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Here’s a Solution for Fixing the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway: Get Rid of It

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Imagine you have an antique coal-fired furnace sitting in your living room. You’d love nothing better than to trade it in for a central climate-control system, but the beast still works, after a fashion, belching heat and noxious smoke. And anyway, it’s so huge you’d have to chop up the dirty old thing — or knock down a wall — in order to get it out of the house. So you keep nursing it along, scavenging parts and welding patches over rust spots.

That is more or less the situation many American cities find themselves in when it comes to their highways. Elevated multilane interstates, built several generations ago to speed commuters and freight through dense metropolitan areas, have become clotted receptacles for vehicles that idle, inch forward, and brake. These roads work, after a fashion, even though the cars they carry foul the air and the structures themselves shed oily fluids and chunks of concrete. And so we keep fixing them up, clinging to outdated infrastructure because doing anything else would be too burdensome even to think about.

The most noisome furnace-in-the-living-room right now is the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, or at least the ramshackle mile and a half that skirts Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill. The BQE is an anthology of coulda-shoulda-wouldas. Robert Moses could have tunneled it beneath Brooklyn. The Bloomberg administration should have dismantled and reassembled it before boxing it in with Brooklyn Bridge Park. The state transportation department was going to overhaul the most perilous stretch, but then scrapped the project in 2011, having suddenly decided that the highway was fine as it was.

Now it’s the city’s turn again to figure out what to do with a roadway that everybody hates but that 153,000 vehicles trundle across each day. It’s not as if the project has gotten any cheaper or easier. So far, the city’s DOT has floated two, more or less equally horrendous options: make piecemeal repairs, causing eight years of Munch’s Scream-level congestion, or commandeer the Brooklyn Heights Promenade as a temporary highway and tolerate a different kind of misery for a mere six years. The projected cost ranges from $3 billion to $4 billion, but it seems prudent to consider that time frame and budget as an attempt not to scare the kids. This is, after all, a city that can’t build a little branch library without........

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