2016-05-18 / Front Page

BQX In Dream Stage

To The Editor:
There are still many issues to resolve before going forward with the NYC Economic Development Corporation’s proposed Brooklyn-Queens Connector transportation project. “BQX Visions” (Front Page, May 11). Construction of a waterfront street car to connect various neighborhoods between Astoria and Sunset Park at a cost of $2.5 billion does not take into consideration today’s financial reality. Previously, the Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector released a study claiming it could be built for $1.7 billion. Within months, the cost already went up by $800 million. Imagine how many more billions it might cost when completed. It takes more than a simple planning feasibility study to turn into a viable capital transportation improvement project. There have been no environmental documents or preliminary design and engineering efforts necessary to validate any basic estimates for price tag of $2.5 billion for construction of the Brooklyn-Queens Waterfront Streetcar Connector. What is the cost and funding source above the $2.5 billion base line cost to pay for two new bridges over the Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek as part of project scope?
They would have to be refined as progress proceeds beyond the planning and environmental phases into real preliminary and final design efforts. Unfortunately, history has shown that estimated costs for construction usually trend upwards as projects mature toward 100% final design. Progression of final design refines the detailed scope of work necessary to support construction. The anticipated final potential cost would never be known until completion. Costs would be further refined by award of construction contracts followed by any unforeseen site conditions and change orders to the base contracts during the course of construction.
Claims that construction would start in 2019 and service begin by 2024 may both be just wishful thinking. History shows that construction of most major new transportation system expansion projects take decades. Beyond completion of a feasibility study, there are many more activities including environmental reviews, design, engineering, real estate acquisition, permits, procurements, budgeting, identifying and securing funding to pay for all of the above before construction can start.
There are many narrow streets along the proposed corridor. Any street car system will have to compete with existing bus, auto, commercial vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians. At an estimated speed of 12 miles per hour, how many people would actually take advantage of a street car versus other existing options? Which neighborhoods will come forward and accept two multi-acre operations, maintenance and storage facilities necessary to accommodate 52 or more street cars? Resolution of this issue alone could take years. Bus stops are normally every one to two blocks. Proposed spacing of street car stops every 1/2 mile will make it more difficult to attract riders. Utility relocation costs are estimated to be $427 million. Will NYC, just like the MTA, ask utility companies to pick up the tab?
Mayor de Blasio’s plan to finance this project by taking a percentage of property taxes on new development is robbing Peter to pay Paul. This would reduce the amount of money available for police, fire, sanitation and other essential municipal services. Neither the NYC Department of Transportation nor Economic Development Corporation have any experience in design, construction or operations of street car systems. Mayor de Blasio will have to ask the MTA to serve as a project sponsor and future system operator. The MTA would have to enter the project into United States Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration New Starts program. The problem is that many other projects have already been accepted or may also enter the USDOT FTA New Starts or other federal funding programs. MTA, NYCDOT, Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, New Jersey Transit and Amtrak are all attempting to qualify projects for the same federal New Starts program.
Dozens of other potential New Starts projects are being championed by many other senators and Congress members. The requests far exceed any available New Starts funding. There will be few winners and many losers.
Completion of a planning study is just the first step of any potential capital transportation project improvement. The journey for a project of this scope can easily take 10 to 20 years before becoming a reality. You can wake up from the dream when the first construction contract is awarded and work begins. Don’t be surprised if the Brooklyn-Queens Connector waterfront street car remains a dream. Perhaps a new bus route along this corridor would make more sense.
Larry Penner
Great Neck

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