Brooklyn Queens Expressway, New York’s triple-cantilever highway

Brooklyn Queens Expressway
Brooklyn Queens Expressway

The Brooklyn Queens Expressway (often shortened as “BQE”) is a section of the I-278 that connects New York City’s five boroughs from Manhattan to Staten Island. It is an important link for the city, and it is one of the busiest highways in the state. Indeed, more than 130,000 vehicles drive on it every day. The BQE is over 12 miles (20 kilometers) and is heavily used by city residents. But unfortunately, it is regularly congested during peak hours, causing delays for drivers. In the heart of Brooklyn, a section of the BQE is known as the BQE Central and features an unusual engineering structure known as the “Triple Cantilever”. For a few miles the road spans on three levels on top of each other like a balcony road.

Despite numerous road improvements over the years, the BQE is still associated with traffic jams and congestion. This makes the BQE widely unliked by the commuters having to drive it every day.

Where is BQE located?

The Brooklyn-Queens Expresway is the section of Interstate 278 that spans 11.7 miles (19 km) from the Grand Central Parkway in Queens to the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel.

Along its route, the BQE crosses several notable bridges, such as the Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Williamsburg Bridges. It runs through many diverse neighborhoods, including Downtown Brooklyn, Brooklyn Heights, or Williamsburg. Hence, the BQE provides access to numerous destinations in each area.

Additionally, the BQE has some major interchanges, including the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel or Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, and I-495 and Queens Boulevard in Queens. It also has several smaller interchanges and exits, that provide access to local streets and neighborhoods.

Most of the BQE is an elevated highway. Although, it has some sections running at street level or in a depressed alignment (i.e., below ground level).

If you are interested in other urban highways, read our article about Katy Freeway, the widest highway in the US

You can locate the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway on the map below:

General info about the BQE in NYC

The BQE is owned by the State of New York, and the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) is responsible for maintaining and keeping the highway in good condition. Despite being open to trucks, there are certain height and weight restrictions for trucks on certain parts of the highway.

The speed limit on the BQE is 50 miles per hour. Meanwhile, the highway is six-lane, some parts carrying four lanes in each direction. Although it is not a toll road, there are toll bridges and tunnels nearby, such as the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel.

When was the Brooklyn Queens Expressway built ?

The Brooklyn Queens Expressway (BQE) was initially planned in 1936. However, the first section of the BQE, the Kosciuszko Bridge and the viaducts leading to the bridge, opened in 1939. The section between the Kosciuszko and Williamsburg bridges opened on May 25, 1950. The road in its entirety was completed on December 23, 1964. The BQE underwent several upgrade projects, including a major multiyear project in the 1980s and another upgrade project in the early 2000s. The Kosciuszko Bridge was replaced from 2014 to 2017 with a new eastbound span that temporarily served both directions of traffic. Later, the second span of the Kosciuszko Bridge opened in 2019 for westbound traffic.

Brooklyn Queens Expressway
Brooklyn Queens Expressway

Why is the Brooklyn Queens Expressway so unique?

The BQE is unique due to its historic Triple Cantilever structure. It was built in the 1940s and carries the BQE on two cantilevers: three lanes for eastbound traffic above three lanes for westbound traffic, with the Brooklyn Promenade on top. The Triple Cantilever spans 0.4 miles, extending from south of Atlantic Avenue to Sands Street, just north of the Manhattan Bridge. As Brooklyn’s only Interstate highway, the BQE plays an essential role in alleviating regional truck and other traffic from local Brooklyn streets.

Brooklyn Queens Expressway rehabilitation plans

Currently, the BQE is undergoing renovations to address its structural issues. This is why some lanes are regularly closed to traffic. The project, led by the New York City Department of Transportation and with the partnership of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. It aims to maintain safe and efficient regional and local connectivity for the traveling public. The 1.5-mile section of the BQE between Atlantic Avenue Interchange and Sands Street, including the historic 0.4-mile-long “triple cantilever,” is a crucial component of the region’s transportation network and sees average daily traffic of more than 130,000 vehicles. Without significant repairs and replacements by 2026, vehicle-weight limits and truck diversions may be necessary.

A video of the journey on the BQE:

You can see how this road is crazy. For example, you just have to watch this YouTube video as it shows a part of the road:

Finally, the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, or BQE, is a crucial piece of infrastructure for New York City, connecting Brooklyn to key access points in Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island. While the BQE has a rich history and played an essential role in transportation in the region. It has deteriorated a lot over time, this is why it is constantly under repair, causing the traffic issues New Yorkers hate. Significant repairs and replacements are needed to ensure the safety and efficiency of the roadway. That’s why many plans for rehabilitation have been proposed and works should start very soon.

Picture credit: Rachid H & Austin King on

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