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Get used to the Gowanus!

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The dream to replace the notoriously traffic-choked Gowanus Expressway with a tunnel was quietly killed this month when the federal government announced that it was dropping plans to rebuild the highway between Sixth Avenue and the Battery Tunnel or knock it down and burrow it underground.

The Federal Highway Administration released a statement on Nov. 16 proclaiming that plans to replace or tunnel the highway would be killed because of exorbitant costs, and that the existing road would remain for the foreseeable future.

“[The state] is reevaluating its program with emphasis on preserving our existing assets to ensure a continuous system-wide operations,” the notice, sent out by Jonathan McDade of the Federal Highway Administration, reads.

The news comes midway through the state Department of Transportation’s $680-million “interim” fix of the Gowanus, an 11-year-project to shore up the famously clogged artery, which many residents demanded be replaced with tunnel back in 1996, when the government announced plans to completely rebuild it.

The mammoth repair job was started in 2005 to keep the decrepit, 70-year-old highway intact for the next 15–20 years while the state comes up with a long-term plan for cars headed from the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

Now, those plans are dead, and drivers will have to settle for its laundry list of upgrades which are on pace to be finished by early 2016. They include:

• Installation of a new concrete deck along most of the roadway.

• New lighting on the sections of highway that pass through Red Hook and Sunset Park.

• A wider connector ramp for cars accessing the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway from the Gowanus.

• A high-occupancy vehicle lane between the bridge and the tunnel that will be used for Manhattan-bound traffic from 6 to 10 am and Staten Island-bound traffic from 3 to 7 pm on weekdays.

To make the high-occupancy vehicle happen, the state is building an extra lane at the Prospect Expressway and an elevated span to carry carpoolers over the Belt Parkway interchange — all without shutting the busy Gowanus, which the state says carries 200,000 vehicles a day.

The project’s designer said the changes would nevertheless bring the expressway into the 21st century.

“It’s still a long ways off,” said state Department of Transportation Project Manager Harold Fink. “But when the project is complete, driving on the Gowanus will be very smooth.”

That’s how master builder Robert Moses envisioned when converted an elevated train to a highway in 1941.

With the construction of his masterpiece, the Verrazano Bridge, the Gowanus, which was widened to six lanes in the 1960s, provided a southern link to Staten Island and New Jersey — but also divided Carroll Gardens from Red Hook, split Sunset Park in two, and displaced a swath of residents in Bay Ridge who lived along Seventh and Eighth avenues, where the approach to the bridge was built.

The highway’s concrete deck and steel structure were severely deteriorated by the 1980s, prompting a slew of minor repairs to keep it from falling apart.

The current rehabilitation was considered the last such “interim” repair on the Gowanus before the Department of Transportation would have released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for a permanent fix. But now, the government won’t be conducting that study.

Reach reporter Daniel Bush at dbush@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-8310. Follow him at twitter.com/dan_bush.

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Reader Feedback

Josef from downtown bklyn says:
Way to highlight the woeful impact the Gowanus had on Red Hook and Sunset Park, Mr. Bush.

On the one hand, i am not super-upset about the prospect of avoiding spending tons of money on roadways because i think mass transit, public health, libraries and education, among many other matters, should be prioritized for public spending ahead of roads. Driving is bad for the world and also for our city.

On the other hand, the prospect of this elevated expressway reaching the end of its useful life and potentially collapsing is a bit alarming. A covered tunnel could yield buildable space (like in the corridor from Atlantic Avenue to the Battery tunnel) for middle to low income housing development, so a roadway revamp project could be used for more enlightened ends as well.
Dec. 1, 2011, 11:11 am
trans alt from my bike says:
Tear down the Gowanus, and replace it with something reminiscent of Octavia Blvd. in San Fransisco. Then watch property values in Sunset Park skyrocket.

The drivers will eventually give up and use mass transit, or move to Long Island.
Dec. 1, 2011, 1:10 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
Like the WNBA, the Gowanus Expwy isn't going away anytime soon. There is still a demand for having it, which is the reason why NYC still has many of its highways when other cities have taken a number of them down already. However, since the Gowanus is elevated, it doesn't interrupt the streets as a highway that is either at or below grade level. Highways weren't built to create a car culture, but react to one. I would rather just have it being repaired and left as is then completely changing it, because it will probably be cheaper anyway especially when it just can't be left to collapse.
Dec. 1, 2011, 4:07 pm
Or from Yellow Hook says:
The drivers will eventually give up and move the 19th century.

Too bad that "Mass Transit" is the first thing the politicians cut.
Dec. 1, 2011, 11:19 pm
tony giordano from sunset park says:
Could the Gowanus be torn down? If you doubt it, take a look at the elevated West Side Highway - oh, wait, they tore it down and replaced it with an at grade roadway with sequenced lighting and parkland (unmatched by even Shore Road). We were "robbed". A basic of the at grade would have included cup handle left turns for trucks that presently shut two lanes while waiting for a green light under the Gowanus. Also a bus lane & a bike lane were in the plan. But the plan did not satisfy the powerful road construction lobby. The tunnel was a red herring, thrown in to confuse the issue. NYS DOT got what they wanted - they rebuilt the Gowanus in the guise of numerous individual repairs, and snuck (sneaked) in a capacity increase at the Prospect Exchange & over the canal - both prohibited by current DOT regs...but they did it anyway because the public didn't care. we get what we deserve. Just like our lackluster Councilwoman - Sara Gonzalez - who introduced almost no bills during her reign...again, we get what we deserve.
Dec. 2, 2011, 6:30 am
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
Having a tunneled expressway isn't something new for NYC. There was originally the Westway, but it was scrapped. The reason was not just because of the costs, but also because it was believed to create an environmental disaster. If the Westway was done, it would be the entire NY 9A going down Manhattan where both the Henry Hudson Pkwy and West Side Hwy are now. When the Westway became a no go, it was changed into what the West Side Hwy is today, which was at grade level. However, I doubt that Gowanus Expwy will ever be removed especially with all the traffic, and demolishing it could lead to having the constant traffic onto local traffic, which many residents oppose.
Dec. 2, 2011, 10:49 am
Sam from Bay Ridge says:
Great! We are stuck with the discusting Gowanus Expressway forever. This road should have been torn down the day after it was built. It has no shoulders, short entrance acceleration lanes, idiotic lane merges, lousy lighting, yet we wil simply "rebuild" it. They have been repairing this road for years now, with no end in site. Yes, the tunnel would have cost a lot and likely would have been over budget. But tearing down the Gowanus would allow major private economic investments feasible making up for the cost of the tunnel
Dec. 9, 2011, 2:04 pm

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