The Brooklyn Queens Connector, the proposed streetcar system known in western Queens vernacular and the Mayor’s Office as the BQX, was $1.4 billion short of its projected startup cost back in February — before coronavirus wreaked biblical havoc on the city, state and federal budgets.
But supporters of the plan told the Chronicle in telephone interviews and emails on Tuesday that far from being killed by the economic downturn, the sometimes-troubled 11-mile rail link between Astoria and Red Hook in Brooklyn could be exactly the type of project that will be needed to spur the economy in a post-COVID-19 city.
“The city is facing a very long road to recovery,” said Tom Grech, president and CEO of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, in a conversation with the Chronicle.
“The city could be losing 500,000 jobs or more over the next year,” Grech added. “People will need to get back to work. I’m a big believer in infrastructure projects. This could be one of those projects to create a lot of jobs.”
Friends of the BQX, an organization that includes representatives of many interests including real estate developers, business groups and civic organizations, struck a similar cord in an email.
“Coming out of this crisis, it’s critical that we prioritize infrastructure projects that will help get New Yorkers back to work,” the organization said. “And the BQX is an investment that would do just that, creating tens of thousands of jobs, and $30 billion in economic value over the coming decades.”
Grech also pointed out that the $30 billion figure is “10 times the projected capital investment costs.”
The Friends of the BQX statement said the plan is to use a combination of federal funding and new tax revenue based on increased value of properties and buildings near the line to cover startup costs.
“[T]he BQX is a commonsense project that is ready to move ahead once the City reopens,” the group said.
“It also will not need funding from the state and won’t be competing with the MTA,” Grech said. “That’s important.”
One ongoing problem is that cost and funding sources have tended to be moving targets since the project was first proposed by Mayor de Blasio in April 2016.
The initial plans were for a route stretching between 14 and 16 miles to Brooklyn’s Sunset Park. The cost repeatedly was presented as $2.5 billion, all of which would be self-funded through the increased tax revenue. Construction was to begin in 2019 with the first passengers coming aboard in 2024.
It was not until late August 2018 that thecity Economic Development Corp. released a report stating the cost would be closer to $2.73 billion; that approximately $1.3 to $1.4 billion would have to come from federal transportation funds; and that construction and service startups had been pushed back five years to 2024 and 2029, respectively.
The report also was the first to mention that the tracks would be stopping short of the Gowanus Canal.
The route, dollar figures and timelines are the same ones that were being used at public meetings as late as this past February.
The Rev. Mitchell Taylor of Urban Upbound is a staunch backer of the project. He told the Chronicle that aside from ongoing efforts to help people who are struggling economically in the here and now, the city and community leaders need to focus on what the economy in a post-COVID-19 New York City will look like.
He believes the job and career landscape may be very different. But, like Grech, Taylor believes infrastructure projects can have a massive ripple effect throughout the economy.
“This could be one of those projects,” he said.