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Lou: The Gowanus Expressway was a mistake

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It was in 1964 when I wrote to the New York State Department of Highways to express my disdain for the design of our highway system’s biggest bottleneck, the Gowanus section!

At the time, they announced that they would build a new Gowanus along Second Avenue and then tear down the Third Avenue section, a dumb plan that would simply move congestion a block closer to the bay.

“Why not retain Third Avenue?” I wrote to them and in my column. I remember the reply from Albany clear as day. James Van Ten Eyck responded “it would make for a poor design, going from a two-lane, to a six-lane, and then back to two-lane” was the expert opinion of a deputy commissioner who safely made decisions in a state capitol far from the gas fumes of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway!

Then he built his “better” design, three new lanes in each direction; today’s highway; outmoded since the day it was put on the drawing board! Born to strangle our highways and make every driver bleed for 45 years!

A few years ago, Jen Snow, my granddaughter, treated me to a musical movie at the Brooklyn Academy of Music entitled “The Gowanus Expressway.” It was a Saturday night program. The audience sat laughing at the unmoving traffic was soothed by a calm music. It wasn’t really funny, but all dressed up in a soft theatrical setting, the crowd laughed at the monotonous plights of daily drivers that was created by the Albany design.

Before the state began its transformation then, we wrote a column criticizing Commissioner Van Ten Eyck’s idea of the tearing down the four-laner after completing the six-laner. He reiterated his disdain for an idea of saving the old four-laner! Simply a poor plan going from six-lanes to ten was the verdict as he “guillotined” the old four-laner.

So, for as far back as I remember, we’ve creeped along his panacea that he designed with every inadequacy for the motorists. Our traffic reporters announce on a daily basis that the Gowanus Expressway is tied up in both directions The tie-ups are produced and directed by clown experts in Albany who do not have to suffer with them.

Must it be so? No! But that is the way that Albany “sold” NY casinos. Big hotels were sent down river to New Jersey! Brave is new Gov. Cuomo, a straight shooter, trying to make his state grow. Bravo son of Mario! Let’s go, New York!

This is Lou Powsner.

Lou Powsner, 92, has been writing for Courier Life since before most of us were born, so heed his words, Brooklyn, every other Tuesday on

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