The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

De Blasio’s Trolley Goes Off The Rails

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


A trickle of negative stories about New York Mayor Bill De Blasio’s (D) proposed Brooklyn-Queens waterfront trolley, known as the BQX, has turned into a deluge. 

De Blasio proposed the trolley in February 2016, with a construction start date of 2019.  Living up to his decidedly left-wing worldview, the mayor framed the issue in terms of equality: “this is about equity and innovation.”  Finally, all the residents of Brooklyn and Queens would have the transportation they all wanted and needed—simply hop on and enjoy the view of the East River and the Manhattan skyline while you travel to the other borough.  Even better, the $2.5 billion system would all be paid for without raising taxes.  It could simply be “offset by taking a percentage of property taxes on new development planned in the burgeoning area along the tram’s projected corridor.”  The stage was set for De Blasio’s crowning transportation achievement; long after he left office, the trolley along the waterfront would represent his legacy, a visible reminder of the progressive public transit utopia that New York City had become.

The plan was largely forgotten about through most of 2016 and 2017, but questions eventually started getting asked and stories started coming out.

In November 2017, sources started leaking to the press that the project was “headed nowhere,” partly because De Blasio had not coordinated with his political rival, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D), who was not as keen on the project.  In April 2018, a second wave of stories followed.        

Despite the earlier insistence that the project would be fully funded from property taxes thanks to increased property values, De Blasio admitted the project would also require federal funding; where he expected to find the funds was unclear, as was whether President Trump and congressional leaders were eager to dole out taxpayer dollars to De Blasio. 

The mayor then blamed the New York Daily News for its reporting on the problems with the trolley.  The reporting a few days earlier had found that studies were still underway evaluating the prospects for the project, and that it was not all rosy: there were concerns about the feasibility of digging up underground utility equipment; there were doubts about the trolley’s self-financing; ridership was expected to be low; and the process for requesting money from the federal government had not exactly been a model that other states and localities would do well do follow.  In a talk at the NYU Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management, Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, only partly jokingly, presented the city’s appeal for federal funds: “Hi Donald, please send us money for urban mass transit.”

In May 2018, when Mayor De Blasio presented his budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year, the Brooklyn-Queens trolley, alas, was not a part of it.  It was left out for reasons that, to the ordinary observer, would have been as obvious as a trolley speeding off the tracks. 

On May 31, 2018, the New York Post revealed that the delayed feasibility study has cost $7 million already.  It is said that those in a hole should first stop digging, but the BQX has managed to put taxpayers in a $7 million hole without a single rail having been dug. 

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