Sept. 4, 2020 By Allie Griffin
The future of the $2.7 billion streetcar connecting western Queens to the Brooklyn waterfront will be up to the next mayor of New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday.
The coronavirus pandemic and fiscal constraints have significantly delayed the timeline of the project, dubbed the Brooklyn Queens Connector or BQX.
The city had just begun the environmental review process for the 11-mile streetcar project in February but the pandemic brought the process to a screeching halt. It was scheduled to begin scoping and public hearings in May and June, but has been delayed indefinitely.
Yesterday, de Blasio said the next administration will decide the fate of the project, as his term ends in 2021.
“We’re going to continue to do the work to prepare,” he said at a press briefing. “The decisions will have to be made by-and-large in the next administration given the time that’s been lost here.”
The project also comes at a time when New York City faces a multi-billion-dollar budget hole due to economic fallout from the pandemic.
At the end of April, de Blasio said he was unsure whether the city had the funds to cover its share of the costs — given the budget crisis. He said that “substantial federal funding” was needed to make the project a reality.
Critics of the BQX argue that the project is not worth the multi-billion dollar cost. Many transit advocates say the money would be better spent on improving MTA buses and bus lanes, which cost much less.
The BQX does, however, have its supporters. A coalition of local businesses along the route have been advocating for it, along with developers and business improvement groups.
The streetcar, which was first announced by de Blasio in 2016, would connect Astoria, Queens to Red Hook, Brooklyn.
Critics also say the project would serve mostly wealthy neighborhoods along the route and benefit real estate developers.
However, the city estimates that the light rail would serve 40,000 NYCHA residents, who live along the route, including those at Queensbridge and Ravenswood Houses.
De Blasio is still an advocate for a light rail system, pointing to its success in other cities across the country.
“Again, a lot of the decisions will have to be deferred to the future, but the more we can build out mass transit in the city, the better off we’re going to be,” he said.
This comes as no surprise that due to the financial crises as a result of COVID-19 on the municipal budget, Mayor Bill de Blasio has abandoned advancing his $2.7 billion Brookyn Queens Streetcar Connector project known as BQX. There was never a guarantee that the Federal Transit Administration would pay for 50% of the cost. Dreams of Amazon doing the same have come and gone, since they canceled coming to Long Island City. There is no funding for this project in the MTA $51 billion 2020 – 2024 Five Year Capital Plan. There is no commitment to use future Manhattan congestion pricing toll revenues starting in 2022 to help fund this project. It remains to be seen if this project will be included within the pending long range MTA 2020 – 2040 Capital Needs Assessment Plan document. There is no proposed funding to advance this project in either the city or state budgets. No one knows if the next Mayor will support this project and make it a priority. Mayor de Blasio never requested approval to enter the FTA New Starts process for future funding. The project is not included within the February 2020 FTA New Starts report for federal fiscal year 2021. Don’t count on seeing it in the next FTA New Starts report for federal fiscal year 2022. Successful completion of this process averages five years before there is an approved Federal Full Funding Grant Agreement in place.
Mayor de Blasio’s plan to finance this project by taking a percentage of property taxes (value capture) on new development was always robbing Peter to pay Paul. This would reduce the amount of money available for police, fire, sanitation and other essential municipal services. Both the NYC DOT and Economic Development Corporation have no experience in design, construction or operations of street car systems. Mayor de Blasio never asked the MTA to serve as a project sponsor and system operator. The MTA, not wanting to use its own funding, would have to enter the project into the FTA New Starts program. MTA, NYC DOT, Port Authority, NJ Transit and Amtrak are all attempting to qualify many other projects for the same federal New Starts program.
Don’t count on riding the BQX in your life time. Instead, try running simple limited stop bus service on the same route. The MTA NYC Transit Queens Bus Network Redesign Draft Plan currently on hold proposed creation of the new QT 1 bus route. It would cross the Pulaski Bridge to connect Astoria, Long Island City, Greenpoint, Williamsburg, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and downtown Brooklyn. This might make for a low cost easy to implement improvement rather than the $2.7 billion BQX.
(Larry Penner is a transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously worked for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 NY Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for grants supporting billions in capital projects and programs on behalf of the MTA NYC Transit bus and subway, NYC DOT Staten Island Ferry & private franchised bus operators along with 30 other transit agencies in NY & NJ)
Great informative comment. However why is this even being discussed at a time like this? There are so many more pressing problems to be concentrating on.