The plan to build a streetcar between Brooklyn and Queens got a much-needed push forward on Wednesday. The city’s Economic Development Corporation awarded consulting firm VHB $7.25 million to complete an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) for the proposed Brooklyn Queens Connector (BQX). First announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2016, the streetcar plan has faced many roadblocks, delays, and doubts from public officials. But last year, the mayor announced a revised proposal, which includes a higher price tag, fewer miles on the route, and a delayed start date.
VHB, a land-use and transportation planning firm, will assess the environmental impacts of the BQX followed by the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), as the Wall Street Journal first reported. The Friends of the BQX released a statement praising the EDC for awarding the contract to VHB. “Today’s news makes it clear: the BQX is moving forward,” Jessica Schumer, the director of the group, said in a statement.
“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,” she said. “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.”
Last August, de Blasio revealed an updated BQX plan following the completion of a two-year feasibility study. In the new proposal, the streetcar’s price tag jumped from $2.5 billion to $2.7 billion, the number of miles on the route decreased from 16 to 11 miles, and now the city is planning for a 2029 start, instead of the original projection of 2024.
The light-rail would run along the East River, with stops at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Williamsburg, and Long Island City, estimated to serve 50,000 riders a day its first year. Following the feasibility study, the city scrapped the five stations planned for Sunset Park after deciding not enough people would take it in that neighborhood.
De Blasio also originally said the BQX would pay for itself through value capture, a process that would gather tax revenue through increased real estate values stemming from the new streetcar. Now the city admits $1 billion from the federal government is required to cover the funding gap.
The most recent advancement for the project comes just a few months after Amazon announced its plan to open HQ2 in Long Island City. After the online retailer’s announcement last November, Friends of the BQX released the following statement: “Amazon’s move to LIC would clearly be a boon to the city’s economy–but the campus would only reach its full potential with the BQX.”
Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen told the WSJ in an interview: “For some reason, everybody thinks we are not serious but we have always been serious. The mayor wouldn’t have re-endorsed and announced we were moving forward if we weren’t moving forward.”