280 Public Meetings Later…

“One of the most important findings is that traffic forecasts clearly demonstrate a demand for travel in the corridor that cannot be accommodated by highway improvements alone.  The need to include transit improvements in a dedicated right-of-way across the corridor is indicated.”- Tappan Zee Bridge/I-287 Alternatives Analysis, 2006.

Nearly ten years and 280 stakeholder meetings led to a regional consensus that transit should be included in plans to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge.

But in a few hours earlier this week, Gov. Cuomo changed course. On Monday he asked the White House to “fast track” the Tappan Zee Bridge project. On Tuesday the White House agreed, including it as one of 14 infrastructure projects being expedited across the country.

“Fast tracking” in this case means dropping plans for transit, “re-scoping” the project so it consists only of a bridge replacement, and starting over with an entirely new environmental study. If the Tappan Zee Bridge project moves forward without the bus rapid transit component, New York might have its own transit loss to rival New Jersey’s cancellation of the ARC rail tunnel.

For decades, the state has been studying how to improve the cross-Hudson commute along I-287 and launched a formal environmental review in 2002. After 280 meetings, including 10 public visioning sessions and detailed input from advocates, NYSDOT pursued five alternatives and all but the “No Build” alternative included transit. In 2009, the state said it would pursue bus rapid transit as the cross corridor transit option and launched transit-oriented-development workshops — with the help of Regional Plan Association, Project for Public Spaces, and Reconnecting America — to help nine municipalities explore development opportunities as a result of the bridge project.  The sessions were well attended and highly regarded.

BRT was selected because it was the most effective transit mode for suburb-to-suburb commuters and thus predicted to do the most to reduce traffic in the corridor. BRT is projected to move over 50,000 commuters 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.

Advocacy groups often criticize agencies and government for closed and esoteric planning processes. Throwing out the earnest, thorough, and open state process surrounding the Tappan Zee Bridge/I-287 project to begin the process anew erodes public confidence and faith in government.

Today, the Journal News reports that the Federal Highway Administration, which has supplanted NYSDOT as the lead agency, will host two more public scoping briefings to discuss the bridge project on October 25 and 27.

Advocates and local elected officials cautioned against moving forward without a transit component. In a statement, TSTC Executive Director Kate Slevin warned that “the state may be missing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reduce traffic and greenhouse gas emissions and create a transit backbone for future development in the Hudson Valley.” Regional Plan Association’s Jeff Zupan told the NY Times that “What they’re basically saying to the driver is, ‘We’re going to raise your toll [to pay for the replacement] and by the way we’re not going to improve public transit.’ ” Rockland County Executive Scott Vanderhoef said to the Journal News that “You can’t just throw a bridge down there and say we’ll build the rest of it later.”

A bus rapid transit system was always the cheapest component of the Tappan Zee/I-287 project. There’s no reason it shouldn’t be put on the fast track as well.

4 Comments on "280 Public Meetings Later…"

  1. Clark Morris | October 13, 2011 at 4:43 pm |

    BRT is NOT the best mode. A rail line Suffern to White Plains to an appropriate station on the New Haven Line is the best mode. With schedules integrated with the local bus system on every 15 minute headways and integrated zone fares sot that there is no transfer penalty, buses work for distribution at both ends of the ride. Using 25 KV electrification, M8s can be used for ease of maintenance. Having commuted by both bus and rail, I prefer rail and so will your riders. Rail can be single tracked. Rail properly designed can serve both the New York market and the Westchester to the suburban areas west of the Hudson as well as cross Westchester. Rail will be cheaper to operated and probably cheaper to build.

  2. Bus commuting is subject to all the problems car commuting is, except for a bit less pollution. In an area this dense, rail is the one and only way to carry large numbers. A bus option on a new bridge made very little sense other then their being an HOV lane.

    I am a bit surprised though at the drop in price from about $21 billion to about $6 billion. Wow. Makes one wonder if Mr Cuomo realized that wasting $15 billion was just not acceptable, that the BIG version of this made almost as much sense as ARC’s train to Macy’s Cellar.

    Still, it would be preferred to see this bridge built designed to have a lower level added later to carry commuter trains. That piece of designwork ought to at least be affordable and practical.

  3. I also believe that it is unwise to not study building a full rail component, one that is capable of transit as well as rail freight in the future. Also, there must be bicycle and pedestrian components to the replacement span immediately, not off in the distant future, or they will never be provided. Freight rail service at this point has to go all the way north to Selkirk, which is ludicrous. If you add freight rail, you won’t need billions more to build a Cross Harbor tunnel in NYC, which still does not solve the rail bottleneck in the Northeast corridor. I really hope we don’t end up with another same-old-story bridge with no features for mass transit, freight rail and bicycle/pedestrian access.

  4. I hope that we seriously consider using steel, concrete, and other materials produced in the USA, (or even better, in NY State!), as well as hiring US-based contractors to build the new bridge and related infrastructure.

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