Kicking the Can Down the Road

by John Delach

Kicking the can down the road is the expression we usually give to our local, state and, yes, even national executives and legislators who use gimmicky accounting tricks to project financial problems into the future where they become somebody else’s concerns allowing them to side-step no-win issues rather than do their duty and try to fix them to the best of their ability.

This chicanery goes on every day with the biggest ones being our national debt and the Social Security and Medicare trust funds. Out government regardless of party affiliations has allowed these issues to  morph into “legal” Ponzi schemes. Hell, If Bernie Madoff had worked for Uncle, he would have never gone to prison.

Today, the City of New York is facing a severe problem with one of the major interstate highways that traverse the boroughs; the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, aka, Interstate 278, or the BQE as it is commonly known. Curiously, this problem only concerns a small section of this expressway, less than a mile, where the roadway runs under and through Brooklyn Heights between the Manhattan Bridge and Atlantic Avenue  

A word of explanation here. The BQE was built in sections starting in 1936. The last section in Queens didn’t open until 1964. Robert Moses seized control of the routing and construction after World War II. In 1950 he extended the road on an elevated highway south from the Kosciuszko Bridge to the Williamsburg Bridge. In doing so, Moses pushed the road through the blue-collar neighborhoods of Greenpoint and Williamsburg using his powers as NYC’s transportation tsar and Federal Law to condemn the buildings in his path as slums that he replaced with a highway.

The next step was to extend the BQE south from  the Williamsburg Bridge through Clintonville and Fort Greene, then through DUMBO, Brooklyn Heights and Red Hook to connect with the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and the Gowanus Expressway.

The route his engineers chose for the section of the BQE through Red Hook was an open cut running from Atlantic Avenue to the interchange for the tunnel. This led to condemning a row of fourteen square blocks of blue-collar housing in this neighborhood where the working poor, immigrants and people of color lived.

But not Brooklyn Heights. “The story was different in Brooklyn Heights, whose more affluent and influential residents were able to win design concessions from Moses that the poorer, mostly Italian -immigrant Red Hook residents could not.”

“Brooklyn Heights remained intact, as the expressway was moved four blocks to the west and redesigned into a bluff-hugging, double-level roadway topped by the Promenade and its magnificent Manhattan panorama. Red Hook got a below-ground, open-cut highway that still pours pollution into neighborhood streets.:

‘They got the Promenade, and we got the shaft,’ said Red Hook Celia Cacace.

‘What can you do?’ said Joe Tomo, who ran  a Red Hook candy store. ‘You can’t fight City Hall.’ And Robert Moses was City Hall.”

Those affected and their allies rightly condemned Moses for his bully tactics, but nobody objected to the magnificent section of the highway his architects and engineers built under the bluff in the Heights. All three levels were cantilevered into an enormous steel and reinforced concrete frame built into the bluff that allowed the two, three-lane decks of traffic and the upper most Promenade to be free of obstructing columns.

Since 1954 when this section of highway opened, the BQE has been subjected to a daily assault by a volume of traffic well beyond what engineers contemplated, heavier and heavier trucks and exposure to weather and sea salt in the air. Several years ago, engineers determined that the Brooklyn Heights cantilevered sections could fail by 2025.

At the mayor’s request, an engineering firm produced four alternative solutions. Every one of them reached the same conclusion, rebuilding or replacing this section of the BQE would be an expensive nightmare. Three of the four proposals called for closing the Promenade, at least for the duration of the reconstruction. ( The fourth called for replacing the existing structure with a tunnel, the costliest alternative.)

Our City fathers and mothers engaged in secret conferences. They knew that powerful forces opposed all the proposed alternatives and reached the conclusion that a consensus wasn’t in the cards. Every precinct got its say. Every pressure group must be recognized. No one is willing to be the decider. Truly, the inmates oversee the asylum, and it appears that this is how the majority of the city’s electorate are content, that a lack of leadership is their style of government.   

Nobody can or will make the tough decisions. The BQE is falling down. So, what to do? What else, kick the can down the road!

Delay the decision for twenty-years!  How? Reduce the number of lanes from six to four. Ban oversized trucks from using this stretch of the BQE, (good luck with that,) and apply Band-Aids to this section by repairing and replacing critical pieces and parts as needed and pray that this lasts until it becomes somebody else’s problem.

They ignored the obvious, reducing the number of lanes going through the Heights from six to four will not reduce the number of vehicles using it, it will only create two new bottlenecks: One for traffic going south starting from about Flushing Avenue and the second, for traffic going north from the Gowanus Expressway. This is exactly what transpired the on the first Monday morning after the number of lanes was reduced and what continues every day including weekends from about 6 AM until about 10 PM.

Excuse me, did I just hear someone say: “Where is Bob Moses when we need him?”