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Opinion

Don't wait until 2017 to fix the Bronx River Pkwy

Overpass on the Bronx River Parkway where an

Overpass on the Bronx River Parkway where an SUV plunged, killing seven family members (April 29, 2012). Credit: Charles Eckert

Drivers in the metropolitan area have known for decades about the dangerous and congested network of roadways at the convergence of the Bronx River Parkway and the Cross Bronx Expressway. So have state and city transportation officials. Now a horrific accident requires a faster fix to this killer stretch of parkway.

Seven family members died Sunday when their sport utility vehicle flipped off the elevated parkway and crashed 60 feet below at the southern perimeter of the Bronx Zoo. Although the police investigation is ongoing, officials already have determined that excessive speed, estimated at 68 mph, was a factor. The lesson that speed kills always needs to be retaught.

Still, the Department of Transportation didn't need wrenching photos of three generations wiped out in seconds to know there are serious problems with the roadway. The parkway and its guardrails were built in another era for cars, not taller SUV's. In two prior accidents, cars flipped over the guardrails, killing occupants as well as people on the street below. In 2006, six people died when a vehicle jumped the divider and hit two other cars. The Nunez, Gonzalez and Rosario families are just the latest casualties.

While this stretch of the Bronx River Parkway did pass a routine state inspection last year, overall accident statistics led the DOT to put the parkway in the top 5 percent of the state's most dangerous roads in a 2011 filing required by the federal government. There have been four other accidents in which cars driving south, the same direction Maria Nunez Gonzalez was headed, hit the median and flew into oncoming traffic. The city and state are defendants in lawsuits, brought by previous accident victims, which reveal records going back to the 1980s about the need to re-engineer the roadway.

This risky crossroads is often the shortest route from Long Island to destinations in Westchester and beyond, or to reach popular attractions such as the zoo and the Bronx Botanical Gardens. In particular, the elevated stretch of the parkway above the West Farms train yards has poor sight lines, narrow lanes, plentiful potholes and short entrance and exit ramps for the Cross Bronx. Drivers hitting the short median are clearly having problems keeping control of their vehicles.

While the victims' faces and the wreckage are still in mind, drivers might slow down on the roadway. The state and city should encourage that behavior to continue by installing flashing slow-down messages and other warnings. Enforcement of the speed limit in that stretch should be stepped up; the New York City Police Department Highway Patrol Unit 1 is headquartered just east of the accident site.

Before Sunday's crash, the DOT wasn't scheduled to start improvements to the Bronx River Parkway until 2017, at the earliest, despite the string of fatal incidents. Since the crash, however, it has been on the scene in an attempt to find some quick solutions. It must act quickly. Higher guardrails are an obvious quick fix. And if the investigation of this tragedy demands the redesign of this antiquated roadway, it can't wait until 2017.

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