Feb. 6, 2019 By Nathaly Pesantez
The controversial Brooklyn Queens Connector (BQX) project is heading into another phase in its proposed development after the city tapped a firm to carry out an essential study before the streetcar plan’s potential implementation.
The city’s Economic Development Corporation awarded VHB, an engineering and consulting firm, with a $7.25 million contract today to conduct the environmental review process for the planned 11-mile rail that would span from Astoria to Red Hook, according to the EDC.
“The BQX will link long-disconnected neighborhoods and shorten commutes for over half a million New Yorkers who live and work along the Brooklyn and Queens waterfront,” an EDC spokesperson said. “It is a 21st century solution to our city’s transit challenges and we’re excited to move the project forward.”
The environmental review, expected to take a year and a half, is a critical step that will ultimately determine what impacts the proposed light rail has on a broad variety of fronts including infrastructure, traffic, neighborhood character and beyond. The public can also help single out which areas the review should address.
Once the findings of the study are spelled out, another step known as the Uniform Land Review Process, or ULURP, can start. The months-long public review process will see the project reviewed by community boards and borough presidents before reaching the City Council for a vote.
Friends of the BQX, the non-profit rallying support for the project, said the contract award “marks the most significant step forward to date” for the project and “a clear commitment from the de Blasio administration.”
“As the city grapples with a transit crisis, now is the moment for it to take control of its mass transit destiny and expand access wherever it can” said Jessica Schumer, executive director of the non-profit, in a statement. “The BQX is an essential first step and will provide a model for future City-run light rail lines in transit deserts across the city.”
The news comes about five months after the city unveiled an updated plan for the BQX that saw a revised, shorter route and a higher price tag for the project. Its groundbreaking was also pushed from 2019 to 2024.
The prior plan, released in 2016, called for a 16-mile route that stretched to Sunset Park, and would cost $2.5 billion to construct, about $2.5 million less than its current estimated cost.
The city also insisted that no other funding would be required for the project at the time, but changed course in its new design when it said it would seek federal funding for the development.
The reworked design was also released after the city concluded a feasibility study that saw months of delays along the way, and which was scrutinized after a leaked memo questioned the streetcar’s financial viability.
Despite critics voicing concerns over many facets of the project—including the trolley’s potential gentrifying effects and the value of creating a new transit system on a waterfront corridor with existing connections—and the widespread belief that the project will not become a reality, given its changes and delays, the administration said it has stood firm in its efforts to bring the BQX about.
“For some reason, everybody thinks we are not serious but we have always been serious, said Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen to the Wall Street Journal. “The mayor wouldn’t have re-endorsed and announced we were moving forward if we weren’t moving forward.”
The public review process for the project, according to the city, is anticipated to kick off in 2020. Construction is expected to start in 2024 if approvals are obtained, with work to be completed in 2029.