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Editorial: LI's pocked roads need ground-up rebuilding

State Department of Transportation crews fill potholes on

State Department of Transportation crews fill potholes on the eastbound Long island Expressway between exits 43 and 46 on Jan. 9, 2014. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

Welcome to pothole perdition. Plagued by blown tires, cracked axles, shattered shocks and ruined rims, weary Long Island drivers may be forgiven for suspecting that winter has cursed them and government has given up trying to help. Most winters are bad, but this one is awful.

Our streets look as if they've been strafed by enemy aircraft -- from state highways to county roads to local lanes.

The potholes should be filled, but there's a way to solve this problem for good -- with a road system rebuilt to 21st century standards.

Upside: We would finally have roadways where the traffic actually moves and streets don't threaten to swallow cars whole.

Downside: Creation of this system would demand years of planning, eons of construction and countless billions of public dollars.

There's plenty to do. Start with the region's main highways. Today's expressways require a 16-inch-thick bed of concrete to withstand the constant pounding they get from 18-wheelers and expanding ice. But many roads -- especially around New York City -- were built in an age when 10 inches was the norm.

They're the first to come apart when the going gets tough.

We need to rebuild them.

Then there are asphalt surface streets. They're porous, which means water seeps through the surface and in cold weather freezes and expands.

Compounding the problem everywhere are trucks. Long Island relies on truck freight more than most regions because our rail freight capacity is limited. Trucks pound our roads constantly. AAA New York says one big truck equals thousands of cars when it comes to highway wear and tear.

For a century, planners have talked about a freight-only rail tunnel from the mainland. It's a great idea, but a heavy lift. If it's not feasible, we need to identify other solutions -- and we should do it now.