Brooklyn-Queens Expressway

11.7 miles

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

The first of its kind in New York City, the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway differed from the City’s parkways in that it was built to accommodate both commercial and non-commercial traffic. Part of a massive program to expand New York’s transportation infrastructure, the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, or BQE, stretches 11.7 miles from the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel near the Red Hook section of Brooklyn to the Grand Central Parkway in Queens. The BQE was intended not only to relieve congestion on local streets but also to aid industry and business by shortening transportation time between the boroughs.

The expressway was first proposed in the mid-1930s to alleviate increasing traffic congestion by providing a connecting roadway between the new east-west thoroughfares nearing completion in Brooklyn and Queens. Construction of what was then called the Brooklyn-Queens Connecting Roadway started in 1937 and initially linked Greenpoint Brooklyn’s Meeker Avenue, by way of the Kosciuszko Bridge (1939), to Queens Boulevard in Sunnyside, Queens. The road enabled Brooklyn motorists to access the newly built Triborough Bridge (1936) and the 1939-40 World’s Fair site in Flushing Meadows, Queens.

The Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, under Chairman Robert Moses (1888–1981), detailed a plan in 1940 to push the roadway south, linking the Kosciuszko Bridge crossing to the Williamsburg and Manhattan Bridges. “The present streets are narrow and congested with crossings at every block,” Moses wrote in the Triborough Authority’s 1940 report to Mayor LaGuardia. “The crazy-quilt pattern of the streets inherited from the villages which grew together to form the present borough adds to the difficulty of travel.” Moses intended to run the highway over Union Street and clear residences in the block between Penn and Rutledge Streets in Williamsburg, but this route never materialized, and the road curved westward instead, closer to the Williamsburg Bridge approach. The road passed by the Navy Yard at Wallabout Bay and ran above Park Avenue, connecting motorists to the Manhattan Bridge as well. The onset of World War II in 1941 would halt its progress.

Construction on the expressway began again in earnest in 1946, using federal, state, and municipal funds, as the City underwent a major post-war building program. Some stretches were built using state and federal money while others used municipal funding. By the time the six-lane expressway was completed in 1964, the entire road cost $137 million, including construction, land, and relocation costs.

The cantilevered section of the expressway opened in 1954 at Brooklyn Heights. One of the expressway’s most distinctive features, this section was built to conserve space and minimize intrusion in the surrounding neighborhood. The Brooklyn Esplanade (or Promenade) grew out of a citizens plan to mitigate the effects of the expressway on their neighborhood. The idea of a promenade at this location has a long history, dating back to Hezekiah Pierrepont’s (1768–1838) proposal in the 1820s to create a spot that would rival Manhattan’s Battery. Moses consented to building the 0.5 mile stretch of highway underneath the cantilevered canopy but would not agree to making the portion above private gardens as some in the neighborhood wished, instead opting to create a public promenade with spectacular views of lower Manhattan and many recreation and sitting areas. In all, there are 46 Parks properties along the BQE in Brooklyn.

In 1958, the BQE was designated part of the federal highway system, and became known also as Interstate 278. As part of the federal interstate highway system, the BQE was eligible to receive 90 percent federal funding. As its appellation implies, the road was to have connected with Interstate 78, which terminates in Jersey City, New Jersey, but the project was never completed and today Interstate 278 ends unceremoniously at U.S. 1 in the corridor between the Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike. The final section of the BQE in Brooklyn, around the Navy Yard, was completed in 1960.

No sooner than the final link in Queens was completed in 1964 did the BQE have to be reconstructed when work began on the Long Island Expressway interchange in 1966. In the 1980s, the new renovations of the BQE began. In the 2000s, the BQE will receive a $240-million dollar comprehensive reconstruction from the New York State Department of Transportation.

Wednesday, Nov 07, 2001

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