COMMENTARY: The BQE’s Cantilevered Bridge Demands Urgent Action

On June 1, 1988, while I was commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation the underside of the elevated FDR Drive fell to the roadway below and killed a Brooklyn dentist who was driving into Manhattan to pick up his wife. The next day on Friday, June 2, 1989, the New York Times reported his death:


A 500-pound slab of concrete fell from beneath the northbound lanes of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive near 21st Street last night, crashed through a car windshield and fatally injured the driver, the police said.

The car, its driver disabled, traveled out of control 250 feet along the road beneath the elevated drive, striking concrete barricades and parked cars.

The motorist, who was not identified, was taken to nearby Bellevue Medical Center where he died early this morning.

A hospital spokesman said the man appeared to have suffered cardiac arrest, irreversible brain damage and numerous other internal injuries in the accident. He died 12:30 A.M., despite several hours of surgery in an effort to save his life.

Shortly after the accident occurred at 9:10 P.M., Ross Sandler, commissioner of the Department of Transportation, ordered that the northbound lanes of the drive be closed from 14th Street to 34th Street so city engineers could inspect the concrete and roadway.

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Samuel I. Schwartz, the transportation department’s chief engineer, said the piece of concrete that fell was nine feet by three feet, three inches thick and at least 500 pounds.

He said that it fell from below a web of steel reinforcements and that six inches of concrete remained in place above the webbing.

Mr. Schwartz said city workers would remove a loose section next to and similar to the one that fell.

He said initial findings indicated water damage behind the fallen slab; nearby steel reinforcement bars appeared to be rusted.

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The water and salt intrusion that caused the FDR to fail and kill the motorist is nearly identical to the conditions that the engineers have identified as occurring on the cantilevered section of the BQE. The City, State and federal government must act with urgency to avoid a similar headline and article.

– Ross Sandler

To read about the findings and recommendations of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway Expert Panel, click here.

See Also:

Daily News, Sunday, January 24, 2021; Op Ed: New York’s BQE Emergency.

Wall Street Journal, February 5, 2021; Stalled Highway Project Could Get Lift From New NYC Transportation Chief.

Daily News, February 10, 2021; Editorial: Yes we can-tilever: Get to work fixing the BQE, and soon

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