Spring 2001, p.13

A Gowanus Tunnel in Our Future?

The Gowanus rears its ugly head. The community and State DOT are looking for an alternative to this inefficient and noisy thoroughfare.Advocates for replacing the elevated Gowanus Expressway in Brooklyn with a tunnel celebrated a major milestone this January when a group of plaintiffs, including T.A., settled a four-year lawsuit against the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). The lawsuit alleged that the agencies had violated the Intermodal Surface Transportation Act of 1991. This law requires that the agencies perform a Major Investment Study before a significant transportation expenditure- in this case, the planned reconstruction of the Gowanus Expressway. The settlement calls for an enhanced environmental impact statement (EIS) which will look at alternatives to the reconstruction of the Gowanus, including replacement of the elevated highway with a tunnel. The agreement also provides for the establishment of a consensus-building process centered around a stakeholder committee, including community groups, State DOT and local elected officials. The settlement also provides for $375,000 in state money to fund a community technical advisor to assist the stakeholder group in the continuous review of the study.

There are several options for the reconstruction of the Gowanus that will be considered in the process. Reconstructing the elevated Gowanus is perhaps the least desirable option - this would perpetuate this urban blight for another half century, and would divert as many as 4000 cars a day onto local streets. A surface-level boulevard similar to the West Side Highway would bring more congestion and pollution than the existing road, and would further cut off the waterfront from the neighborhood. An underwater tunnel would cause the least amount of disruption during construction but would allow little or no access between the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel and Bay Ridge. A "cut-and cover" tunnel, in which a trench is dug under the existing expressway and then roofed over, is also an alternative, as is a bored tunnel (one cut through the earth, mostly out of sight) along the same route.

Transportation Alternatives and the community groups in the Stakeholders Group favor the replacement of the highway with a tunnel, and have worked to make sure that NYSDOT gives this option equal consideration. Any alternative will be expensive, running into many billions of dollars, and will take as long as ten years to complete. And all of the options under consideration will disrupt the life of the surrounding communities to some extent. But at the end of the project, a Gowanus Tunnel would provide a modern, safe out-of-sight highway, direct neighborhood access to a re-born waterfront, and an end to the air and noise pollution that have crippled the area. In addition, Hamilton Avenue and Third Avenue should be reborn as traffic-calmed boulevards that would include bike and pedestrian paths and parkland. As a result, communities could emerge from the shadows of a half-century of the elevated highway to sane and livable neighborhood streets -a priceless boon for Brooklyn and all of NYC.

In the upcoming months, T.A. will need lots of help with mailings, phone banking, and participation in the stakeholder process. To find out what you can do to help, or to get more information on this project, call T.A., or send an e-mail to Gowanus@transalt.org.

Michael Cairl is T.A.'s Gowanus Project coordinator and has been nominated to be one of two Vice-Chairs of the Gowanus Project Stakeholders Group.

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