Sept. 4, 2020 By Allie Griffin
The future of the $2.7 billion streetcar connecting western Queens to the Brooklyn waterfront will be up to the next mayor of New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday.
The coronavirus pandemic and fiscal constraints have significantly delayed the timeline of the project, dubbed the Brooklyn Queens Connector or BQX.
The city had just begun the environmental review process for the 11-mile streetcar project in February but the pandemic brought the process to a screeching halt. It was scheduled to begin scoping and public hearings in May and June, but has been delayed indefinitely.
Yesterday, de Blasio said the next administration will decide the fate of the project, as his term ends in 2021.
“We’re going to continue to do the work to prepare,” he said at a press briefing. “The decisions will have to be made by-and-large in the next administration given the time that’s been lost here.”
The project also comes at a time when New York City faces a multi-billion-dollar budget hole due to economic fallout from the pandemic.
At the end of April, de Blasio said he was unsure whether the city had the funds to cover its share of the costs — given the budget crisis. He said that “substantial federal funding” was needed to make the project a reality.
Critics of the BQX argue that the project is not worth the multi-billion dollar cost. Many transit advocates say the money would be better spent on improving MTA buses and bus lanes, which cost much less.
The BQX does, however, have its supporters. A coalition of local businesses along the route have been advocating for it, along with developers and business improvement groups.
“Thinking big and focusing on ambitious projects that leverage private funding will be critical for the city’s long-term recovery from the pandemic,” a spokesperson for the coalition, Friends of the BQX, said. “We continue to believe in the potential of light rail to boost the city’s economy, create jobs and expand opportunity for a wide swath of New Yorkers.”
The streetcar, which was first announced by de Blasio in 2016, would connect Astoria, Queens to Red Hook, Brooklyn.
Critics also say the project would serve mostly wealthy neighborhoods along the route and benefit real estate developers.
However, the city estimates that the light rail would serve 40,000 NYCHA residents, who live along the route, including those at Queensbridge and Ravenswood Houses.
De Blasio is still an advocate for a light rail system, pointing to its success in other cities across the country.
“Again, a lot of the decisions will have to be deferred to the future, but the more we can build out mass transit in the city, the better off we’re going to be,” he said.