Brooklyn-Queens Connector Project Unrealistic

To The Editor:

Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen believes that the Federal Transit Administration New Starts program should help fund the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront streetcar project because it is a “cool urban project.” This hardly justifies financial assistance.

In 2015, The Friends of the Brooklyn-Queens Connector released a study claiming it could be built for $1.7 billion. In 2016, the city’s Economic Development Corporation announced a new price tag of $2.5 billion. In 2018, the estimated cost is $2.8 billion. How many more billions might it cost upon completion? It takes more than a simple planning feasibility study to turn it 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 the $2.8 billion construction costs. Mayor Bill de Blasio has programmed no additional funding within his proposed $89 billion 2018-2019 budget to advance this project.  What is the cost and funding source above the $2.8 billion baseline price tag to pay for two new bridges over the Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek? 

The Federal Transit Administration New Starts program would be the logical source for any financial assistance from Washington. New York City would have to begin a dialogue with the FTA for permission to enter the New Starts program. This initial process averages one to two years. The initial approval to enter the “project development” phase would represent only the first step. The Brooklyn-Queens Connector project would still face myriad hurdles. Completion of this work includes the FTA’s issuing an environmental finding, along with reaching agreements with the city’s DOT and Economic Development Corporation concerning a proposed project budget, source of local matching funding, scope and milestones. Even if this process started tomorrow, this averages several years and would not be completed until 2020 or later. 

This is followed by the project’s being given permission by the FTA to advance to the next stage, known as “final engineering.” Progression of final design and engineering from 30 percent to 100 percent averages several more years. This could include review and approval by various regulatory agencies, along with financial, user, operations and maintenance groups. Both the DOT and EDC have no prior experience in design, engineering, construction or operations of a streetcar system. They would probably have to persuade the MTA to take over management of the project going forward.   

Successful completion of the New Starts process results in the federal government’s entering into a Full Funding Grant Agreement. This third step can average several more years. It is also subject to congressional recommendation and presidential approval for inclusion of funding within future FTA budgets to finance the agreement. Assume that the procurement processes for advertising and award of contracts for construction along the right of way, building a maintenance and operations facility, and the purchase of vehicles are all awarded in 2025. It could take four more years to complete all three tasks.

The best bet is introduction of Transit Limited Stop bus service along the same corridor. It is financially more realistic and could begin service in less than two years.

Larry Penner

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