New Route, But No New Funding, For BQX

BY JON CRONIN

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office gave the greenlight for the BQX streetcar this week, releasing a new report that detailed a slightly shorter route for the Brooklyn Queens waterfront light rail.

In this new report, which was released by the mayor’s office last week, the project will skip the Sunset Park stop. According to the report, the route will connect Astoria, Long Island City, Greenpoint, Williamsburg, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Downtown Brooklyn and Red Hook. In the original report, the Brooklyn routes were determined, but the route the streetcar would take to get to its Queens locations was not stated.

Since its announcement in 2016, little has been revealed about the nearly $3 billion project.

When it was initially announced, the project was expected to pay for itself through a method known as “value capture,” which would create tax revenue for the city through the private investment of the area surrounding the route.

At a reporters’ roundtable in Brooklyn, de Blasio said that funding for the project “will be a challenge, but New York City is taking it on.”

He added that this study “was informed by robust public engagement conducted through numerous community meetings and workshops and input from elected officials and community organizations along the corridor.”

De Blasio noted that the next phase of the project will be an environmental-impact study this winter, which will be followed by the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) in 2020. He anticipates that construction will begin in 2024 and end in 2029.

While discussing the value-capture concept, the mayor said that “there will be some real funding created by its presence,” but added that the project would also need federal funding.

“I don’t think it’s doable without federal support, but we’ll speak to the details,” he said.

Regarding federal budgeting, the mayor believes that if Democrats win more seats in the legislature in November, this would lead to increased allocations towards the city’s Northeast Corridor and the BQX.

“Now, the good news is we have seen the beginning, the beginning in the last budget reconciliation of some spending on infrastructure,” he said. “I am hoping that is the beginning of something much bigger. Obviously, [Northeast Corridor expansion project] Gateway, a very important project for the city, is moving, but it’s something that would have to move federally going forward. I keep a hopeful stance on that, particularly as it relates to the outcome of the coming election.”

City Councilman Carlos Menchaca (D-Brooklyn), chairman of the City Council’s BQX taskforce, said that he is skeptical about the need and payment method of the light rail, even after seeing the new proposal.

“I want to stress that the financing problem is connected to the public-interest problem. It would be easier to understand the need to pay for such a large infrastructure project if it was also clear what transportation needs the project was addressing.”

Menchaca believes that the city’s Economic Development Corporation has not established the need for the streetcar.

“We know private-property owners and other major waterfront developments in North Brooklyn will benefit from the streetcar,” he said. “The question is whether the public will, or if it will just displace lots of people and businesses who had no need of the streetcar to begin with. No other relevant entity — such as the DOT or MTA — has weighed in on the economic or environmental impact of this project.”

In the press release for the new report, Polly Trottenberg, city DOT commissioner, said that the BQX “has the potential to be an integral part of our city’s expanding transportation system. It will complement and connect to our subway and bus system, the NYC ferry and bike share, while transforming city streets.”

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