Queens Eagle Staff
Mayor Bill de Blasio is signaling renewed support for the Brooklyn-Queens Connector — or the Queens-Brooklyn Connector, depending on who you talk to — by awarding a $7.2 million contract to a consulting firm to study the environmental impact of the 11-mile light rail project that would connect waterfront Brooklyn and Queens neighborhoods.
Some thought the streetcar, commonly referred to as the BQX — or, again, the QBX, if you’re reading press releases from Queens Borough Hall — was dead before arrival — but the city’s move signifies a renewed commitment to seeing the project through.
The funds will go to civil engineering consultancy VHB to produce an Environmental Impact Study, a required next step to move the project along in the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). Following public hearings, the plan will ultimately come before the City Council, whose approval is required before construction can begin.
The plan for the BQX surfaced in 2016 as a self-financed streetcar to traverse a 16 mile path through neighborhoods along the East River, from Sunset Park in Brooklyn to Astoria. The BQX would integrate with the MTA’s fare payment and transfer system.
In 2018, the price tag increased — and the route’s length decreased.
De Blasio announced in August that the BQX would need about $1 billion in federal funding for a total price tag of $2.5 billion, even after planners lopped off the five-mile span through transit-starved Sunset Park, citing worries of low ridership.
According to the Wall Street Journal, which first broke the story, the city expects an estimated 50,000 daily riders to use the streetcar.
Ben Fried, a spokesperson for commuter advocacy group TransitCenter, was not pleased with the city’s show of faith. Fried called the decision to move forward with the BQX plan “galling” at a time when people are still abandoning buses. The mayor, during his State of the City address in January, promised a bus improvement plan that would increase ridership by 25 percent by the end of 2020.
Conceding that the imminent arrival of Amazon HQ in Queens “could have an impact on the margins” of ridership, Fried maintained that those margins did not merit the expense.
“[The BQX] is the wrong project at the wrong time,” he told the Brooklyn Eagle.
Proponents of the BQX are celebrating the administration’s awarding of $7.2 million in taxpayer funds to move the process forward, saying it’s the alternative to overwhelmed and underperforming subways and buses.
“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, the executive director of the Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector, 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 city estimates the streetcar will be completed by the end of 2024.