Earlier this month, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino joined State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Senate Transportation Committee Chair Charles Fuschillo to call for a speed-up of the state’s study of replacing the Tappan Zee Bridge and adding transit to the I-287 corridor. His suggestion for speeding it up is a dangerous one: Drop the transit.
The project envisions a new, wider Tappan Zee Bridge; some highway widenings; a rail line connecting Manhattan with Rockland County, and a bus rapid transit (BRT) system that would include buses running in dedicated lanes across the corridor from Suffern to Port Jervis, and branching off of the corridor to destinations north and south. But according to the Journal News, Astorino suggested that the state just replace the bridge and engineer it so that transit “could be added later.”
Delaying the bus rapid transit system would be a losing proposition for the region. A BRT system would bring fast, frequent transit across the corridor for the first time. It would carry over 50,000 riders throughout the I-287 corridor daily and connect economic centers such as White Plains and the “Platinum Mile” of office parks with residential areas, regional destinations, and existing rail lines. The need for such a system has been underscored by recent press reports describing how the Platinum Mile has lost tenants to urban centers with access to transit.
BRT wouldn’t break the bank, either. According to a presentation given by NYSDOT last year, the bridge and highway portion of the project will cost $8.3 billion, with the BRT system costing as little as $1 billion. Most of the transit cost comes from the $6.7 billion Rockland-Manhattan rail line. Postponing the prohibitively expensive rail portion and canceling unnecessary highway expansions, such as some of the proposed truck “climbing lanes,” are sensible ways to cut costs and streamline the study. But it’s essential that a replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge be accompanied by a BRT system that brings effective transit to the corridor on day one.
State officials haven’t yet determined how to pay for the Tappan Zee replacement. In fact, NYSDOT doesn’t have a capital program for construction projects beyond summer 2012, and state leaders will soon have to start a conversation about how to fund a new one. Replacing the Tappan Zee and adding transit to the I-287 corridor should be part of that discussion.