This particular incident started with a "design workshop" for the State DOT's BQE widening plan. Some guy from Cobble Hill named Roy Sloane suggested tunneling straight under Gowanus and Fort Greene to bypass Brooklyn Heights. An architect working on the project, Allan Swerdlowe, called the idea "brilliant," and from there it made its way into the Brooklyn Paper, Gothamist, the Post, and finally Second Avenue Sagas.
Well, yeah, I guess the idea is brilliant, in the same way that it would be brilliant if someone stood up at one of those meetings and said, "Why don't we just tow the cars and trucks over Downtown Brooklyn using trained flying hamsters?" Yeah, that's kind of brilliant, and it wouldn't add to the congestion on existing roadways, either.
Many commenters pointed out that the Gowanus tunnel proposal has been around longer and would provide more benefits in terms of burying unsightly structures and putting cars out of sight. They are both brilliant, and both incredibly stupid ideas. I just feel stupid myself for even giving the idea any attention, but since so many others are putting their thoughts into it, I feel like I have to address it as well:
- As many commenters have mentioned, there is no way to build "Swerdlowe's vision" of a tunnel that whisks the cars under Downtown Brooklyn into Williamsburg, since many of them don't want to go to Williamsburg. They would either have to use local streets or continue to use the current structure in order to get to the Brooklyn or Manhattan Bridges.
- The tunnel would also require large ventilation structures, which would replace existing buildings or parkland and spew carbon monoxide.
- The BQE is not falling down. It is "functionally obsolete," which means that it is narrower than the highway builders think it should be. That is not a good reason to dig a tunnel.
- There are plenty of cheaper, more effective ways to increase safety than by digging a multi-billion-dollar forgiving highway.
- Of course it would add capacity. We're talking about the State DOT here. They're organizationally incapable of fixing a pothole without adding three lanes.
- It would be nice to remove the cantilevered highway, fill in the ditch in Cobble Hill, and tear down the elevated Gowanus highway. None of these desires require the highway to be replaced. As Gandalf said, "That we should wish to cast him down and have no one in his place is not a thought that occurs to his mind."
- The billions that it would cost to dig this tunnel are billions that would not be spent on transit.
- Anything that makes it easier for people to drive encourages people to drive more, increasing the number of drivers and reducing the constituency for transit.
- If you want to move freight, build freight rail.
- As commenter Andrew pointed out on Second Avenue Sagas, most of the traffic on the BQE in downtown Brooklyn is induced by the "free" bridges. Toll the bridges, people will take the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel instead, and the BQE will see a lot less congestion and a lot less wear and tear.
The overall point, and I can't stress this enough, is that the BQE is in competition with all the parallel transit routes. Every dollar that makes it easier to drive private cars on the BQE takes away ridership from the Staten Island express buses, the Fourth Avenue subway, the G train and the proposed Tribororx line. So if you want to see healthy farebox recovery on these lines, don't build up any parallel car routes.