cry out about the lack of funding for rails. If it's a rail project, they cry out about the cost and disagree about the route. People tend to evaluate these projects in these "comments" sections simply based on their personal use. If you happen to commute from Brooklyn to Manhattan, you assume that nobody commutes from Brooklyn to Queens, or the Bronx, or anywhere else North and West of the city, which is totally ridiculous and myopic. I drive this stretch of road multiple times a day to multiple destinations as I have jobs all over the city. Most traffic, particularly truck traffic, does NOT diverge onto the Brooklyn, Manhattan or Williamsburg bridges.

Those of you assuming that these planners would build a tunnel bypassing all of the existing exits (Atlantic Ave, Brooklyn & Manhattan Bridges, Cadman, Tillary, Flushing, etc.) and then simply deactivate the existing roadway leaving all traffic on local roads obviously have no faith whatsoever in the capability of our urban planners. And what would this total lack of faith be based upon... name one project where something so stupid as removing miles worth of existing highway interchanges with no viable replacement has ever been perpetrated upon local communities. You can't.

This tunnel very well may be an excellent solution to the specific problem that none of the previous commenters address... the existing road must be repaired, it is an amazing cantilevered road that must be rebuilt with significant resources, time, and disruption. It is that disruption, years of total closures of dumping an overload of traffic onto Furman street below, next to the about-to-fully-open Brooklyn Bridge Park, that will create havoc with local and long-distance car trips all over Brooklyn with implications stretching into every borough of the city. The tunnel is possibly the only viable solution for re-routing this traffic during this imminent long-term re-construction and has the added benefit of increasing capacity in a stretch of road that is fed on both sides by many more lanes of traffic than it currently contains.

(And they can simply dig below subway lines and whatever is in the way. It has been and will continue to be done all over the world, including other existing projects in our own city)

So, please, before the piling on continues, consider this project in a big-picture way, if possible, and the discourse may actually be of some help to those involved in the project who are (hopefully) reading this. Good luck.
Aug. 26, 2010, 8:46 am
Bayof from Ditmas Park says:
Speaking of (or mostly against) tunnels,
extending PATH trains to Atlantic Terminal and connecting "A" and "Q" trains somehow at the Atlantic Pacific subway station should also be considered. While we're at it, Atlantic Terminal should install a mosaic in place of the unimaginative granits "sculputre" currently blanding up the site.
Aug. 26, 2010, 9:26 am
Bayof from Ditmas Park says:
That's "granite sculpture."
Aug. 26, 2010, 9:28 am
To Merelis from Ditmas Park says:
Merelis, do you really believe that digging this tunnel could be a way to divert traffic during repair of the cantilever? It is 100 times more difficult, costly and time consuming (and perhaps impossible) to create a six-lane tunnel through all the web of stuff under Brooklyn then to rebuild a cantilever. Think about the Second Avenue Subway. They say they can't even build a tunnel connecting the G train to the Atlantic-Pacific station and that's only a few blocks!

And also, having the tunnel REPLACE the cantilever is exactly what these people are proposing. You see, they live along the promenade and Hicks Street and don't like the BQE or all the traffic, so that's their main interests in the matter.

And finally, while plenty of people like you travel between Brooklyn and Queens, MOST people on the BQE are headed to and from Manhattan, you know, the largest business district in the world, where all those skyscrapers are.
Aug. 26, 2010, 10:02 am
ch from bh says:
The REAL —— is going to hit the fan when they reveal how many people's homes will need to be seized and demolished to make way for the tunnel's VENTS.

And if it's not your home torn down, imagine it's your neighbor's house, so now you live NEXT DOOR to an EXHAUST PIPE.

Aug. 26, 2010, 11 am
T from Brooklyn says:
Wait, am I reading the comments correctly? A tunnel to bypass the existing structure, so they can do repairs, is a viable solution? A tunnel....? This is NYC. It would take 40 years to BREAK GROUND on the tunnel , let alone get it completed before the existing BQE falls off the promenade.
Aug. 26, 2010, 12:21 pm
Bolwerk says:
Merelis: As a matter of fact, there is precedent in New York City for removing stretches of highway. It was so incredibly stupid that traffic improved drastically. This has been seen more drastically in other places.

I agree with your diagnosis about how nobody considers commutes from "Brooklyn to Queens, or the Bronx, or anywhere else North and West of the city." The unfortunate thing is planners surrendered these commutes to the automobile. Smart transportation financing would be focusing on improving rail links between these areas.
Aug. 26, 2010, 4:44 pm
Native Son from Clinton Hill says:
Cannot see imposing Emminent Domain to at least 5 neighborhoods in order to get this project done. It's also unnecessary. Fix the Gowanus & The BQE already. Create the rail tunnel from NJ to Bklyn.
Aug. 29, 2010, 11:06 am
Inclementus from Flatbush says:
Additional Tunnel Needs: PATH to Broorlyn: Bayridge to Staten Island: Red Hook to Governor's Island (really a part of Brooklyn); Astoria to South Bronx.
Aug. 30, 2010, 12:19 pm

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