Local Lawmakers Pump the Brakes on Streetcar Support

By Jonathan Sperling and David Brand

Queens lawmakers are tempering their support for the streetcar that Mayor Bill de Blasio — and waterfront developers — desire.

An August report by the New York City Economic Development Corporation determined that the Brooklyn Queens Connector, known as the BQX, will cost more — roughly $2.8 billion — and take longer to build than originally announced. The final route will also be shorter than initially planned.

In September, de Blasio announced that the administration would proceed with revised plans for the BQX. Only about half of that cost would come from private funding while the rest would be covered by the federal government.

The proposed streetcar line would stretch from Astoria to Red Hook in Brooklyn, though it was once slated to reach Sunset Park. The route changes, cost increases and risk of gentrification and displacement in neighborhoods served by the streetcar have motivated two Queens Council Members who represent neighborhoods along the route to pump the brakes on supporting the project.

“The devil is in the details here. As a member of the BQX committee, I have many questions on how this proposal would impact my district, which would be the northern end of the line,” Council Member Costa Constantinides told the Eagle. “My constituents deserve answers not just on funding, but how it might physically reshape our neighborhood. I firmly believe Queens residents deserve a holistic, multimodal, reliable transportation system that allows them to travel within or beyond the borough.”

Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer said he would have hard time ever supporting the project.

“The BQX preliminary report does not leave me believing in its viability,” Van Bramer told the Eagle. “I prefer a less disruptive alternative, such as dedicated bus lanes. The estimated cost of the project had already been extraordinarily expensive and now it is pricier, shorter, and delayed longer.”

Van Bramer said he also does not “understand the fixation with this proposal,” which would serve a limited number of people and would not begin construction for at least six more years.

“Construction wouldn’t begin until 2024? Western Queens and Long Island City need transportation infrastructure now,” Van Bramer said. “Not in ten years. I think the chances of this happening are very slim. So let’s re-focus on what can be done, what is realistic and doable. New bus lanes would provide my constituents with better service, quicker, and at a fraction of the cost.”